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By Badi Shams

Sometimes we’re very hard on ourselves, and can’t forgive our mistakes in certain areas of life. Many of us lack self-esteem and consequently lose sight of life’s big picture.

When that happens to me, I often forget that life represents a collection of my good and bad actions—sort of a balance sheet that keeps track of my deeds, both good and bad. The negative side or the bad deeds are like an open account I have at a store or with a credit card company that keeps track of my purchases and payments. The expectation? Payments must be made by the end of the week or month at the most.

Our life’s open account is no different—because we are spiritually brought to account by the end of our physical existence. So when we know this tab is open, and understand that we are going to make many mistakes till we die, then why do we suddenly pick one mistake and become obsessed with it to the extent that we cannot forgive ourselves? Why one, when many could be singled out and made to be the stumbling block on the way of our human journey?

Forgiving others for what they have done is much easier for me than forgiving myself. The Bahá’í Teachings have a wealth of insight and knowledge on this subject to help us to forgive others—and ourselves. But my problem has always been being unable to forgive myself. For whatever reasons, my self-esteem has rarely been high enough to take me to the happier side of self-forgiveness. Even after finding out some great people too felt like me, not feeling worthy did not help me with my struggles. But when I read the holy scripture of many different Faiths, they take away some of the pain.

Even the great apostle Paul looked at his past with great regret:

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  (1 Corinthians 15:9)

Shoghi Effendi considered himself a failure to “Rise to the situation the Master’s passing had placed him in” – and this distressed him for many years. (Rúhíyyih Rabbání, The Priceless Pearl, p. 72)

Maybe we need to be reminded that our account with the Creator remains open, and not let one mistake stop us from moving on with our lives. He has not given up on us, so why are we writing ourselves off? We will eventually balance our account.

As the result of doing so many wrong things in my life, I sometimes feel unbearable and paralyzed, filled with deep regret. This negativity reaches so high that I have to find ways not to deal with it, postponing that intense and difficult reckoning to some future time so that hopefully by then I am better equipped to face it and deal with it. So when those intense guilt attack moments occur, I repeat this to myself: “Please God, put it on my tab.”

That way I buy myself some time to deal with it later—to pray, to silently ask God for forgiveness, to find the inner strength to resolve to be a better and more spiritual soul.

By using this method I have survived many moments of utter despair. It also proved to me that God’s account with us is very flexible. He is kind because he sees our weaknesses and gives us opportunities to try again. Were it not for His flexibility, we would have had to give up trying.

The Baha’i teachings say that the coming of Bahá’u’lláh can wash our consciences clean, if we let it:

Now hath the Truth appeared, and falsehood fled away; now hath the day dawned and jubilation taken over, wherefore men’s souls are sanctified, their spirits purged, their hearts rejoiced, their minds purified, their secret thoughts made wholesome, their consciences washed clean, their inmost selves made holy: for the Day of Resurrection hath come to pass, and the bestowals of thy Lord, the Forgiving, have encompassed all things.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 38).

I finally resolved this inner problem later in life, when I made a pilgrimage trip to the Baha’i World Centre in the Holy Land. There I met a very wise Bahá’í who noticed my troubles, when I could not find myself worthy enough to go to the Baha’i Shrines. This wise person asked me if I believed God is forgiving, and I said yes. He said do you think he has forgiven you for the bad things you have done? I said I am sure He has. Then he looked at me with a look of disappointment and said “then who the hell do you think you are? Are you higher than God? Forgive yourself! He has!”

In that moment, my spiritual eye opened for the first time and I could see my life clearly.

When we occupy our minds and souls obsessively with negative thoughts, we lose sight of the big picture and forget who runs the show. If God has forgiven all your shortcomings, please do yourself a favor and accept it with gratefulness. After all, our lives are God’s gift to us, and He wants us to live wisely, cheerfully and free from guilt and regrets.

For more on this topic:

God’s Love for Sinners

Learning How to Forgive Myself