Dear Donagh…. Maybe you can help me with something that has been bothering me a long time. I know that God forgives me for everything I did but I have great difficulty forgiving myself. Nothing seems to lessen my sense of guilt and no amount of assurance does me any good. It works only while the person, usually the confessor, is speaking, but the next minute I'm as worried as ever. Can I ever be free of this? I'd appreciate whatever advice you can give me. TC
Dear TC, Your question leads to a wider one: is it ever possible to forgive oneself? Is the very idea an impossibility, like trying to pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps? I think it is. Forgiveness is something you have to receive; it’s not something you can give yourself.
It may be useful to try and see how the knot is constructed. The refusal to forgive oneself has something uncompromising about it - which makes it look very religious. It must be coming from an interesting place if it waves aside God's forgiveness and waits for something better! It looks not only religious, but super-religious. I believe it comes from the ego, which would like to be its own judge and jury, its own god in fact. It would push God off his throne of judgment and sit there itself. It’s the normal pattern of the ego: it wants to be its own world apart, with its own god, condemning and acquitting according to its own law. Once you see this deeply it falls away from you.
Is this making things very easy? Oh yes! I would much rather “fall into the hands of the living God” than fall into my own. God is the “Father of Mercies”, but the ego knows no mercy.
Julian of Norwich, the 14th-century English mystic, said a very intriguing thing that is relevant here: “I saw most surely that it is quicker for us and easier to come to the knowledge of God than it is to know our own soul. For our soul is so deeply grounded in God and so endlessly treasured that we cannot come to knowledge of it until we first have knowledge of God, who is the Creator to whom it is united.” That is from chapter 56 of her book, which goes by different titles, depending on the translation (but the title doesn’t matter, since she has only one book). The ego’s project is to know (and judge) itself apart from God, but according to Julian this project is doomed to failure.
Since you ask for advice I would advise you to immerse yourself in Julian’s book. It has brought comfort and reassurance to many, with its vision of “our familiar and courteous Lord.” May he lighten your step.