on forgiveness.

I am a harsh, harsh critic.

I’ve realized this in the last few years about myself – I can be very, very unrelenting in my criticism. I nitpick and I pick up on little things that nobody else may pick up on and then I dwell on them. I blame-hunt and I indict and I accuse and I go crazy until I feel as though justice is served – the one who is at fault is fully blamed and the innocent is fully compensated for the wrong.

But maybe not in the way you’d think – what I mean is that I am my own harshest critic.

In a lot of situations, nobody is harder on me than me.

In my relationships, nobody is harder on me than me.

In my work, nobody is harder on me than me.

If I mess something up, nobody is harder on me than me.

With my finances, nobody is harder on me than me (well, maybe not that one. Banks and credit card companies and governing bodies can impose pretty harsh fines when you don’t pay them on time.)

In my thought life, nobody is harder on me than me.

I want to lament this, and I want to change this, but at the same time, I feel as though it’s the safest option. I feel as though it’s my responsibility to hold myself accountable for a lot of things, even though it’s sort of ironic, because I’m not exactly excellent at anything. I’m not the best employee at my work. I’m not the best boyfriend of all time (but ask my girlfriend, because she may have a different opinion.) I’m not the best financial manager of all time. I’m not the best Christian. I’m not the best citizen. I’m not the best human being.

In a sense, it’s all one big self-fulfilling prophecy – I expect myself to fail, so I fail, and then I get hard on myself when I fail.

A vicious cycle.

The other day, I felt I failed very badly. I said some things in a wealth of insecurity that were unfair, that were unjust, and that were unfounded. I put pressure on the other person in a way that was completely unnecessary – it was only because I felt insecure. On another day, I may not feel the way I felt right then and there.

I spent the whole conversation cursing myself, putting myself down, and blaming myself for the things I was thinking and the things I was feeling, even though the other forgave me on the spot while I refused to absolve myself of the blame.

I went to bed upset with myself.

I awoke upset with myself.

I spent the day upset with myself.

It’s really a weird feeling when you put it like that – in one sense, I am completely self-serving because I am all about my own survival and well-being (we are by nature) but in another sense, there wasn’t a human being alive I hated more than I hated myself.

Weird, right?

Is that the right way to be?

Maybe not, but to be honest, I don’t know how else to be half of the time.

Perhaps it’s the empath in me, but when I upset other people, I don’t know what else to do except to be mad at myself. In my head, it’s the same as when a bully is mean to a kid in school. Of course you have a little less compassion on the bully – he’s the one being domineering, mean, controlling, crazy.

But, he’s also being human.

A lot of times, we don’t know any better. I think that a lot of times, people screw up because they don’t know any better.

In a sense, that bully needs more forgiveness than he does blame.

Not because what he’s doing is fine – it’s the exact opposite. It’s because what he’s doing is not okay that he needs to be forgiven. There’s something to be forgiven from.

I often times feel like I’m the bully.
Then I become the bully and the victim, because I start beating myself up.
Then I become the bully and the victim and the accuser because I accuse myself for accusing myself.
Then I become the bully and the victim, and the accuser and the forgiver, because I feel I need to try to forgive myself for screwing up.
It’s a vicious cycle, and nobody ends up winning.

It makes me beg the question, do I really need to forgive myself, or do I need to be forgiven from someone outside of myself?

What I mean is that if I count on my own forgiveness, I’ll never get it. Because one part of me always blames another. It’s cyclical.

I’ve always been a chronic overthinker – I accept anything that people tell me with a grain of salt.
“Jeff, you sounded great singing that song!”
“Thanks, but I KNOW I missed a note here or there.”
“Jeff, your writing is good!”
“Thanks, but if I could write it again, I’d say this instead of that.”
“Jeff, I forgive you. You’re okay.”
“Thanks, but I still feel like something’s wrong.”

The problem with the idea of “forgiving yourself” is, I opine, threefold – one, when I’ve offended someone, I’ve hurt them a lot more than I’ve hurt me. Second, I know that when I forgive other people, I really forgive them, so in my own head, they’re totally clean. Why do I not trust that others do the same for me? Third, I don’t even think that person-to-person is the deepest level of offense.

I think that anytime we hurt other people, we also hurt God. When I insult someone, I insult His creation. When I’m impatient with someone else, I’m impatient with His creation. When I hurt someone, I hurt His creation. I do damage to His own impartation of Himself, His personality, His character.

But listen – if God, in Christ, forgives us, who are we to say we “just can’t forgive ourselves”?
If the person against whom we commit the deepest offense says that we are absolved of the blame for it, why do we live in perpetual self-blaming? Or, why do I live in self-blaming?

My answer – albeit incorrect and unjustified – is that I want to protect other people. I don’t want to assume everything is okay if it’s really not. I don’t know how to go from hurting someone one second to being best friends the next second. Could it be that our human tendency to take time to heal from wounds is natural and normal? Could it be that a little recoil from our own mistakes is to be expected?

I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know.

(Dogs and relationships teach you lessons.)

When I find out that my dog tore up the latest thing in my room (be it a shoe, my pillow, etc.) I’m mad for a little while, but I know it’s temporary. I forgive and forget, and then I want to play with my dog. But if my dog clams up, I get sad. I want him to approach me again. I want him to come play. I want him to not be plagued by guilt, or not assume that what he did has disqualified him from playing with me. He’s still my dog, and I’m still his owner, his “dad.”

When I upset my girlfriend, we talk about it, and she forgives me. She doesn’t want me to stay mad at myself. She doesn’t want me to clam up. She doesn’t want me to be a baby about things. That’s the opposite of what’s helpful – it’s more helpful for me to get over it, and get back to being her boyfriend.
When one of my friends hurts my feelings, I forgive them. I forget about it. I don’t hold a grudge. I want to hang out with them and have conversations like normal, just like things always are.
(let’s take this one step further…)

When I screw up and sin and hurt God, He forgives me. He doesn’t want me to sulk and not live and stop doing things. He wants me to come back to Him, to approach Him, to talk to Him. Not to act like my own perception of myself is bigger or better or more important than His.

To put it simply: don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t think of yourself too highly. Learn how to receive forgiveness, and learn how to accept that you’re forgiven. You do no one any favors by sulking and wallowing in your own self-hatred.

You are forgiven.

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