Sunday, November 1, 2015

Forgive ...Yourself?

"Be AnGrY  and  DO not sin;
PonDeR in your owN HeARtS on YOuR BeDs,
& BE siLenT."
There is one aspect of chronic illness and pain that we don't like to talk about: ANGER. Those of us who live in constant pain tend to live on the edge of emotions that are as volatile as our health, and we can be prone to lashing out. That being said, all moms (I've been told) lose their cool with their kids once in awhile and yell when it's not warranted. We're all human, and we are sorry.

"There is no distinction: for all have sinned 
all fall short of the glory of God."

Moms with chronic illnesses are perhaps slightly more attuned to this flaw of a lit fuse because we are more aware of how short our fuses can be. And we have more time alone to "ponder in our own hearts on our beds" the fact that we yelled at our potty-training two-year-old for having an accident on the couch two minutes after we asked her if she had to use the potty and she told us that she did not. We have more sleepless hours to replay the look in our daughter's tearful huge, blue eyes that said in hurt surprise, "Mom can be mean?" It's not that we feel our error more acutely than a healthy Mom might. It's that we feel everything more acutely. Well, almost everything. St. Paul's claim regarding our universal sinfulness mercifully continues:

"... and are justified by His grace as a gift, 
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

I feel everything as though I'm hyper-sensitive, from the sharp physical pain of stubbing my toewhich invariably brings tears (no joke)to the lingering emotional pain of having yelled at my daughter when she didn't deserve itwhich invariably brings sobs (lots of sobs)but I don't feel God's forgiveness. I feel His disapproval. I feel my own. I feel the hurt I caused my child, the love of my life, because my disease has already stressed me to the limit before I even open my eyes in the morning. I feel my sinfulness but not an ounce of my saintliness, my worthlessness but none of my worth, my sickness by not one iota of my health, my weakness but not a scrap of my strength... you get the idea.

It seems as though since I'm bound to feel bad all the time,
I'm capable of only feeling that which is likewise bad.

I'm a vulnerable teenage girl whose one crooked tooth magically obscures all her beauty from her own eyes to the point that she refuses to smile. But are we commanded to love ourselves? Not exactly. Rather, God assumes we love ourselves, best in fact. And because of that, our love for ourselves is used as the standard by which we are commanded to love others:
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And He said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:36-39)
We don't always treat ourselves that way, do we. I often find myself being far kinder to a neighbor in a similar situation, more understanding, more merciful, than I am to myself. Bizarre, no? We are our own worst critics, they say. But how do we make sense of God's Greatest Commandment if we don't love ourselves? Our current culture encourages us to "forgive ourselves," and to have "self-compassion," and I wonder just how in the world that is supposed to work. Do I look in the mirror and say, "I forgive you?" That's a bit silly even for me. I haven't done myself wrong. I've wronged someone else: that's the problem. Self, self, self... Self-esteem. Self-worth. Selfies. Self-help. Self-control. Self-compassion. Self-motivation. Self-delusion... Our current culture is obsessed with self, and therein lies our problem with self-forgiveness. It doesn't work.
"SELF" CRITIC: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24)
"SELF" COMPASSION: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our LORD!"(Romans 7:25a)
Self-forgiveness is nothing more than actively acknowledging that the Gospel applies to ourselves as well as to our neighbor. But we are not our own neighbors. We are not meant to focus on ourselves, to stare ever inward at our own belly-buttons like we are so driven to do, but what we often fail to realize is that a harsh "inner-critic" does the exact same thing.

Dwelling on our mistakes, on our faults, on our sins and failures,
on our inability to change is still focusing on ourselves.
>>> So stop it right now! <<<
(Mark 8:33)

Stop thinking about yourself and let God think about you. "Forgiving yourself" isn't about forgiving ourselves at all. It's about understanding and accepting the fact that WE ARE FORGIVEN by God and by one another. Self-compassion, like self-forgiveness, is impossible. Compassion, like forgiveness, has to come from the outside. We love ourselves by understanding that WE ARE LOVED by God and by one another. We are called to accept the objective fact that because we are created and loved by God, we are worthy of compassion just like we are worthy of forgiveness: through Christ.

We are called to accept the forgiveness Christ won for us and for others on the Cross, and we are called to move our focus away from ourselves and onto God and our neighbor, who is in this case our child whom we have wronged, and who we're called to apologize to, no matter how small they are. See how freely and openly that child forgives you for your outburst as soon as he or she is able to talk? It is truly incredible to be offered real honest-to-goodness no-holds-barred all-is-forgotten Forgiveness with a capital "F" from another human being, and no one on earth forgives better than a two-year-old. (Would that we could retain that wonderful ability!)


Don't take it for granted or devalue it by brushing it off as undeserved or childlike and therefore not real (Matthew 18:1-6). Of course it's undeserved and childlike! It's a GIFT with no strings attached, not a payment for services rendered, which makes it more real than the forgiveness we adults tend to offer one another: (...I'll forgive her this time, but I'll never trust her again). Thank God for your child's free gift of forgiveness, thank him or her for it, accept it and move on as a baptized child of God who is always striving ahead and always trying to do better the next time our fuse feels short (Philippians 3:12-21).

"ONE THING I do: ForGettinG what lies BeHinD
& sTraiNiNG FoRwarto what LIeS aHeAD,
I PRess on TowaRD the GOAL For tHe PrizoF tHe uPwArD CAll
of GoiCHRisT Jesus."