Can you forgive yourself?

Easter Sunday. Today I am thinking about forgiveness. And I have to start with myself. Have you ever done something you wish in your heart of hearts you could take back? But in this life, we sometimes only get one chance. It’s true that sometimes we get a second chance to make it right with someone or something, but not always.

Sometimes there is only that one time. Maybe the action is over, and there is just no way to change it. Or maybe the person involved is no longer on the earth for you to contact and give an apology. Or maybe the person was a stranger, and you don’t know how to contact him or her. For whatever reason, you are stuck with what you did.

And you just can’t get back to where you were to make it right. The paths we walk in life are often long and complex, and as Robert Frost said,
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back . . .”
(The Road Not Taken)

On those occasions, and ever after, you have to find a way to forgive yourself. Otherwise you shrink and shrivel, and feel awful all the time. Self-forgiveness for me is a process of remorse – acknowledging to yourself and to your god, whoever he or she may be, what you have done. And then simply bow your head and pray, however you understand prayer. Maybe you ask for forgiveness. Or maybe you are just silent and still. Or maybe you talk to the person you wronged, even though they aren’t right in front of you.

Each time I do this I feel a wave of regret, full of emotion and thoughts and plain old upset, wash over me. It can be overwhelming, but it cleanses. And in the process you learn: you never want to do that thing again. You are truly sorry, and you affirm your reverence and respect for all lives.

And then, the key to it all for me, you let the wave roll away. Away. Just like wave do at the beach. Into the sea. You won’t forget probably, and you won’t change the past. But your heart will be lighter, and you will find yourself gradually capable of joy again.

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