Many years ago I had a discussion with a young lady who was debating within herself whether to acknowledge to the congregation things she had done wrong in the past and asking forgiveness from those who knew what she had done. More than that, she wanted the prayers and encouragement of others as she struggled to forgive herself. That struggle to forgive oneself was the subject of the letter that I sent to her and share here with you. If you are struggling to forgive yourself I hope you will find words of encouragement to allow you to free yourself from the hold this sin exerts in your life as it weakens your spiritual strength. If you have obtained forgiveness from God through the gift of His Son, give yourself a wonderful gift of freedom by removing the grip of the past sin so you can fully embrace your future service for God.
First of all, I appreciate your sensitive heart, the courage to face yourself, and the changes already evident in your life. You are a fine example to others and I do not think making this confession will diminish it in the least. On the contrary, I think it may open opportunities for you to help others in a similar situation. Though God does not want us to sin, I think that He is able to use our experience to help heal the lives and pain of others in a way that others cannot do so easily. I think I have told you before but when I was in high school and college I did not drink. I wish I could say that it was because of my dedication to God but more often there were other things in my past that created a strong aversion to alcohol and its results. Whatever the motivation, I am thankful for the result. However, when talking with someone who is having a drinking problem or other problems to which alcohol contributes, I can encourage them from the scripture but I cannot relate to them as one who has been there. However, there are other problems with which I can be very helpful because of my personal experience. God says, “Behold, I make all things new,” and he will be able to make something new from your experience.
Your confession statement was well worded and very moving. From your email I know that you believe God has forgiven you and, based on His promises, you are correct. However, since you have written this document and revised it on several occasions I assume that it has been on your mind for a long time. If this is troubling you and you cannot find peace without bringing it before the congregation, I think you have the answer you are seeking. If you feel that you should have said something in the past, you should say something now, I am sure that you will feel that you need to say something in the future–until you do. Your statement explains well why you have waited to make such a statement.
It breaks my heart that you are still struggling with your guilt and have problems forgiving yourself. You have already made the hardest decision–facing yourself and your sin and making changes. Sometime when you pray, thank God for the guilt and shame that moved you to repent and leave a path headed to destruction. Your past will not define your life and you should not look at yourself through the lens of your past. There are many young Christian women who have been down the same road you traveled who are fine teachers, loving wives and mothers, and good examples for young women. Many young women at the church look up to you and, knowing what you have been through and the changes you have made, I would, without any reservation, feel that they chose well when you are listed among their role models.
Sometimes we hold onto guilt and have problems forgiving ourselves because we feel that we are letting ourselves off too easily. Holding guilt allows us to punish ourselves and, when reaching some spiritual summit, reproach ourselves saying, “You’re not so good. I remember when you…” It is perfectly fine to let go of your guilt. Acknowledge that your inward pain has been your punishment and prison for past sins and give yourself a pardon. Forgiveness is the greatest thing you can give others and yourself. Grieve your sins, the embarrassment you feel/felt, the sorrow for letting others and yourself down, the actions you regret–yes grieve them–then let them go. You have punished yourself well enough–I think anyone could say that you have not let yourself off easily–you have the right to free yourself and enjoy true peace and happiness. You will never forget what you have done, but when you forgive yourself, it finds a place in your past that can only give you a small tinge of pain when it is brought to mind, but it will not bully and berate you anymore. This I can tell you from experience.