Forgiven, that’s what we all want: to be forgiven…by God, by others, by ourselves. The following is an excerpt from by latest book: Starting Over…finding God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself.
Let me tell you about Steve. Steve has a drinking problem, but he never saw it coming. He got started drinking heavily in college with his buddies. He thought after college that things would change, but he found that old habits die hard. Steve realized that he didn’t have the self-control he thought he had.
How would your life change if you knew that you were completely forgiven and accepted unconditionally?
When Steve’s friends invited him to the bar, he always said yes. And when they encouraged him to have one more, he never said no. After the third drink he lost count. He knew it wasn’t right but thought, “Hey, I’m not hurting anyone.” He was just having a good time.
In his honest moments, Steve knew that he was hurting someone. He was hurting himself because his drinking hurt his health. It hurt his relationships. It hurt his job performance. It also hurt his relationship with God.
Steve’s excessive drinking made him feel guilty. But things had gotten out of control, and he didn’t know how to get back on track. Like I said: he never planned his life to be this way. One thing just led to another.
When God is the Problem
Interestingly enough, Steve’s faith in God was actually a part of the problem. He felt so ashamed of his failure that he drank more trying to cover his guilt. It was a vicious cycle. The more he drank the guiltier he felt. The guiltier he felt the more he drank. He never dreamed of being forgiven.
After a while, Steve stopped feeling guilty. He grew numb. He just accepted that he was a drinker and resigned himself to a life without God. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was better than feeling guilty all the time.
Steve’s story describes many people I’ve talked to over the years. Just change the name, and the addiction, and Steve might be someone you know. Steve might even be you. Instead of a drinking problem it might be a problem with food, pornography, gambling, shopping, anger, or any number of things.
Guilt: The Roadblock to Being Forgiven
What often keeps us from getting the help we need is guilt. We are so ashamed of what we’ve done that we push God away, assuming he wants nothing to do with us. But in doing that, we push away our greatest help.
What if Steve could live a life free from guilt? How do you think Steve’s life would change if he knew that he was completely forgiven, and God accepted him unconditionally, just the way he was… warts, addiction, and all?
More importantly, how would your life change if you knew that you were completely forgiven and accepted unconditionally?
I’m not talking about being free from all guilt. Some guilt is good…I’m talking about the false guilt that lingers and often turns to shame. I’m talking about the feeling that weighs on you and makes you want to avoid anything remotely associated with God, because you are convinced of his disgust for you.
True guilt has a short shelf life, that is: once guilt serves its purpose in getting you to see your wrong, it starts to spoil. It’s like soured milk: guilt turns from being helpful to being hurtful. But many people keep drinking the “sour milk” of guilt thinking it’s the right thing to do… even the godly thing to do. They just assume that all guilt is from God and so they embrace it. Big mistake.
The truth is that God wants you to move from guilt to grace as quickly as possible. Put your past behind you and start building your new regret-free life. Live forgiven. [adapted from chapter nine from Starting Over: The Problem of Guilt.]