“I can’t believe you did that … You’re such a loser … You can’t be trusted … You’re a terrible person … I’ll never forgive you. Ever.”
Those are devastating words. Have you heard them? I think so. I have. And this is what makes them especially crippling. These are words we’ve quietly yet convincingly said to ourselves.
The Bible tells us about a man whose heart was weighed down by these questions. David, who committed two of the most haunting sins a person can commit—adultery that broke the promise of his marriage, and murder that robbed another human being of life.
David struggled to forgive himself, and wrote about it in Psalm 32. What happens when I can’t forgive myself? What does it look like?
- David admits, “My bones wasted away,” (v. 3) literally that means “wearing out, wearing down.” When you can’t forgive yourself you get tired more easily, fatigued by everyday life, lacking spiritual clarity and energy, as if paralyzed.
- “Groaning all day long,” (v. 3) it’s hard to express clearly what’s going on, sighs and cries of sorrow won’t go away and just keep forcing you to relive what you’ve done.
- “[God’s] hand was heavy on me,” (v. 4) means that your spiritual life becomes more of a burden than a blessing, and more of a duty than a delight, perhaps even feeling like abuse of some kind—you just want it to go away and it keeps bullying you and you grow more resentful of religion and even God.
- “My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer,” (v. 4). You just don’t feel like doing anything anymore, don’t try to make things better because the feeling is so oppressive. You’re afraid to leave your comfort zone and take risks of faith and growth.
- “Rising of the mighty waters,” (v. 6) is like being trapped in a vehicle swept away by a flooding water crossing; you can’t get out and the vehicle is sinking as the rising water level threatens your life. It’s a feeling of hopeless dread and helpless fear.
- “Many woes,” (v. 10) gang up on you, both real and perceived. You find more reasons to see everyone and everything else as a problem, and it can make you quite anxious, irritable and overwhelmed.
Do any of those symptoms or signs of not forgiving yourself feel close to home for you? Do they come for a time and then go away, or have they taken over? Maybe you’ve known all along that you haven’t forgiven yourself, or maybe you’re just putting the pieces together right now.
Why does this happen in the first place? Why can’t you forgive yourself? Tune in tomorrow as I continue to open up Psalm 32 and David’s story. There is hope and clarity. And you’re not alone.
PRAYER: Dear God, sometimes I just can’t forgive myself. I feel like a terrible person. I’ve let down too many people. It’s a hopeless feeling and it suffocates my spiritual life. Deliver me from myself by your divine forgiveness—so real, so true, so faithful. Amen.
FURTHER MEDITATION: Meditate on Psalm 32 for 5 minutes. Focus on David’s description of what it’s like not being able to forgive himself. Verses 3, 4, 6 and 10 especially. Pause at each. Do these describe you in any way?