March 12, 2021
By Carol Joseph
Like a lot of people, my favorite parts of home improvement shows, DIY videos and Pinterest posts are the before and after pictures. Whether it’s a fashion makeover or a complete home renovation, I’m awed and inspired by the remarkable transformation from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. During quarantine, I started painting furniture. Partly to keep me busy and partly because I loved seeing something old and unwanted transformed into something new and beautiful — all documented with the requisite before and after photos.
Yet as much as I enjoy seeing the results of any makeover, the transformation that makes the biggest difference in life is the one that doesn’t come with any pictures. It’s the change that happens when we open our hearts to Jesus and go from living a life of stress, fear and regret to a life of peace, contentment and gratitude. But, much like the hard work that goes on behind the scenes of fixer-upper shows, there’s work that goes into transforming our hearts. And for me, a big part of that effort is forgiveness.
As someone who has never viewed the world in black and white, forgiveness is one of the few things in my life for which there is no gray area. I learned about it as a child while reciting the Lord’s Prayer and I believe in it as an adult follower of Jesus.
“…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”Matthew 6:12, Roman Catholic version
As Christians, we are called to forgive one another. No ifs, ands or buts. No exceptions to the rule. God commands it. And we all need it.
That doesn’t mean forgiveness is easy. And it doesn’t mean I’m always quick to forgive others. Forgiving someone who has hurt me — or worse yet, someone I love — is probably one of the hardest things in the world to do. I’ve learned that it’s also something I can’t always do on my own; it is Christ who gives me the strength to forgive when I’m unwilling or unable to do so. I can recall with great clarity instances in my life where the ability to forgive has truly come from God because left to my own devices, I would have held onto my hurt, nursed it, and allowed it to poison my life and relationships.
Yet as important as it is to forgive others, God also calls us to do something even more challenging. He calls us to forgive ourselves.
I used to live a “shoulda-woulda-coulda” life. Always looking back, thinking about what I should have done, what I wish I would have done, the perfect words I could have said that would have changed things for the better. Guilt was my constant companion; regret as familiar as the face I saw every day in the mirror.
Then something extraordinary happened. While doing a forgiveness exercise as part of a course I was taking, I realized that the one person I never considered forgiving was the one who needed it the most: me. No if, ands or buts about it. I needed to relieve myself of the burden of guilt that I had been dragging around—warranted or not—
and move on. After all, if God could forgive the sins and shortcomings that go hand-in-hand with being human, wasn’t I obligated to do the same?
I did. And it changed everything.
Forgiveness gives us the freedom to let go of the past so we can find peace in the present and look with joyful anticipation to the future that Jesus has planned for us. I’ve also seen that same transformation take place in others who have had the courage to forgive themselves.
If you’re struggling today, maybe it’s time to make peace with something in your past. Ask God to help you forgive others. And, just as importantly, ask Him for the grace and strength to forgive yourself.
You may end up with your own astonishingly beautiful before and after picture.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.Ephesians 4:32, NIV
Photo Credit: Vaishakh Pillai