My question is this, how do truly forgive yourself for having had sex outside the context of marriage? I know that God has forgiven me but I can't forgive myself and sometimes I feel like my fiance doesn't truly understand that part of my life, prior to meeting him.
Wow. What important questions... I'm honored that you'd ask them of me. And I think they're valuable enough that I want to work them out "in public", so to speak.
First, you're right. Erwin McManus is an incredibly solid dude - if you (or anyone else) is ever visiting L.A., you need to check out Mosaic - an amazing church community.
Second, you're asking a question that brought up two responses in my heart/head:
- My first thought was almost indignant - "My goodness, how can any one of us finite beings set ourselves up above an infinite God?! I mean, if God's decided to forgive us (which He has - Psalm 103 & 1 John 1:9), who are we to say that we understand the situation better than God?!" Which, as far as it goes, is theologically pretty sound. But it's way too easy to be grumpy & condescending when I'm thinking this way.
- So my second thought ran in a different direction - "Man, I've been there. When I think of forgiving myself for sexual sin, I think about my relationship with K. - of sitting stone still during a revival service at Baylor, physically "feeling" black tentacles wrapped around my heart. I can remember telling Shari Jo about my ongoing struggle with pornography, weeping as we drove around Nashville. And I know the pain of laying in bed at night next to Shari Jo, my beautiful wife, and wondering if I really deserve her or if my past behavior is going to pervert our relationship as well.
So, I think both are important threads in this conversation - theological truth held firmly intertwined with self-awareness & compassion. One without the other leads us off the rail. (Truth without grace becomes arrogant & harsh; grace without truth becomes wishy-washy & meaningless.)
Here's what has happened in my life as I've struggled with feeling/experiencing the reality of God's forgiveness:
- I've had to realize that I'm in a battle - if I believe Jesus' teaching in Scripture, there is an evil power who wants to accuse us (Revelation 12:10). He (the evil one) wants me to get bogged down in my past - esp. the stuff that God has already dealt with. In board game terms, Satan wants me to obsess about the bad move I made 20 minutes ago (taking the Mayor when I should have taken the Prospector in Puerto Rico) and get distracted about the decisons I need to make right now.
- I've had to go to God over & over & over - not because I have to grovel and beg for forgiveness, but because I need constant reminders that He's already taken care of my junk through Jesus. For me, it's things like worship services that take your breath away... or reading a passage of C.S. Lewis that resonates in my heart... or sitting with a small group of people as we pray together. (There's a moment at the close of group prayer - when that prayer is authentic and not simply about Aunt Gertrude's infected bunions - that is so peaceful and amazing that it seems like sacrilege to speak & break the moment.)
- I've had to talk to other people about my junk & God's forgivenss - sometimes it really helps to hear "Jesus with flesh on" (another follower of Christ) speak truth into my heart & life.
- I've had to acknowledge that I often have a separate legalistic/perfectionist set of rules for myself (and forgiveness) that I wouldn't hold anyone else to... they get grace, I assign myself 100 more spiritual pushups with a side of abject guilt. Which, I admit, is complete garbage.
About your fiance... he probably doesn't understand. But that's not necessarily a negative. If you've been honest with him about your past (I'm not telling you to give him highly detailed pictures of behavior - simply be straightforward about what you did & didn't do), then his willingness to give you grace for that should be an echo of what God has already done for you.
I do understand that I may have misunderstood (he he he... lousy sentence construction) the situation with your fiance - maybe I need more info to give advice that is more on-target.
Llorna - I hope this is helpful... to you and to other folks reading this blog.
And to you game-happy folks who appreciated the token PR reference, I promise I'm working on a game-related post. Really!