I remember the day I realized I was hurting myself. My head hung low, my shoulders nearly touched each other in front of my chest and my fingers gripped and pulled at sections of hair on both sides of my head. Then hateful words spat forth from my lips, “Why am I so stupid?! I can’t handle this!”
For two years after giving birth I suffered from depression and deep shame related to my experience. Fatigue complicated it all. After a 7 month period on anti-depressants and a good deal of soul-work I wasn’t completely better, but I wasn’t depressed. I was functioning at what I would call a steady low-normal. Yet, shaming self-talk kept creeping back into my internal dialogue.
“Why do you always screw up like this, Andrea?!”
Then I started researching the brain. Did you know that digital imaging technology research has proven that the same area in the brain that lights up when we feel emotional pain is the same area in the brain that lights up when we feel physical pain? This means that emotional pain is ACTUAL pain like breaking a bone is pain. And yet we apparently have some control over both the physical and emotional pain we feel. Isn’t that fascinating?!
(Check out this video if you’re interested.)
One day I was in the middle of speaking angry words to myself again when I put together the pieces of what I’d been studying about the human brain and my own experience and I realized I’d fallen into a destructive pattern of self-talk that kept me down rather than helping me get better.
“I may not be cutting my skin or refusing to eat, but my words are self-harming! This has to stop.”
I learned that I wasn’t truly living in the forgiveness and grace I’d been given. Through this series we’ve been teasing out the four steps I identified that helped me step out of self-shame and into a more loving version of myself. (Find links at the bottom of this post.)
- Step into the light that exposes your weaknesses. See them for what they are.
- Take responsibility for your short-comings. Ask forgiveness where forgiveness is needed and help when help is needed.
It’s time for number 3. This step might just be the hardest one of all.
3. Enjoy the freedom from your burden. Bask in the warmth that love provides and say kind things to yourself and those who forgive or help you.
Forgiveness and grace say that you don’t need to keep beating yourself up or fighting to prove yourself. In fact, when you do these things, it’s probably an indication that you haven’t truly asked for forgiveness. Saying the right words is nice, but it isn’t enough to free you. It is in step 3 where the rubber meets the road.
Forgiveness is a tricky subject and I’ve heard a lot of people suggest that we need to forgive ourselves. But I believe that forgiveness is a relational word that takes place between two entities. You are a whole person, mind/body/soul, not a split person whose soul needs to forgive your mind, etc. I do not believe the problem is that you need to forgive yourself. I believe you need to actually believe you are forgiven.
When I ask for forgiveness but I don’t really intend on living free in that forgiveness, I am not actually asking for forgiveness! I’m asking for you to feel better about me. This request is based in shame, a feeling that I am worthless and I need you to change how you feel about me and treat me so I will feel more valuable.
If I want to fully bask in the warmth of the light of love and forgiveness, I need to stop minimizing the impact I have on others and feel the weight of that burden. When I feel the weight, I can release it fully when I ask for forgiveness.
It’s like carrying a big boulder on your shoulder. When you say with your lips “forgive me” but in your heart you mean “think better of me,” you are asking the other person to ignore the boulder along with you. It’s like coming to an agreement “let’s just pretend this isn’t here anymore,” but you still walk with a slump.
But you don’t have to keep carrying the boulder! Instead, you can
- feel the weight of the wrong-doing.
- ask and believe that God truly forgives you and releases you from that burden.
- ask the other person for forgiveness.
Here’s the thing. The other person may not truly forgive you and you may end up with a strained or broken relationship. But if you believe God forgives you, you are released from the weight of what you’ve done. You may be sad that your relationship with the other person is broken, but beating yourself up won’t heal it.
No one can love you as perfectly as God loves you. He’s the only one who can see your heart and truly release you from your burden. And when that happens, you will not keep saying hateful things to yourself because it won’t be about you anymore. Instead, gratefulness and thanksgiving will pour from your heart and you will want to share the freedom of your love with others.
But more on that next time…
When you ask for forgiveness are you asking for the other person to come to an agreement with you to ignore the burden that comes with your sin and weakness? Or are you going to bask in the warmth that love provides by responding to forgiveness with words of kindness from a heart of gratefulness?