I find myself haunted by failures of the past. Insignificant things seem to trigger feelings of anxiety and regret. This morning I was doing a Sudoku while I was eating my breakfast. I often do this as a kind of mental wakeup call. I sat alone at the kitchen table puzzling over the Sudoku when I began to feel anew the pain of a past failure. During a particularly difficult time I had used the Sudoku as a kind of escape; a way to take my mind off of a painful ordeal. Now, in the quietness of my kitchen, the pain returned.
I have always had better recall of my failures than my successes. Not that my failures outnumber times of productivity and fruitfulness. Yet, for some reason, those positive experiences tend to blur into a general pool of accomplishments, while the failures remain vivid, individual reminders of my less than perfect life.
I resonate with the words of King David in Psalm 51:3. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” I have often joined with David in his cry for God’s forgiveness and the restoration of his relationship with God. Satan is a master at inserting a wedge between me and God and then pounding it in as far as he possibly can.
Now lest I sound like I am trapped in an unending quagmire of guilt, I do know the reality of God’s forgiveness. David was able to write these words of relief and joy in Psalm 103. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalms 103:8-12 (NIV) I have experienced the forgiveness and the grace of God; and I seek to live within that every day.
My point is that negative experiences can have a powerful hold on our minds. It is easy to say, “Forget it.” But our minds were designed not to forget. Like a computer with unlimited storage capacity, our minds store up every experience in a data base unfathomable to even Apple and Microsoft.
In the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes this statement. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV) This begins with cultivating the ability to forgive ourselves. If we cannot forgive ourselves, we cannot experience God’s forgiveness. Self-forgiveness is not taking sin lightly and quickly excusing or dismissing it. Self-forgiveness is taking sin seriously and then releasing it to God. Christ has already forgiven us of all of our sin; past, present and future. Yet he invites us to bring our sin and our failures before him on a regular basis so that we can feel the reality of his forgiveness. John said so clearly in 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
We need to understand that sin is not limited to those crass actions so common in our world today. Sin is falling short of the glory of God; sin is failing to live up to our calling in Christ. It doesn’t have to be a blatant act of rebellion; it can take the form of some task left undone. James says that to know what is right to do and not do it that is sin. Sin matters so much that God sent Jesus into the world to die for our sin. We too should take it just as seriously.
There is a favorite story of mine that puts this situation into proper perspective for me. A young boy was warned over and over again not to run in the house and especially in the living room. There were valuable, breakable things in there. One day, as boys are wont to do, he forgot his parents’ warning and went racing through the house. He turned a corner into the living room and collided with an end table that held a vase, which had belonged to his mother’s grandmother. In horrid he watched as the vase tilted and then crashed to pieces on the floor. He immediately dissolved in uncontrollable sobs on the floor. His parents, hearing his cries, hurried into the living room to see what was wrong. Immediately they understood. His father stooped down and said to his son, “It doesn’t matter,” but the boy refused to be consoled. Then his mother gathered him up in her arms. “Look at me,” she said with a firm but gentle voice. “It does matter, but it’s OK.” He buried his head in her shoulder and his body finally relaxed.
When I fail to live up to my calling in Christ, being told that it doesn’t matter does nothing for me. Instead I hear the voice of my loving, Heavenly Father say, “Dave, it does matter, but it is OK.” When I am haunted by the memories of past failures I need to stop and give them back to Christ. He has forgiven my, and by His grace I can forgive myself.