I took the call. "Would you come and speak to our group?"
The response is always the same. "Yes. It would be a privilege."
The date was arranged for last Tuesday evening. Giving enough time to get there, I set out on the hour and a half journey. The evening commenced with us seated on outdoor plastic chairs in a large circle enjoying a sausage sizzle and few laughs. A good start.
Later, we went inside, and the meeting started with prayer and a couple of rousing Christian songs. The fellas were excited and so was I. After the formal introduction, I began my prison testimony, the one they came to hear, about the blessings of Almighty God.
As I worked through my well-rehearsed stories, I spoke on the importance of forgiveness. It struck a chord to the point that, at question time, one bloke raised the question I think we've all had to deal with.
"I know God forgave you. But how long did it take you to forgive yourself?" He was of course referring to my brother’s death in the collision I had.
My response escaped from the confines of my subconscious, automatically, without thought. "Well, that takes a while longer."
He seemed pained by his past and wanted to know how someone else dealt with that regurgitating affliction we've all experienced of not forgiving oneself. Upon repentance, Christ had forgiven me. Yet I like many others took a while to forgive myself for my foolish behaviours.
I followed on with an explanation to the audience. "We must forgive ourselves. Jesus Christ calls us to future works of success, not failure. It becomes difficult when hobbled by the ball and chain of past guilt which so often padlocks itself to us. It's an unsympathetic reminder of our former faults or mistakes or falls from grace. Without self-forgiveness, every so often our steps forward seem to press on a memory that not only haunts but hampers us. Jesus called all of us who are burdened with troubles to come to Him and He will give us rest. The problem is, we don't give ourselves rest!"
Using John 10:10 as an example, I explained "Satan seeks to steal, kill and destroy our future with Christ. One way he does that is by using the regrets of past failures to weigh us down. The flow-on effect is we question our ability to succeed in the future.”
The guy seemed to absorb those thoughts and later came up and shook my hand. His life was one of deep regret, of stooping to levels of self-destruction and debasement where many wouldn’t dare venture.
Jesus said in Luke 7:41-43 “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.”
Christ had made him new. This guy was forgiven of much. I could see that in his watering eyes. But he still found the wonders of that forgiveness too merciful to easily accept, like many of us do.
The hardest part of accepting Jesus’ forgiveness is forgiving ourselves, but we must. Otherwise, we fall for Satan's trick. It's only a trick.
Also, when we don't forgive ourselves, it may barricade our pathway to forgiving others, as Jesus asks us to do.
Today's prayer:Dear Lord, thank you for your forgiveness of my sins. Please help me to reject thoughts of personal unforgiveness when they arise. I need self-examination but don't want the self-destructive nature of not forgiving myself.
Photo by Brett Jordan