A few months ago, Father Chircop presented to my Spiritual Direction Institute class, we are to forgive ourselves. "To ask for forgiveness and not forgive ourselves is a sin." I think there is a connection to how we are taught to dwell on our failure and be "guilty as sin." I think the initial guilt, that sinking feeling in the gut, can tell us that we've messed up or missed something. It may be the "I should have known better" response. That is a helpful sensation that allows us to identify our 'failure' so we can name it, learn from it, and grow. We can get stuck there, when we do not face the lesson that underlies the mistake, when someone else shames us, when we perceive judgement and any for other reason we hang on to the shame and guilt.
As I maneuver my way through reframing all of the elements of organized religion that drove me away from 'the church', I want to tackle this concept first. I've heard the phrase 'guilty as sin' so many times. For me this phrase indicates that sin is guilt, that once a sin has occurred, that guilt is a permanent attachment. Is there anything more guilty than sin? It seems that point is made to be sure we ask for forgiveness from God. I don't ever remember hearing anything about forgiving ourselves. I'm sure this is connected to the type of church I attended or the message or sermons as I remember them from my childhood. But for whatever reason, it is a new concept for me. So if sin is full of guilt, can guilt be full of sin?
How is guilt a sin? If we become so frozen in guilt, if shame and fear begin to taint how we see ourselves and how we perceive our existence, we will no doubt move in directions that were not intended for us. In other words, we may miss opportunities, make bad choices because it is what we think we deserve, or spend a lot of energy making ourselves feel better. How many times have I been driven by my ego to prove my worth, to rationalize my actions, to escape from my true self and situation in efforts to respond to guilt, shame, and fear of another failure? The things I feel most guilty about are the ways I've interacted with people when I am trying to prove myself. It is a vicious cycle. In order to be at peace, to be comfortable in the skin I was given and the soul it carries around, I have to know and be comfortable with myself. This is nearly impossible when I am feeling guilty. In some way, this feels like victim mentality. It is a passive aggressive stance to stop at the feeling of guilt. When we ask for forgiveness, what lies just beyond forgiveness is growth. What lies beyond growth is love, acceptance, understanding and peace. It is harder for me to hear that I am worthy of these things, but it is a sin for me not to believe it. It is like having someone drop off a package at your front door. The box contains everything you've every wanted and you refuse to open the door. So when we fully accept forgiveness, we are to be completely free from the burden of shame and guilt.
When we try to make other people feel guilty, to me that is useless and counterproductive tenfold, because we attempt to take that gift away from someone else. My guess is, most mentally healthy people have that internal gut reaction that indicates for ourselves that we took a wrong turn, and there's is something for us to learn. Having someone else bring it to our attention fuels the flame of guilt and shame. This is probably what I feared most about being around 'righteous types'. If I am actively trying to accept the grace of forgiveness, I am likely not going very far if others are in the "you should be ashamed of yourself" state of mind. I guess that is why I am not a proponent of any type of punishment that uses guilt, shame, and fear. It is hard to find "corrective action" in education and associations that support growth and enlightenment but of all places, let that be the way of 'church'. Of course I latched on to the concept Father Chircop presented because it reframes the church as a place where forgiveness of self is as important as God's forgiveness of us. As he put it, it is the only sin God has no way of forgiving. We must do it ourselves.
I am making a leap here by connecting sin and every kind of failure. I struggle with forgiving myself of either, so it is a point well taken no matter the severity of the issue. It is good for me to be reminded to keep moving forward!