Author and therapist Wendy Ulrich and Vice President of Student Life Jan Scharman spoke on the why and how of forgiving oneself in a Friday afternoon session of BYU Women’s Conference.
Scharman began the session paraphrasing a story by Jeffrey R. Holland from October 2016 General Conference about a father who accidentally ran over and killed his young son.
“When there is something that is so traumatic, it’s often human nature to want to blame someone or something,” Scharman said. “We want an explanation, a reason why something so unreasonable has happened — a cause, or somewhere to focus our pain.”
She said guilt is not always bad because it often leads to godly sorrow, hope and change. The problem is when people fall into Satan’s trap of thinking less of themselves as a result of past mistakes.
Some wonder why one must forgive oneself, and in part it is due to a human, limited perspective, according to Scharman.
“The Lord has reminded us that his ways are not our ways,” Scharman said. “Just because we don’t have the explanations we want doesn’t mean that there is not purpose in what we are experiencing. We do know that what we’ve been given is what we each need to learn.”
Scharman also reminded the audience that the biggest reason to forgive oneself is that it’s a commandment to “forgive all men.”
Once Scharman concluded her remarks, Ulrich also spoke about how to forgive oneself. The most important thing Ulrich wanted the audience to take from her comments was a need to get close to the Savior.
Ulrich spoke about understanding the frustration and struggle of some who avoid repenting and coming closer to Christ in order to avoid feelings of shame and guilt.
She said the Latin root of the word repentance — related to pain and punishment — is to blame for this implied relationship between shame and repentance. The Hebrew meaning of the word for repentance is “to turn around,” while the Greek meaning is “changing one’s mind,” according to Ulrich.
Ulrich went on to speak about God’s role in change and repentance.
“God doesn’t just wait for us to crawl up to his door once we’ve figured out how clearly despicable we are, or once we’ve figured it all out, or once we’ve figured out by ourselves how to get out of this self-harrowing state that we’re in,” Ulrich said.
Rather, once the Lord calls for repentance or a change of mind, he is immediately knocking at the door of the repentant, according to Ulrich.
Amanda Valentine from Layton, Utah was especially touched by this notion.
“I really like that the Lord is waiting at the door and all we have to do is open it,” Valentine said. “As soon as we sin, he’s there right away just waiting for us, and I like that she said it’s hard for us to do when we sin, but as soon as we accept him then he can help us get over our sins or our weaknesses.”
The second most important thing Ulrich wanted to share was being clean is possible. Many are already clean, but are simply confused by the difference between a sin and a weakness.
She described sin as a mistake made when one knows better, whereas weakness is a mistake made because of a limitation, inadequacy or flaw that is part of mortality.
For Terry Young from Roosevelt, Utah, this was the most useful part of the session.
“I think I tend to think that my weaknesses are sins when I need to learn that there are weaknesses I need to continue to work on,” Young said.
Ulrich concluded her remarks with words of advice about dealing with sin versus weakness. When one repents, God forgives and the repentant must accept that forgiveness. However, repentance may not be necessary when one tries to get over a weakness; rather, one must prioritize his or her life.
“We can’t do the list of 142 things we’re supposed to do all at once because we’re weak,” Ulrich said. “We need to make a plan that includes studying and getting help and putting stickers on the calendar for every day we get it right and be patient with the process as we practice.”
Karen Graham from South Jordan, Utah, wants to put more trust in the Lord as a result of Scharman’s and Ulrich’s words.
“I think I can ask for Christ’s help more instead of trying to do it myself,” Graham said.
Valentine also wants to change her perspective on forgiving herself.
“If Heavenly Father can forgive me, if Jesus Christ can forgive me, then why can’t I forgive myself? I think I would change my approach, I guess,” Valentine said. “I’ll give my faith to him and let him take over, which is hard to do.”