This guest post dives into one of the hardest (maybe the hardest) aspects of forgiveness: forgiving yourself, and accepting who that “self” is — regardless of what other people think of her (or him).
By Allie Millette
Please pass your paper to the person sitting behind you…
Those are words I dreaded hearing during my junior high days. Math. I was so bad at Math. I can’t really blame my teachers for doing it that way. It was so much easier for them. They could get us to check our work and they would assign the grade later. The only problem with that theory is the person sitting behind me was smart, funny, and cute. He was also on a mission to annoy me to tears, which he did…effectively…every day…for all of junior high.
Looking back on these episodes, I realized I had allowed this experience to define me. I considered myself to be “dumb”. I spent three years and, therefore, the rest of my life comparing myself to a dude who probably never thought about me again after the eighth grade. I often find myself wondering, “How would it be if I ran into him today?”
Every once in a while, you’ll hear me going off on some rant to my mama about having to pass my paper to the person sitting behind me and how it destroyed my self esteem. Junior High can be a terribly cruel time in life and it certainly was for me. As far as human behavior goes, Junior High was the bottom of the barrel. I still shudder to think of it.
For a while, I shut out that little girl. “That’s not me anymore.” I would tell myself. I pretended those days never existed. I acted as if I didn’t hate myself. I especially acted like the internal hatred for myself at the ripe old age of 11 didn’t spill over into my life at 31. What I have learned is that I am an incredibly good actress.
I thought I had moved past it, but in reality, I only shut the door and walked away. So many times we think just because we can’t see something, it means it doesn’t exist. You can have a messy room in your house and shut the door so no one sees it, but…it’s still a mess. Often, I don’t want to even go into said room because I wouldn’t even know where to start with cleaning it up. I feel the very same way about Junior High.
What I’ve found is that my regrets don’t really center so much around things I didn’t say or do to others, but I regret the thoughts I had of myself. I regret that I cared so much what other people thought of me. I regret that I cared so much about my grades. I regret that I cared whether or not the Math god who took up residence behind me in almost every class (we can thank alphabetical order for that one) thought I was smart, funny, or cute. I deeply, deeply regret not giving myself a break.
When we talk about forgiveness, people automatically assume it’s an outward action. Most of the time, for me, it’s inward. I find I have to forgive myself more than anyone else. As nice as it would be for said dude to apologize for being annoying, saying mean things, going through my purse, and committing whatever other preteen atrocities he committed that I laugh at now, it’s probably not going to happen. I will most likely have to get there on my own.
I can’t help but think about that poor, helpless, little girl, the one who isn’t “me” anymore. All she wanted was to be loved, to hear a kind word, to be encouraged. That’s all any of us want, but instead, I threw her out in the cold crying, and I tried to drown out her tears. How inhumane! The reality is, none of this was her fault! It’s not my fault that 11 year old me didn’t possess the perspective I have now at 31. It’s not your fault either. Don’t let your present perspective be the barrier to you finding healing.
I am still very much that little girl. I am every bit that little girl…we all are and we would be lying if we didn’t stand up and admit it. At this point, all we can do is speak truth into the situation and tell that little girl she is loved. We need to own up to the fact that she is very much a part of us. I found myself relentlessly going over in my head all of the things I wish I could have said and done differently, but at the end of the day, what’s done is done and the only thing left to do is look in the mirror and say I love you, I’m sorry for abandoning you, and I forgive you. After all, how can we honestly expect for others to accept our offers of forgiveness when we can’t even face forgiving ourselves?
I will leave you with this advice: Make peace with your past. Forgive yourself for the things that you didn’t know back then and give yourself grace. Walk into that room and start with one small thing, but don’t close the door. Let the room air out. Let Him guide you in cleaning it up. That precious little girl needs a place in your heart. God will use that shameful piece of your life to show his unconditional love and acceptance to the men and women around you. Don’t shut the door on that. If you want to be a more forgiving person, you are going to have to start with yourself.
We were never promised a peaceful life. As Christians, the only guarantee we can cling to is that we will have the cross, which will eventually be followed by the Resurrection. God wants to show His love to those around you through the mess in your life. Let Him in and let Him bring you His peace.