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I’ve received so many lovely notes of congratulations on the airing of Christmas Everlasting, the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie based on my novel, The Second Sister. Thank you so much to everyone who wrote. Your notes have touched me.
Those that impacted me most came from people who wrote to say that the movie’s themes about self-forgiveness hit very close to home. Like my character, Lucy, these people feel terribly guilty about something they’ve done in the past and say they just can’t let it go.
I get it.
I think that most people feel like that at some level, as though they have made mistakes that can never be erased completely. Sometimes, it’s really hard to put the past in the past.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. And it shouldn’t.
Before I go on, I need to pause and explain something.
This is not a faith-based blog. However, I am a faith-based person, a professing and practicing Christian. (I love that phrase “practicing Christian” because, a lot of the time, that’s what it feels like I am doing – practicing. I don’t always get it right. In fact, I rarely get it right. But I sincerely keep trying.) My faith and Christian practice influences my thoughts and actions. When I discuss the subject of forgiveness, I do so through the lens of my faith.
You may feel differently. That’s fine. But I just want you to understand that before you decide to read on, or not.
Right. Moving on.
Living On Purpose
I believe that everyone on earth – even you, even me – was created on purpose and for a purpose by a loving God.
What is your purpose? I have no idea.
But I am one hundred percent sure it doesn’t include spending the rest of your life feeling bad about the mistakes you have made.
Okay, let’s go back the movie for a minute.
As I’ve mentioned in other posts, there were a lot of differences between my book, The Second Sister, and the movie. A lot of scenes had to be changed, or cut entirely.
Today I want to direct you back to the book, specifically to chapter 42. In this chapter, Lucy is feeling awful about herself. And for good reason. For years, she’s been carrying around an enormous load of guilt and a terrible secret. Seeking solace, she wanders into the church to think and ends up encountering Father Damon. He listens as Lucy confesses the truth about the accident that left her sister, Alice, forever impaired.
Here’s the important part of the scene…
An Excerpt from The Second Sister
Before she died, Alice accused me of remembering wrong. But the truth is, I didn’t want to remember at all. Remembering only reminds me of all the ways I failed her.
I can never forgive myself.
Father Damon didn’t say a word, not until I finished. The he took my hand in his. “It’s God’s place to forgive, Lucy. It is yours to accept that forgiveness.”
“I don’t know if I can believe that, Father. It seems like an out, like I’d be letting myself off the hook. If there was just something I could do, some way to make up for—”
He sighed. “Lucy, what penance could anyone require of you than you haven’t already laid upon yourself? Almighty God chooses to pardon you; what right have you to reject that pardon?”
He was quiet for a moment, waiting for me to respond, I suppose. When I didn’t, he said, “Do you remember the story of the woman caught in adultery in the gospel of John?”
“The people of the town dragged her out with the intention of stoning her to death,” he said. “This was the legal sentence imposed for that crime. But Jesus put a stop to it, saying that whichever of them was without sin should cast the first stone. One by one, knowing that this was a standard they couldn’t meet, the crowd dispersed.
“When they were all gone, Jesus looked at the woman, wanting to know where her accusers had gone. ‘Does no one condemn you?’ he asked. When she answered no, he said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go now, and sin no more.’”
He looked at me with an expression of such compassion that I had to swallow back tears again.
“If Alice didn’t accuse you and God doesn’t condemn you, why are you standing stubbornly in the same spot, year after year, waiting for your stoning?”
A Forgiving God
What about you, my friend?
Are you standing there, year after year, waiting for your stoning?
I don’t know what you’ve done. But I do know that if you’re genuinely sorry have confessed your sins, or errors, or omissions to God, and, with God’s help, sincerely resolved to try to do better with (even if you sometimes fail after that) then you ARE forgiven.
Psalm 103 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”.
God, through the prophet Isaiah says, “I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
In Hebrews, God says, “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.”
I could give you about 50 other places, probably more, where God says basically the same thing.
When we are sorry, confess, and sincerely resolve to do better, God forgives us. He does so, not because we deserve it, but for his own sake, meaning that forgiveness is not dependent on your character but on God’s. (What a relief!)
A Clean Slate
Another thing? Once we confess those sins, God doesn’t remember them anymore. No kidding!
If you sincerely confess a sin to God, no matter how terrible, and then go back 5 minutes later and say, “Hey, God. Remember the terrible thing I did?” His answer will be, “Nope.”
Isn’t that crazy? I know it seems like it couldn’t possibly be true, but it is. God is not like people.
Don’t get me wrong, God is not a marshmallow. He’s not fooled by false confession. Nor does he ignore our sins. In fact, he confronts us with our sin. Why? Because he cares deeply about our character, just like human parents care deeply about the character of their children.
But when it comes to forgiveness, God is different than we are. People can sometimes forgive but we rarely forget. But God’s forgiveness is total, a complete wiping of the slate.
If you have confessed your transgressions and resolved to do better in the future, then, as far as God is concerned, your account is settled. You may have things you need to do with or for others to try to resolve the situation and clear up any messes you’ve made, but when it comes to you and God – you’re good. You don’t need to do anything else, except be grateful and with God’s help, try to do better in the future, day by day.
What you do not need to do is stand there, year after year, waiting for your stoning.
That kind of lifelong, ongoing, crippling guilt doesn’t serve you. Or God. Or humanity. It just prevents you from living the life you were meant to live and fulfilling the purpose that you were created to fulfill.
Forgive Yourself (and Accept Forgiveness)
My friend, if you’re laboring under guilt that you just can’t seem to move past, pray and confess your sins. Do it one last time.
Then follow God’s lead and remember them no more.
It isn’t always easy. It might take time. Like Christianity itself, it will take practice.
If those self-condemning thoughts about a previous confessed since come bubbling back, recall that God doesn’t remember that sin anymore. That means that the voice you’re hearing does not come from God. So, tell the voice to take a hike.
Say it out loud if you have to. If you do so frequently, after a while, that spirit of condemnation will give up on you and go away.
The bottom line is this – if the God of the universe, who created heaven and earth and YOU, chooses to forgive you, then who are you to say he is wrong to do so?
It’s God’s place to forgive, my friend. It’s your place to accept that forgiveness.