Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The transformational power of forgiveness, part I: self-forgiveness

I have a friend in the process of divorce. Married for over two decades, he is struggling to understand what has happened to his marriage and grappling with his part in its demise. I saw him last spring, when we discussed this soul searching. His anguish over his role in the breakdown of the marriage was palpable and at one point he said to me, “I need her to forgive me.”

My response to him was that he has no power over whether his soon-to-be ex-wife forgives him or not. The larger question for both his current and future peace of mind is this: can he forgive himself?

I’ve thought for some time that a key developmental task of middle age is to learn self-forgiveness. It sounds so easy, yet is so very hard. Like many of us, I am my own worst critic. I would never speak to another person the way I speak to myself. This harsh inner voice is a burden and keeps me from joy, from intimacy, from fully living. Like my friend going through the divorce, it is far easier to look for forgiveness from another than to delve into the murky depths where I might claim it for myself.

I am not speaking here of lightly dismissing when we wound others. We are, after all, so limited by our own humanity. When we wound others we offer our apologies, acknowledge our shortcomings, and then move on. Most powerfully, this involves giving up the need to be right. Because being right really doesn’t matter. When we let go of the need to be right, we suddenly have all the freedom to be our true, human, hurt, limited self.

When we can forgive ourselves our own mistakes and shortcomings, they take on the power of opportunity. Now we are offered the magical moment to really learn and grow. Mistakes, limitations, short-comings are simply grace in disguise. When we can get past the fact of our limitation, the fact that we are not perfect, that is when we can rest in grace and really learn. And amazingly, that is the moment we become our most true selves. That is the moment when we start to fly. It is then that we live into God and shine.

How can you begin the process of forgiving yourself today?

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