Have you ever said or done something you regret? Then you find yourself thinking about it over and over. You want to move on but something keeps pulling you back to that moment and each time you feel miserable, like it just happened.
When my wife and I first married, we lived in a remote part of Honduras known as the Mosquito Coast. There we ran a Christian mission that included a non-profit pharmacy, some micro-business ventures and a small church.
Twice a year, we’d fly 350 miles over impassable mountains and dense jungle to a port city called La Ceiba where we’d purchase supplies and enjoy some much needed rest. What we most enjoyed were pizzas, hot showers and air conditioned hotel rooms. Our first child, Abigail, was born in Honduras so she traveled with us.
Failed flight plan
On one trip, my daughter and I were playing the “flying game” in our hotel room. She’d climb up on the bed, run toward me and leap into my arms. Then I’d make her “fly” around the room as she giggled delightedly. It was great fun. She was fearlessly confident as she ran and leaped from the bed each time. Never did she consider what might happen if I failed to catch her. Then the unthinkable happened.
Something distracted me at precisely the moment she made her next running leap from the bed. I turned back just in time to see her tiny body soar past me, arms extended in flight in her best superman pose. Then gravity took over and yanked her to the cold, tile floor. I cringed as I watched her slam down, slide across the floor and skid to a halt. Quiet, motionless she lay.
My wife and I quickly glanced at each other as if to affirm our “don’t over-react rule.” While sincerely concerned, we’d learned Abigail was pretty resilient and if we over-reacted it only made the situation worse.
Slowly Abigail started to move, then she turned her head and locked eyes with me as if to say, “Where were you?” Next came the squinting eyes, and the puckered mouth, followed by a wail.
Thoughts raced through my mind. I felt horrible. What had I done? Was she hurt? How bad? Would she ever forgive me? After a cautious inspection, we decided her injuries were minor. But I felt awful. I held her close to me and comforted her.
To this day, I recall that moment she flew by. What a sick feeling to know your child is heading into a situation where they could be hurt emotionally or physically and be unable to do anything about it. I still don’t recall why I was distracted. Probably something on the TV.
Over time, the guilt faded and I realized that I couldn’t continue to relive the moment. My relationship with Abigail continued to grow and evolve. I had lots of opportunities to prove I was a father worthy of her trust. Eventually, I realized I couldn’t change the past so I decided to forgive myself and move on.Today my daughter and I have a great relationship and she laughs when I tell that story. She has no recollection of what happened, except what she has heard me tell.
But I could have reacted differently. I could have clung to that regret forever. Constantly reminding my daughter how I had failed her. Constantly begging renewed forgiveness. But that wouldn’t have been healthy for me or her. Fathers should demonstrate strength and guidance. It’s hard to lead now, and into the future, if we’re anchored to our past.
To stink or not to stink
Most of you are aware I have a couple of pit bulls. They’re great dogs, but they stink. There are three ways my wife and I could deal with the stink.
Reject- We could pretend that they don’t stink. Ignore it. Act like there is no mustiness. But over a period of time their smell would overtake our house like ants on a bowl of sugar.
Resign - We could accept the smell and decide to tolerate it. Tell ourselves that all dogs stink. It’s the price of dog ownership. It’s not that bad. Convince ourselves that the reward does not merit the time, effort or expense required to clean them and maybe it will go away by itself. Or better yet, that’s just the way it is, has been and always will be and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Restore -But there is a more healthy, balanced response. Instead, we accept the fact that they stink and realize we need to periodically cleanse them of the stink to maintain their physical and mental health, as well as ours. We accept the fact that bathing them is our responsibility as pet owners and we periodically toss them in the shower.
Self-forgiveness also restores. The word forgive means to return to a state before the act occurred or was given. To make the stink go away, my wife and I take turns bathing them and we return them to a non-stinking state.
Are you making healthy choices about self-forgiveness today? You can’t give what you don’t have. So if you want to forgive others, maybe you need to start by forgiving yourself today, right now. Ask yourself what are some things you’re holding against yourself.
A failed marriage? A failed relationship? A lost job? Something you said or did? Let it go. You can’t change the past, but you can create a brighter future by forgiving yourself. Don’t wait.
Maybe you can’t even remember everything you’re holding against yourself but over time you’ll remember more and as you do, let them go. Don’t rehearse them over and over in your mind. Let them go so you can return to that state before it ever happened. Everyone makes mistakes but you don’t have to keep reliving them. Even if you willfully did something in the past, you can forgive yourself today if you’re genuinely remorseful.
After you forgive yourself, help someone else forgive themselves.