Woman with her arms up while standing in a road by a mountain.
Faith

4 Steps to Learning How to Forgive Yourself

I struggled to fall asleep. The thoughts just wouldn’t stop. 

As the memories replayed in my head, my cheeks burned with shame. I buried my face into my pillow, but nothing I did could make the guilt fade away. 

Most of the time I can live my life without thinking about those awful moments I regret. And yet, every now and then something happens that reminds me of a part of my story I wish I could erase. 

Oh, how I would love to rip those pages right out of the book of my life. And yet no matter how much I try to wish them away . . . those pages of my story still remain. 

I know Jesus has forgiven me for everything.

But sometimes I can’t seem to shake the shame-filled, guilty feelings. And in those moments, I sometimes think, “Will I ever be able to forgive myself?” 

How do I learn to forgive myself? 

So, how do I learn to forgive myself? I follow the example of Paul.

If you take the time to read his whole story, you will see that he had plenty of reasons to struggle with feelings of regret from time to time. 

Now, Paul did a lot of good things in his life.

He wrote most of the New Testament. He planted churches. He discipled believers. He spoke for God before crowds of people and important rulers. 

But he also spent years persecuting Christians with a vengeance. 

And when the first martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death, Paul was right there . . . holding onto the coats of those throwing the stones. (Acts 7:57-58 *note that Paul’s pre-conversion name was Saul.) 

With so much blood on his hands, Paul had every reason to be overwhelmed by regret . . . but he wasn’t. 

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

-Philippians 3:12-14 ESV

In this verse, Paul shows us how to handle our regrets as he did.

Learning how to forgive yourself as a Christian begins when we let go of the past and strain toward what lies ahead.

When we stop focusing on the bad things we have done and instead focus on Jesus and our glorious future with Him.  

“Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all.”

-Psalm 65:3 NLT
Light reflecting off the water.

Why do I struggle to forgive myself? 

Have you ever thought, “Why is it hard to forgive myself?”  

I think it can be hard to break free from the negativity and judgment we feel over our past sins.

Because satan constantly encourages us to keep replaying our most guilt-causing moments so that those regret-filled memories keep us trapped. Tormented by our guilt and shame.  

Which is precisely where the devil wants us to stay. 

But Jesus wants to set us free.  

I think part of the reason we struggle to forgive ourselves is because we have bought into a few lies about what forgiveness IS . . . and what it ISN’T. 

Self-forgiveness starts when we realize: 

Forgiving ourselves ISN’T saying it was okay.  

When thinking about forgiving ourselves for things in our past, it helps to remember: Forgiving ourselves isn’t saying it was okay. Or an attempt to pretend it didn’t happen.  

Sometimes I think we feel like we shouldn’t get away with what we did and so we continue to hang onto the guilt and shame as a way to punish ourselves. 

But it doesn’t work. 

Yes, what we did was wrong. That is why there was a price that had to be paid. And Jesus paid that price on the cross. 

We can keep trying to make ourselves pay for what we did . . . which will never be enough. Or we can accept the mercy and grace Jesus offers us at the cross, which is more than enough. 

Forgiving ourselves ISN’T saying we can forget it. 

This is highly unlikely. 

We will always remember what we did wrong.

But in those moments when the dark memories surface, we can choose to wallow in guilt and shame . . . or we can choose to open our mouths in praise . . . thanking God, once again, for His reckless love, boundless mercy, and amazing grace. 

Water reflections.

Forgiving ourselves IS saying we will let go of our wish for a better past. 

We can’t change it. We can’t undo it. 

It simply is. 

What we can change is our present and future. We do this by accepting God’s gift of grace. And as the chains of guilt and shame fall off, we are finally free to truly live for Him. 

“For You, O Lord, are good, and ready to forgive [our sins, sending them away, completely letting them go forever and ever]; And abundant in loving kindness and overflowing in mercy to all those who call upon You.” -Psalm 86:5 AMP

-Psalm 86:5 AMP

Forgiving ourselves IS saying we choose to stop beating ourselves up. 

When the Bible says things like, “Don’t repay evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:9) or “. . . but I tell you love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:43-44), we don’t often think about the fact that these verses are also talking to us. 

Which is why we need to stop beating ourselves up for the mistakes we’ve made. 

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.”

-Ephesians 1:7-8a NIV

Forgiving ourselves IS saying we choose to accept God’s free gift. 

Jesus is standing before us . . . holding out this free gift of forgiveness. All we have to do is take it.  

We can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. But He offers it to us anyway.

Because He loves us. 

And that is why we call it AMAZING grace. 

The truth is, my dear friends, if Jesus can overcome the power of the grave, then He is powerful enough to help us forgive ourselves. 

We just have to let Him.  

“For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”

-Psalm 103:11-12 NLT
Woman lifting her hands up high.

How do you let go and forgive yourself? 

So now, that we know what forgiveness IS and ISN’T you may wonder, “Okay, but how do I start to forgive myself? How do I learn to forgive and let go?” 

Well, the first step is going to Jesus. Take your focus off of your sin and turn to Him.  

Then try these four self-forgiveness exercises: 

1) Grieve the past and let it move you to repentance.

It happened. You can’t erase it. You can’t fix it.  

But you can allow the godly sorrow you feel over it to move you to genuine confession and repentance. 

2) Accept God’s forgiveness. 

Think about this: if the all-powerful God of the universe says that you are forgiven, but then you say that you can’t forgive yourself . . . isn’t that kind of like saying Jesus’s death wasn’t enough?  

Or that God is lying because you think you can’t be forgiven?

Ouch. 

The truth is if God can speak and create the entire universe . . . then He is big enough to speak forgiveness over you.  

All you have to do is accept it. 

Coffee cup on a table with a stack of books, an open book, and a vase of flowers.

3) Immerse yourself in God’s Word. 

As you spend time reading the Bible you will see that it is full of stories about God using people with shady pasts to do amazing things for Him.  

Reading their stories will remind you that He can redeem anything . . . even your sins . . . for your good and His glory. 

You can also read inspiring verses on forgiveness. Memorize them and meditate on them to help you learn how to live forgiven.

4) Focus on the future. 

Instead of focusing on what you can’t change . . . your past. You can choose to focus on what you can change with God’s help . . . your present and your future. 

You can also remember that God’s grace has paved the way for you to enter Heaven. And in eternity you will never feel regret, guilt, or shame again! 

Can I get an AMEN? 

“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”

-Psalm 32:1 NIV
Woman standing on a road with her hands up in the air while the sun rises over a mountain. 4 steps to learning how to forgive yourself.

How to Forgive Yourself as a Christian 

We all have chapters of our story we would rather not have read out loud. We all have moments in our life that cause our cheeks to burn with shame.

But we don’t have to let the shame and guilt over our past mistakes rule over us. 

Because of what Jesus did on the cross we can confess our sins. Embrace God’s forgiveness. And then walk boldly and confidently in the light of His amazing grace.  

It’s time to forgive ourselves and move on. 

Because Jesus came to set us free from it ALL. We are forgiven!

If you found this encouraging, then please share! 

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2 Comments

  • Jodi

    Hi. Yes. We all have some sins from our past that we wished had never happened. Thank you for the post. It is good to remember these things. Turning to God and focusing on Him instead of our sins or our past is definitely a good start. God bless.

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