Asking Forgiveness; Forgiving Our Self
Romans 8:1-4 & Matthew 5:23-24
(Quoted Scripture is New Revised Standard Version)
Today is the last sermon in the series Heart Forgiveness, based on Desmond Tutu’s, The Forgiving Book. We’ve learned over the past 5 weeks how important it is to forgive the people who have hurt us with words or actions. We’ve learned that Jesus tells us to forgive over and over again, and he tells us this for our own good.
Unforgiveness hurts us, not the one who harmed us. Desmond writes, “To forgive is grace. To forgive is a gift we give to ourselves. To forgive someone for the wrong they have done to you, takes honesty, open mindedness, and a willingness to try. To forgive another does not depend on them and it is not for them. It is for you.”
Unforgiveness causes us emotional, spiritual and even physical illness. To forgive is not a weakness, but rather a strength we pray for and receive from God. Forgiving someone who has hurt us may not be easy and it may not happen quickly, yet it is worth our effort, even if we have to do it, over and over again.
We have learned that as we proceed through trying to forgive, it is important to tell the story and name the hurt. When we tell our story to someone we trust to keep our confidence, we may discover that some of our memories have become distorted, and discovering the true facts will add clarity to the actual hurt. We may discover we had some part in what we had experienced. When we are able to forgive the person who hurt us, we then have to decide whether to seek reconciliation and renew our relationship with that person, or whether it is better to release that person and our relationship with them.
For four weeks we have been addressing the importance of forgiving others who have hurt us. Today we will address the fact there are times when we do things that hurt others, and we have to ask forgiveness from someone we have harmed. We then have to forgive ourselves, which may be very difficult. Just as forgiving others is important to our emotional, spiritual and physical health; asking forgiveness from someone we have harmed and then forgiving ourselves, is also vital to our emotional, spiritual and physical health. It is important to forgive others, be forgiven and forgive ourselves, to break the chains of unforgiveness which bind our hearts and souls; to experience the healing power of true Heart Forgiveness.
I realize this series is not for everyone here, however, there are some who have come to me and said, ‘This is exactly what I needed to heal from the pain I have experienced because I have not forgiven someone who hurt me.’ This series is also posted on the church website, just in case you may find yourself suffering from the heart and soul pain of unforgiveness, sometime in the future.
Asking for forgiveness: In The Forgiving Book we read, the three simple words, “I am sorry,” are the words which can be the bridge between spouses, siblings, parents, friends, and even acquaintances we may have hurt with our words or actions. It is important that we are courageous enough to say them, vulnerable enough to mean them, and humble enough to repeat them as many times as necessary. When you apologize, you are restoring the dignity that you have violated in the person you have hurt. You are also acknowledging that the offense has happened. You are taking responsibility for your part in causing harm. When you apologize with humility and with true remorse for hurting another, you open a space for healing. If you are not able to say, “I am sorry” to the person because they have died, you can write them a letter that you bury or burn.
For many years my pride would prevent me from saying, ‘I am sorry’ to people I had hurt. Then I discovered when I humbled myself and said those three words, ‘I am sorry,’ and I said it from my heart, I experienced a freedom of heart and soul, I hadn’t experienced before! Do not let your pride get in the way of saying ‘I am sorry,’ to someone you have wronged. Free yourself from guilt and shame. If not for someone else, do it for you.
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus teaches, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that you brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”
In other words, do the right thing, before you ask God to bless you. Proverbs 16:18 tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
One of the stories Desmond related in The Forgiving Book was the story of Kelly Connor. When Kelly was seventeen, she was driving her dad’s car in Perth, Australia. It was her sister Jayne’s twelfth birthday. Jayne was with her and they were going to celebrate later in the day. Kelly writes she was going on holiday with her friends in a few weeks. Life was wonderful and she was a happy teenager. Then tragedy struck. Kelly accidentally hit and killed seventy-year old Margaret Healy as she was crossing the street.
Kelly writes, “I was going too fast up a hill and looking in my rearview mirror. I crested the hill and I didn’t see her until it was too late. I remember her look of horror. She was old, but she tried to run. She was fighting for her life. I didn’t set out to kill her, but I took her life. It was an accident, yes, but I was responsible.”
The police at the scene recorded that Kelly was only going thirty-five miles per hour, when she was actually driving forty-five miles per hour. They gave her a break. Her mother passed an edict at home that they were never to speak of the incident again.
