If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves otherwise its like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him. – C.S. Lewis
What does that mean?
Like many of his quotes, this is a very religiously oriented quote. In this context, he is stating that if we are forgiven by God, we must accept the forgiveness. To reject God’s forgiveness is to say that we are a higher authority than God. For the devout, that is obviously not a proper thing to do.
For the less religious, this quote still has an application. We have seen movies where one of the characters has done something and, despite being forgiven by others, refuses to forgive themselves. By doing so, they are saying that they are not subject to the rules of their fellows, and that their forgiveness is unimportant, even useless. In most movies, things don’t usually end well for this person, do they?
Why is accepting forgiveness important?
Forgiveness, of others as well as of self, is important for us and our mental health, as well as our spiritual health. In prior posts, I have dealt with giving forgiveness and forgiving yourself and moving on with life, so this post will be about actually accepting forgiveness from others.
Actually accepting forgiveness, not just thanking them for giving it, that can be a hard thing to do. But I believe it is a necessary step towards getting your life back together. Even if it was something as simple as a shouting match with a friend, sibling or family member.
Forgiveness can be tough for others to give, but sometimes it’s even tougher to accept. But accept it we must, for the sake of both people. Have you ever given forgiveness to someone only to have it rejected? How does that make you feel, and how does it help you on the path to getting over the hurt?
And the person rejecting the forgiveness, how do they feel? Perhaps you’ve been there and felt that, but if you’ve ever seen the body language, it rarely looks all that great. How can they begin the healing process while they are still beating themselves up?
Where can I apply this in my life?
How does one accept forgiveness? For me, there is something inside that allows forgiveness in, and occasionally rejects it. It’s a kind of value call made by something deep inside of me. Is it that way for you, as well?
Even when I don’t feel like accepting forgiveness, I try to put on a brave face and accept it, if only for the sake of the person offering it. They need closure as much as I do. The trick then becomes convincing myself that I am ready to accept the forgiveness.
For some, an action of atonement is part of what needs to be done. For others, they just need to break out of the cycle of self-inflicted violence (stop beating themselves up). Have you ever been in a situation where forgiveness was offered, but you were unready, unwilling or otherwise unable to accept it?
Grab some paper and write a little bit about each of the times which come to mind. Include a few words about when and how you finally accepted the forgiveness. Is there anything in common between the times you refused forgiveness? Was there a pattern in when you finally accepted it?
To help myself accept forgiveness, I try to remember that I am only human, and am bound both by probability and propensity to mess up. As long as I am truly sorry and vow (even if only to myself) to not mess up that same way again, I can usually accept forgiveness.
I also try to remember to accept it even when I don’t feel worthy. Why? The person might not be around to forgive me again if I reject the forgiveness now and wait until I am ready. The other reason is that my acceptance allows them some peace of mind, which is especially important if I’m the one who messed with their peace of mind in the first place, right?
For the act of accepting forgiveness, I’m back to conscious competence. You have to notice you’re not doing it right and take steps to do it right. Just get in the habit of thanking people for their forgiveness at the time it is given, then work on forgiving yourself. Having their forgiveness hanging over you just might motivate you to get finished with forgiving yourself.
We all have bad days, we all screw things up from time to time. When a person forgives us for what we have done, they feel a need to forgive us as much as we need to be forgiven. Unless you are deliberately trying to further the injury, acceptance is the proper path, even if you are not yet ready. If for no other reason than for their sake.