One of Jesus Christ’s most troublesome messages is to love our enemies, a great challenge in this era of deepening religious and political hostilities as well as plain senseless violence. But suppose, as Carl Jung once wrote, that the enemy we are called to love is within? That we ourselves are in need of the kindness, compassion, and forgiveness we may give willingly to others? Perhaps the greatest challenge to loving that Inner Enemy is the challenge to forgive.
I have known many very spiritual people, loving and kind, of great service to others. Yet these same people treat themselves with a depth of judgment and hatred completely at odds with their treatment of others. I recall for example a very good priest who held himself in contempt for an occasional oh-so-human sin. As I listened to how he berated himself, I asked “Tell me, Father. When someone comes to you and confesses this very same sin, is this what you tell them? That they’re worthless? The priest answered “I would never say that to another person!”
We are called to forgive — again and again and again. But we are called to extend that forgiveness to ourselves as well as our outer enemies.
How can we approach such a difficult task? Think for a moment of something for which you may not have forgiven yourself. Suppose someone came to you and shared that they had committed that very same action. What would you say? How does that differ from what you say to yourself?
If you believe in the power of forgiveness, ask yourself too as to why your sins are worse than the ones you forgive in others.
Remember that forgiveness is not condoning. You’re not making excuses for yourself. You may still need to work on some area of behavior. What you are trying to do is salvage your own sense of goodness from the ashes.
The Catholicism of my youth was a punitive path where self-condemnation was almost encouraged. In fact, we are called to always balance judgment with compassion. But old tapes die hard, as they say. The tendency is still there to judge harshly.
Some time ago I was looking at a book of affirmations. there was one statement that said “You are beloved in the eyes of God.” “How hokey,how corny”, I thought. Yet I realized I had no problems accepting thoughts such as “You’re worthless” or “You’re beyond forgiveness.” Indeed, old taped die hard.
Recovery literature often refers to forgiveness as the acid test. Sadly, for many of us, the true acid test comes when we need to lovingly forgive ourselves. But we must try to offer to ourselves the healing balm of compassion and forgiveness that we more easily offer to others.
Reflection: 1. For what do you need to forgive yourself? Has that process of forgiving yourself been a struggle? How?
Further Reading: John Sanford’s The Kingdom Within