So much of my work involves issues of forgiveness. In my counseling others, I would guess (since I haven’t actually counted) that about 90% of the people I see have someone in their lives or histories that they need to forgive. And that is a conservative guess. If I included those who need to forgive themselves, I would say that number goes up to 100%.
Self-forgiveness is an interesting task from a counseling perspective. In my opinion, there are two “hands” when it comes to processing self-forgiveness. On the one hand, is the thought that the person needs to go through the same process of forgiving self as they do in forgiving others. That process includes understanding what forgiveness really is, praying for yourself to be able to forgive, expressing the hurt, extending compassion (even if it is just recognizing the offender is simply human and therefore flawed), and deciding to lay the offense at the foot of the cross. It is a hand raised to God asking for help.
The other hand of processing self-forgiveness is not about extending forgiveness to self at all. It is about receiving God’s forgiveness. It is receiving it in a way that fully understands that God’s forgiveness is extended from the highest “court” and that your own “court” is lower and therefore over-ruled. The difficulty in this hand is that to truly receive that gift, you have to truly understand and accept your identity in Christ. That identity says that God created you. Psalm 139:13-16 (NIV) says “knit me together in my mother’s womb” and that His “works are wonderful” and that He “saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” The other half of that identity says that God bought you. John 3:16 (NIV) says, “For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It is a hand raised to God in gratitude.
The tricky part in counseling on forgiveness is that so many do not truly understand and receive their true identity in Christ. They allow others’ opinions to carry more weight than God’s love for His creation and redemption. They allow performance, abilities, talents, status, and a slew of other “performance traps” (read Robert S. McGee’s book “Search for Significance”) to determine their worth rather than the pure love, adoration, and sacrifice of our God. So, not knowing your identity in Christ makes the second “hand” type of forgiveness impossible.
In counseling, we are trained to meet the client where they are. So, most often I guide clients in self-forgiveness by processing it with them. But, I always explain the quandary of the two “hands.” I want them to know there is a better, more complete way to forgive. I want them to know that self-forgiveness can be as easy as receiving a gift that flows forth from a God who loves you like none other. I want them to know that this is the end goal in learning to forgive themselves. That is my prayer for each and every one of them.
Either way, hands are raised to God knowing that He is the root of our ability to forgive.