Forgiving ourselves can often be harder than forgiving others. Sharon Roberts shares her story of learning to forgive herself – a journey of forgiveness that she still walks, as I suspect many of us do. I loved learning about teasels, too.
My story of forgiveness had to start from within. In my journey of forgiveness I’ve had to focus on the relationship between the sins of inheritance and how can God forgive a sinner like me.
What do I mean by the sins of inheritance? My mum had schizophrenia and bipolar, and because of that, I felt useless. After all, I couldn’t stop her from becoming ill and spending a long period of time in hospital. I felt too that my behaviour was a contributing factor to my mum’s illness, for members of my family said so. I had the ability to push buttons of family members, which would confirm their accusations.
In infancy, I experienced rejection, and abandonment was a feature of those early years. I always felt like an outsider; one who was a disappointment; the useless human. I have believed it all my life. The root cause is the childhood experiences that had left great chasms of regret and failure. I was the outsider – the attention seeker, the drama queen. I felt I made everyone’s life a misery. To escape that internalised misery became a battle, with my first line of defence being belittling myself, causing myself to be humiliated and to hide the feelings that I long felt in my heart. I learnt to believe what I was hearing and feeling.
I had searched for forgiveness in my family and community, but realized these earthly relationships were never going to give what my soul required. The forgiveness I required was far more than the accepting of my own personality defects, but that Jesus loved me.
However, the forgiveness was coming from a male father construct. And for me, the relationship with my own father was volatile and we could – and still can – push emotional buttons. That button has been depressed so frequently that forgiveness is never been fully established. The relationship is damaged.
To heal my pains, I would rescue emotionally damaged people and put them in a lifeboat, trying to get them to the shore. This is the way I chose to seek personal forgiveness for the actions that had caused so much hurt to others – or at least so I felt.
But the more this happened, the more the pain increased, especially when the support I offered was rebuked or shunned, with them jumping from the lifeboat and seeking their own way back to land. My feelings of inadequacy returned as self-hatred soared through me like a red-hot poker. I was unable to forgive myself. The pain I saw others in, and my failure to get the desired response, meant I could not forgive myself. My actions became subconsciously narcissistic and added to my internalised guilt, frustration and rejection. Each time a footprint was left on me and it took time to fade, although some are still there and may never change.
Not understanding forgiveness on a spiritual level, I served myself an unappetising meal of self-regret and hatred and seasoned it with a poison that tainted my palate. The problem with this type of relationship with one’s self is destructive and its ripples can be felt throughout one’s life. You stop looking at the Cross and continue to paddle the lifeboat by yourself.
Then one day I began to understand – perhaps as an answer to prayer – that these flaws were actually part of a unique picture, the picture was colourful, it was more beautiful than I had ever imagined. It danced like a teasel in the wind.
Now let me explain this analogy. A close friend one day described me as a teasel in the wind. At first, I was bemused by the thought of looking like spikey, undesirable plant, used by the National Trust to keep the public from positioning their bottoms on a famous or delicate chair. Teasels, meant to me keep off something too precious. Then I went online and found the picture of one. This is where the journey of forgiving my hatred of myself began. A friend who had prayed for me planted a teasel seed, via God.
I started to follow the advice of others. I sought Jesus and stopped and observed a teasel. Its beauty is not instant; you have to sit and observe, to get to know it. Its prickly appearance makes it seem unapproachable, but after a little time, its beauty is apparent. Its purple colouring attracts the attention of bees – creatures also maligned and misunderstood. Bees are not forgiven for protecting themselves, for which they die. They are never remembered for the work they do and the part they play in our beloved life cycle.
I forgive the bees but can I ever forgive myself for being me? Time tests this regularly, and on a good day I can see the beauty that God forgave me a long time ago. When He sent Jesus to look for the missing sheep, He found me. Scared, broken, fearful I was, and slowly Jesus has helped to bring this teasel into bloom. Sometimes, it doesn’t get as tall or as noticeable as the others. But it tries again and may need to be rescued, re-cultivated.
It has always been easier to forgive others than it has been to forgive my own mistakes and personality flaws. Not forgiving myself became the norm, and there was, is and will be, days that I just can’t move past these negative feelings.
When I was a child, I was the sheep that was different, the black sheep. As an adult, I learned that Jesus came for this lost sheep. As a much wiser adult, I truly believed that lost sheep could actually munch on teasels.