No Wonder I Struggle to Forgive Myself
Ash Wednesday was this past week, launching the 40-day lent season preceding Easter. In His perfect timing and ever-surprising ways, God used a secular event to get me thinking about the forgiveness Jesus provides through His death and resurrection.
I attended a thought-provoking seminar, Life After Prison: The real truth about reentry. We heard from five speakers: one professor, one representative from the United States Attorney’s office, and three formerly incarcerated individuals. Each person presented unique content aimed at one overall message:
It is incredibly difficult to return to society after serving time in prison.
The professor spent time examining why most prisoners who reenter society are back in prison within three years. The Community Outreach Specialist from the U.S. Attorney’s office presented information about the laws that make re-entry difficult. And the former prisoners each told their story, majoring on what life has been like since completing their prison time.
I am not sure it was possible to leave the event without a great measure of empathy, even for people who happened to be dead-set on some sort of, “They deserve it all. They committed the crime” mentality.
I, for one, can’t get it out of my mind from two perspectives: as a citizen of this world and as a Christian, a citizen of the Kingdom of God. The entire event has taken on a spiritual spin. I have been meditating on forgiveness.
One fact shared by the Community Outreach Specialist is that there are 873 regulations in my home state alone that apply to felons.
In other words, once out of prison, once “free,” once the penalty for a crime has been declared “paid in full,” a felon is reminded of – and limited by – his or her error every single day for the rest of his or her life.
In a very real sense, punishment never ends.
One of the poignant moments for me included, “You may say you support the release of felons into the community after they have paid their sentence in full…but not your neighborhood, not your school, not your workplace, not at your child’s birthday party.”
Transferring this secular event to my spiritual life…
I happen to have a difficult time forgiving myself for some mistakes I have made in my past, particularly ones with lasting consequences that I feel limit me for the rest of my life in what I can do for the Kingdom of God as a Christian. I realized after the seminar, “No wonder I have a hard time forgiving myself or receiving God’s forgiveness. The world I live in never lets me live it down.”
While contemplating God’s forgiveness one morning, I declared, “Lord, I am going to live like I am forgiven today. I am not being punished anymore. You are not asking me to write any past sins on any applications for housing or employment. I am not denied access to any of your spiritual blessings that I have in full (Ephesians 1:3). You say that if I confess my sins, you are faithful and just to forgive all of my sins. (1 John 1:9) You say that as far as the east is from the west, so far have You removed my transgressions from me (Psalm 103:12). You said Jesus paid for my sin in full (Hebrews 9:28) and set me free indeed (Galatians 5:1). Today, Lord, I am going to live like I believe it!”
I cast something off this week. That is all I know.
Then I got to thinking about whether I forgive others like Jesus forgives me.
Jesus asks me to forgive as the Lord has forgiven me (Colossians 3:13) and a description of love includes not keeping a record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).
I have been paying attention to my thought life and listening to my speech.
Do I remind people of their past failures?
Sadly, yes, especially in parenting.
So I have been contemplating the forgiveness of heaven this week, not the forgiveness offered by the world. My sins really are paid for. God does not remind me about past sins. Neither does God restrict my life in the Kingdom of God because of my past sins (assuming confession and repentance – turning from my sins). My life is not ruined. I am not deemed unqualified for anything God wants me to do in His Kingdom.
Now I need to treat others the same way, looking more like my Savior than the world in which I live.
My home state: 873 reminders for the felon.
My Savior: 0 reminders for the forgiven sinner.
Picture Explanation: My husband brought a little spring into our home this week. Such beautiful tulips! And what beautiful weather we have been having lately! I got to spend some time on Middle Georgia University’s Macon campus last week. I was so taken by this student who found a beautiful spot to practice her conference presentation so diligently. Then, on a normal trip to pick up Chinese food, I was graced with the beauty of this hot air balloon.
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