The Person I Couldn’t Forgive — Me.
When forgiveness gets personal
It only would have taken a moment. One small moment and I would have subtracted one of my biggest regrets in life.
I had just laid down on the couch and my brother came and stood over me. I hated when he did that.
“Mom’s calling you.”
“No she’s not,” I snapped back.
It’s a game we often played but I was tired from working with my dad. No games now.
And so I slipped back into sleep and did not go.
Sometimes little decisions carry big consequences. Bigger than life.
I never did find out what my mother wanted. That night she had a stroke. She died the following day. And somehow, I forgot about the exchange I had with my brother.
He never forgot
One month after saying goodbye to the only mother I knew, my brother had a conversation with my dad.
“Dad, did you know the night mom was sick, she called Anne and Anne didn’t go?”
My father took that accusation with both hands. With his finger pointed at me he announced, “It’s your fault your mother is dead!”
Now I’m not going to get into specifics about this story. If you want to read it, you can read about that HERE.
ButI do want to tell you what happened inside of me.
I spent a long time working through some of my feelings. But there was unforgiveness that I stuffed inside of me. Not towards my brother; I had worked through that. After all, he didn’t believe me when I told him I had just talked with my mom.
Not towards my dad. I had also worked through a lot of that, and still work through it from time to time, though he’s been gone for years.
No, the person I could not forgive was the one I saw when I looked into the mirror.
I found that as long as I was angry with others, I didn’t have to face how I felt with myself. And to put it simply. I hated me.
It doesn’t matter that nurses actually told me even if I had gone to my mom, I could not have prevented her stroke.
It doesn’t matter that back in 1969 they knew less about strokes than they do today.
The pain I’ve carried for my one quick decision to just stay on that couch is pain I almost can’t describe.
My mother used to tell me there were two words that were small but carried a lot of weight. The words? “If only.”
How ironic. For those two words had held me captive for years.
If only I would have gone to her.
If only I would have gotten off the couch and at least asked her if she called me.
I could always go back and lay down again. I could always fall asleep a little later. But I couldn’t ever get another chance.
Two other words that also plague us as humans are the words, “What if?”
What if she wanted me to do something that might have helped her?
What if I could have helped?
What if she would finally tell me, “I love you.”
No, I could not forgive myself for the longest time. In my sixteen-year-old mind, I had caused my mother’s death. I lived with two people who believed it; it must be true.
When my father died he told me he admitted it was not my fault. But deep inside I was still blaming me.
And I would make myself pay. I would never forgive myself.
Forgiveness is God’s idea
This topic is one I’ve thought about my whole life. And one day I met a woman who told me I had been forgiven for all my sins. She sat in her basement with tables and chairs filled with other young adults and she talked about Jesus as if she knew him personally.
I trusted in him September 12, 1971. I saw that he died for my sins. All of them because I hadn’t been born when he died. It was all or nothing.
But I still held onto this unforgivable act I had committed.
“When Jesus died on the cross,” Lois said, “he said the words, ‘It is finished.’ He was talking about the payment for sins.”
And yet, even though I trusted in what he did, I held onto one sin that he would not forgive. I wouldn’t let him.
No, I would pay for it. The only problem was, when would enough be enough? When would I know the sentence was fulfilled?
It makes sense that the one who introduced me to Jesus would also teach me about him. Sitting under her teaching, I learned about the sin of pride. One I struggled with so much. Still struggle with.
And one day, I don’t know when, I realized if I don’t forgive me it’s still unforgiveness.
And to hold this against myself, I am in essence saying, “God, I believe you have forgiven my sins, except for this one. This one is too big for even you.”
And just hearing those words, or seeing them in print right now sounds so arrogant.
God loves me so much that he sent Jesus to die for my sins. All my sins. Every. Last. One. Even being unwilling to forgive myself. They were paid in full.
I forgive me
I breathe in his grace and I sigh. God is bigger than I am. I am forgiven. I am free.
Yes, I wish I had gone to my mom that day. But I didn’t.
And one day I will find out what she would have told me.
But until then. I’ll thank God for his great love. I’ll thank God for his forgiveness.
Jesus said, “It is finished.” And it is.
What about you?
Do you struggle with forgiveness?
Have you ever had to forgive yourself?
I’d love to hear about it.