Kelly writes, “My name was in the paper, but I couldn’t mention my shame, my fear. I lived in terror and anxiety for years, believing the police were going to come and take me away to the cells. When I slept, I had nightmares where demons and angels did battle for my soul. I was confused about how to go on living, why I should be allowed to go on living. I felt completely alone and completely lost, disconnected from the world around me and cast out by all who were supposed to love me. I didn’t think, I was worthy of having a life because I had taken a life. There was no safe place or safe person to speak to about how I felt. It seemed as if there was no room in the world for a young girl who had done what I did and felt as I felt; shame, dread, pain, guilt. – I couldn’t ask for forgiveness nor could I forgive myself.
Kelly tried to commit suicide, was locked up in a psychiatric hospital and kept her shame and her secrets locked inside of her for decades. It took Kelly thirty years to admit the wrong and break the silence imposed on her by the police and her mother.
Almost immediately, Margaret Healy’s family forgave seventeen-year old Kelly Connor for the road accident that killed Margaret. Decades later, Kelly still struggles with forgiving herself.
Kelly writes, “My entire life was defined by that one afternoon. I know Margaret’s family forgave me. I believe Margaret herself forgives me. Most days I believe I have forgiven me. If this had happened to a friend, I would have told them, ‘Accidents happen. Forgive yourself and move on.’ I guess we are hardest on ourselves. I know I am.”’
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome about forgiving, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (vv. 1-2)
When we ask forgiveness from Jesus Christ, we stand forgiven through His grace.
Whether we have received forgiveness from the one we harmed or not; we are forgiven. 2 Corinthians 5:17, tells us, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
You have an insert in your bulletin with another ‘Prayer for our heart’ and some stone exercises to do.
I pray that this series on Heart Forgiveness has helped the people God gave it to me for. Or that this series has helped someone you know who has been suffering the debilitating pain of unforgiveness for others or for themselves.
PRAYER: Loving and powerful God, I pray that whoever this series was for has experienced true Heart Forgiveness. I did your will, Father, now it is up to those who have received this message. Soften their hearts that they would received healing and wholeness of body, mind and spirit. AMEN
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
Reference: Tutu, Desmond & Mpho, (2014). The book of forgiving; the fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world. Harper-Collins e-books.
Note: Because this is an e-book, I cannot reference the page numbers of the quotes. All the ideas and some of the illustrations for this sermon series come from this book.
Prayer for Our Heart 5
from The Forgiving Book by Desmond Tutu
I am sorry
How many deaths have those words died?
They were stuck in my throat
They melted on my tongue
They suffocated before they met the air
I am sorry
The words crouch on my heart
And they weigh a ton
Could I not just get on with it, say I’m
sorry and be done?
I am sorry and I am not done
I am sorry for the hurt I caused
For the doubts I inspired, for the sadness
For the anger, despair, suffering, and grief
you endured, I am sorry
There is no currency with which I can
repay you for your tears
But I can make amends
And I do mean it when I say
I am sorry
I am generous to you, and miserly to me
I can banish the harm you caused me from the smallest corners of my heart
It has no root or residence in me
But the deed I have done
Fills me with shame and pain
I cannot make myself whole again
I cannot forgive myself
If my tender heart is truly there for you
It must be tender for me too
Soft and yielding
Kind and forgiving
I must allow myself to come face-to-face
With my own humanity
I can break free
Setting Down the Stone
from The Forgiving Book by Desmond Tutu
1.For this ritual you will need a heavy stone. You want to feel its weight as burdensome. Walk with this stone some distance to a private place
2.Admit to the stone what you have done. Then tell the stone the anguish you have caused. Then apologize to the stone and ask forgiveness. You can imagine the person you have harmed in your mind’s eye, or ask God for forgiveness
3.Decide what you can do to make amends to the person you have harmed or how you can help others. Then set the stone down in nature
4.In your journal write what you have done wrong. Tell the truth and list the facts of the harm you have caused
5.Examine in your heart how your words and actions have harmed the other person. Write sentences that begin with “I am sorry for…”
6.Write the following sentence and finish it: “I would understand if you are not able to forgive me now but I hope you will be able to forgive me someday because……”
7.Renewing or releasing the relationship. Write ideas for how to renew the relationship, and how you will feel if the person chooses to release their relationship with you.
The Hand of Mercy
8.Find a small stone that fits in the palm of your hand
9.Hold it in you left hand. This is the hand of judgement
10.For each item on your list of things you need to forgive yourself for, transfer the stone from your left hand to your right hand. This is the hand of mercy and forgiveness. Return the stone to where you found it.
11.Write in your journal a list of all the things for which you need to forgive yourself.
12.Write a list of all that is good about you. Look at yourself through the eyes of God, as His child.
13.Look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and see the beautiful person you are in the eyes of God. Say to this child of God. “I love you________(Your name).