Repentance: Will You Forgive Me?
The best repentance is a life well lived. The literal meaning of repentance is “to turn”. If you repent something it usually means you feel bad about something you did and wish you had not done it. Perpaps you wish we could turn the clock back and make things like you did not say what you said or did not do what you did. You may even want to try and find a way to make amends for what you did. Perhaps also you would like some kind of reconciliation with the those you we have harmed, or perhaps you feel too ashamed to face them – at least for the time being.
Forgive Yourself – it is one of the most generous and unselfish things you can do….
Usually we look to being forgiven by the person we have harmed and this is obviously very helpful and very healing. Yet, there is another person who needs to forgive us – and this is ourselves. We also need to be able to forgive ourselves. You need to be able to forgive yourself – which can include making amends for any harm you did – in order to put this bad experience completely in the past. Forgiving yourself not only helps you it helps everyone around you. Everyone you care about beneftis from you being willing to forgive yourself. When you feel pained by guilt and shame you become closed in on yourself. This is understandable but is also means that you have very little to give to those around you. You can learn to forgive yourself using the free book The Four Steps to Forgiveness, which you can download from this page.
Whether the other person you have harmed will forgive you or not is something outside of your control. They may forgive you and you can move on. However, it is not wise to be totally dependent on the other person. They may not be a forgiving person – or they must just not be ready to forgive you at this time. In this case, if you depend on them forgiving you in order to have peace of mind, or to have some kind of completion or closure about the event, then you might have to wait a long time….
However, there is a way out of this dilemma. You can still at least forgive ourselves; even if the other person(s) are not wiling to forgive you. If you want to make amends and the other person is not willing to have anything to do with you then you can create some kind of act generosity or kindness to another – doing so anonymously – and that can be a sort of proxy for you making amends.
If you are a religious person, you may yearn for God’s forgiveness as part of your repentance. However, how do you know that God has condemned you and how will you know if, or when, God has forgiven you? The simple fact is that you do not know whether God has condemned you, but you do know that you have condemned yourself. Therefore it is within your own heart and mind that you must start the process of seeking God’s forgiveness. To paraphrase and old saying: The best repentance is a life well lived.
Unless there is something you can do directly for those you harmed, the best way to make amends for any wrong you have done is to lead a good and fruitful life. Usually when you harm others it is because you have been too caught up in yourself – and your own needs and wants – to realise what harm you were causing. If you become obsessed with self blame it is just more of the same type of self obsession of which got you into trouble in the first place. You need to be less concerned with yourself and more concerned with the people around you. You need to be more concerned with forgiving others than getting forgiveness for ourselves. As you focus on creating good relationships with others many of your self-centered dilemmas fall away.
Repentance cause us to have many feelings of self blame and self recrimination. These feeling are helpful if they cause you to reflect on your actions and change your behavior towards others in positive ways. However, if you are just torn by bad feelings, but this is not causing you to make inner changes, then these feelings are simply destructive. They diminish you as a person and what you can contribute to the world. If this goes on too long then everyone around you may be negatively affected by your low self worth. Or, it may be that you have gone in to hiding and avoiding other people. In either case your contribution to life becomes very low.
I do not mention this to make anyone feel bad; on the contrary. I mention it because it points out something very important about self forgiveness. Self forgiveness is a very UN-SELFISH thing to do as everyone around us benefits from it. It awakens your ability to forgive others and you capacity to give creatively and be engaged positively with the world. You therefore benefit the people around us because of our positive attitude; rather than bringing them down owing to an attitude of self condemnation and self blame.
When you repent your mistakes, whether or not the others concerned have forgiven you, you always need to address the issue of forgiving ourselves. You can also take it as an opportunity to look at anyone you need to learn to forgive. Having seen how easy it is to make a mistake and hurt another; you can use this painful lesson for the good and become have more empathy for those who have harmed you – and therefore find it easier to forgive them.
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William Fergus Martin