I was recently sharing a meal with friends when one of them posed an interesting question. She asked, “If you could re-live any day of your life just like it was the first time, which day would you choose?”
Everyone took a few minutes to think, and you could almost see their minds thumbing through fond memories. Once we all settled on a memorable day, we shared our stories – re-living weddings, travel experiences, children’s births and other special days of joy, excitement, and laughter. Then, as the conversation mellowed, she posed another intriguing question.
She asked, “If you could choose another day of your life to re-live, but this time completely changing something that happened, which day would you choose?” For this one, our answers popped into mind instantly. No mental secretary had to be sent to dig up an old file because the memories were as fresh as if we’d lived them yesterday. As each person shared, we soon discovered that each day we remembered had something in common. Each was a day in which we chose to do the wrong thing. They were days in which we had sinned against someone else and we desperately wished we could go back and do it all over. Each person told of a day in which their actions had long since been forgiven by others, but for which they had not yet completely forgiven themselves.
There is a type of grace we rarely hear about in church. For some of us, it’s the kind of grace that is most difficult for us to give: grace for ourselves.
That which we most easily remember; that which we replay in our minds over and over, is that which we did wrong. We repeat our sins over and over to ourselves, refusing to offer the grace God has freely given, hoping our guilt will somehow pay the price we owe.
But God’s grace is not just for others. God’s grace is for us.
Being gracious to ourselves is not letting ourselves off the hook, it’s realizing that because of Christ’s work on the cross, we were never on the hook. We are not responsible for saving ourselves, and we never will be. When we continue to hold ourselves accountable for our past sins, letting guilt wrack us, and causing us to ask God and others again and again for the forgiveness that has already been granted, we are secretly trying to earn God’s grace and favor.
As a reminder, here’s what God says about himself and our sin in Psalm 103:
“The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.”
If God, the only all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly holy being, has “removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west,” then why are we so adamant about holding on to our sin? Could it be that we are still trying to earn our keep and prove our worthiness by continually recognizing our failures? Could it be that we don’t believe a good God could truly forgive us, so we have chosen not to forgive ourselves either?
Many of us, in order to live free, need to let go and extend grace. We need to stop looking back.
Extending grace to ourselves doesn’t mean ignoring our failures, it means letting go of them. It means that when asked by a friend if there are moments we wish we could re-do, we will no longer keep a running list at the front of our minds. Instead we will acknowledge we are sinful, but we will let go of our sins, and extend a generous dose of God’s amazing grace to ourselves.
This kind of grace – like all kinds of grace – must be exercised. Take a few moments sometime today to practice and experience God’s grace for yourself by following these simple steps.
- On a clean sheet of paper, write down one thing you’ve never given yourself grace for.
Maybe it was a lie once told, a divorce once initiated, a law once broken, or an unkind word once said. Whatever it is, write it down.
- Now, pray.
Don’t ask for forgiveness again. Instead ask God to help you accept his complete and total grace, moving you to look forward and not backward. And thank him for doing all the work needed.
- Finally, make a slow and intentional mark through the word or phrase you have written down.
Take this simple act and allow yourself to let go of whatever it is.
- Pray another prayer of thanks to God.
And never look back.
“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”
Read an earlier post by Chris here.