Why can I forgive others when I can't forgive myself? This is a question that was asked during a meeting of my church Bible study group. It wasn't asked in anger or frustration, but more from the standpoint of curiosity. I sensed that the question was posed more from a rhetorical sense. After the question was raised, it hung in the air for a moment or two as we all silently pondered. A good question, and one that most of us really can appreciate. Sometimes we can forgive the most aggregious offense from someone else, but we cannot stop reminding ourselves of our most trivial and pedestrian slips.
I know this to be true of myself as well, and I understand how this lack of forgiveness leads to deep-seated regrets that I can't let go. In fact, it sometimes feels that it is not me holding onto them, it is them holding onto me. Hence the image of a prison cell that I chose to accompany this post, for unforgiveness truly is a prison of sorts. We are trapped by painful thoughts and feelings and regrets that never seem to end. It is a cramped, dank, and putrid confine of our own making within the boundaries of our mind.
Although I do not fully understand what I am about to claim, and I don't know what it means in practice, I recognize the truth of my own words. Living in a prison cell of our own design is not the way God intended us to live. Life doesn't have to be this way. You see, we are the warden. We have the key to our cells and the ability to open it up at any time we choose. In fact, nobody else in the world has this ability or this authority. Only us. Forgiveness is the key to open that door, and it is the only key that will fit into the lock and engage the tumblers. It is not the passage of time. It is not trying to forget the past or bury it away. It is not numbing the pain with alcohol or drugs.