Finding a way to forgive yourself

You’re sitting alone, or even at a gathering with your friends or family, and suddenly a memory flashes across your mind: a replay of an unspeakable sin you once fell into. In a glimpse, you see yourself engaged in a ‘haram’ act, and your heart stops. You close your eyes to shake it off, and wonder silently if the secret memories of your sins will ever stop haunting you… if they’ll ever leave you alone. You then gaze at your loved ones, so clueless of what you’ve done. The sad truth is, you live your life amongst them anonymously; for no one knows who you really are or the crimes you’re capable of doing. No one knows about the excruciating guilt clenching your heart and killing you slowly.

Yes, they see you breathing. But they don’t know you’re far from being alive….

The ‘Doomed’ Illusion

Being a therapist, I’ve witnessed more than my share of breakdowns. Raw feelings surface during the healing process, drenched in heart-aching regret. I’ve listened to people cry over their sins; the type of cry that would echo inside your soul night after night.

And no matter how much I remind my clients of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, their response is always the same….

“I can NEVER forgive myself! You don’t know what I did….”

Perhaps we’re falsely trained to believe that the bigger the sin, the lesser the chances of forgiveness. But is that really true? Is that how Allah’s mercy works?

Remember this:

And those who do not invoke with Allah another deity or kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed], except by right, and do not commit unlawful sexual intercourse. And whoever should do that will meet a penalty. Multiplied for him is the punishment on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein humiliated. Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.”

[Surat Al Furquan, Verse 68-70]

This ‘eternal doom’ is an illusion, created by our own tainted thoughts. This ‘hopelessness’ and ‘worthlessness’ you feel deep inside never came from Allah, for if you read His words, you’ll see just how much He loves to forgive His slaves. He creates endless opportunities for us to have a clean slate and start anew. Sometimes I think it’s hard for us to forgive ourselves, not because what we did was unforgivable, but because we don’t know our Lord well enough, nor do we fully absorb just how peaceful our religion is.

There’s always a chance to repent. No matter how far you’ve been from who you once were, there’s always an open door leading you back to the right path.

Allah has accepted that you’re flawed and will sin and make mistakes. Why can’t you?

The Ultimate Struggle

Isn’t it strange how this is exactly what you tell other sinners but not yourself? You’re much kinder and more compassionate towards the loved ones who’ve been led astray than you are towards yourself. Even after you’ve apologized and made ‘Tawba’, the shame lingers on, staining your self-image.

Dig down deep into those buried emotions and tell me honestly, how do the verses about repentance really make you feel? Do you sometimes think you’re so far gone you don’t deserve for your evil deeds to be replaced with good? That you don’t deserve to be in the same status with those who’ve never weakened? You think perhaps the crimes might have been erased, but what about the shame? The pain? The consequences you can’t control?

Maybe Allah has forgiven the sin, but it’s not over. You’re still being punished because the fear of being exposed will always choke the life out of you. The constant anxiety of someone finding out what you did is too much to bear. How can you hope for a better future, when what you did will always be engraved in your history? Even if you magically learn to forgive yourself, how can you forget? To “start anew”, means you’ll either have to be honest and live in the scandal, or keep your mouth shut and live in dread and fear.

The Devil Of Despair

That’s not a metaphor ladies and gentlemen, the ‘devil of despair’ is very much alive and kicking, with one relentless job in mind: to make you lose hope. I know it sounds too cliché, especially when your guilt is mixed with unimaginable fear. But let me ask you a question (even though I’m positive of your answer): If you could turn back time, would you allow yourself to fall in the trap leading to that horrible sin?

Would you take that drink? Tell that lie? Be alone in the same room with that person? Would you help plan that crime? Answer that inappropriate text? Lock yourself up to watch immoral content? Give in to the pressure to go against your principles?

If you could, would you repeat the same mistake again willingly?

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Your answer is everything Allah needs to know about your state of worship. It’s a feeling of remorse, so real and so palpable; your tears will literally have the power to cleanse your soul. With your ‘Tawba’ comes a newfound humility, that yes, you are human. You are weak. But if you’re not going to run back to Allah every time you fall, who will you run to?

Say, ‘O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.'”

[Surat Az-Zumur, Verse 53]

Yet there’s a voice in your head…

A relentless whisper of despair putting you down every time you come up for some air, still convincing you there’s no hope. Even right now! Do you hear it? It’s telling you to “disregard this ‘utopic’ notion. This writer girl doesn’t know what she’s talking about. It’s not that easy to let go of such heavy guilt and fear. This article isn’t for you.”

Life is a difficult test. I know finding the peace of self-forgiveness is easier said than done. But before you give in to the devil of despair, and give up on yourself, open your heart for a minute and listen. 

The Power Of Trust

Reading Surat Al Kahf on Friday is a weekly chance for all your sins to be forgiven.

In Omra and Hajj, all your sins are bound to be forgiven.

If you fast Ramadan, all your sins will be forgiven.

In the Night of Qadr, you have the chance for your history to be swiped clean.

The opportunities are endless. Allah does not hold grudges. He wrote it upon Himself to be Loving, Merciful, Supporting and Forgiving.  All it takes is one moment of sincerity to delete a lifetime of sins. I know it sounds impossible, but it’s true. Allah doesn’t want you to wither away because of your mistakes. He wants you to learn your lessons and keep striving towards Him.

He wants you to believe, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that He will never reveal your sins or expose you after guiding you back to His path.

Hasn’t the time come for you to trust in your Lord? Isn’t it time to stop torturing yourself? Hasn’t the time come to stop despairing and start living the life you were meant to live? To be better and do better and help those around you to never give up? Hasn’t the time come to finally forgive yourself?

Oh our Most Merciful Lord….Someone is reading this, with a heart filled with fear and intense pain only You know about….So intense that only You can heal….I ask you Allah….To heal our broken hearts and conceal our shameful lapses. I ask you to forgive our sins and accept our effort.

We’re trying. We are really trying.

So please open this door of trust that some of us can’t find, and show us the light of your love and mercy. We have no doubt in Your promise to forgive….Just please… Help us forgive ourselves…and help us heal, and start anew. Ameen.