Letting Go of Guilt

B hat borderedFr. Peter Siamoo, a priest from Tanzania who studied and worked here in Portland until he was called back to Africa, asked me to edit two of his manuscripts to polish his already masterful English. We are working to get them published, but in the meantime he has given me permission to share with you his writing about self-forgiveness. In Fr. Peter’s work as a counselor in hospitals and prisons, he found the inability to forgive oneself to be both prevalent and destructive. Perhaps we too have trouble letting go of our mistakes, weaknesses, and past sinfulness. Don’t we, in this study of granting mercy in our relationships, also deserve to be merciful to ourselves?

From Fr. Peter (his words are not italicized):

Each person, regardless of what evil he/she has committed, has inert goodness which is permanently engraved down deep in the soul. The image of God is always there. This inert-inner-goodness cannot be destroyed or killed by anybody. However, it can be clouded or covered in such a way that one may live as if it no longer exists.

The healthy approach in dealing with our past wrong mistakes is not to run away from them or pretend they don’t exist or even beat ourselves up. It is to be proactive in addressing those wrong choices and put them to rest in order to allow you to live your life.

This week we will cover Father’s first 4 of 8 steps to granting ourselves Mercy:

  1. Acknowledge what we’ve done.

We cannot do something and at the same time claim that we didn’t do it. Remember, there are two persons you can’t cheat at all: God and yourself!

By acknowledging our wrong doing, we are setting our feet onto the path of truth, empowerment, and freedom. When we name the mistake we have made, we define it and in so doing we begin to diminish its power over us while we are claiming our power back.

By identifying the problem, we begin to separate ourselves from it. We caused it, but we are not that problem, and so we can deal with it since we are not within it.

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge (confess) our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.…” (1 John 1: 8-9).

2. Talk about it.

Trust between the talker and the listener has to be established before meaningful talk can take place. This trust can be grounded on the personal or professional relationship. The victim has to feel safe that the information given will not bite the person back.

Talking about any problem serves to give room for clarification and reinterpretation or reframing of the concepts around the issue in question. Talking brings healing, that is why in psychotherapy, whether in the group setting or one-on-one, talking is the main task of therapy.

We should be alarmed if a person cannot dare to talk about the problem they are facing. It means that the problem is such a monster to the person that it is overwhelmingly controlling the thought process and controlling the person in an unhealthy way.

Since talking helps to define, clarify, analyze, and possibly refine and reframe the problem, a real solution to the problem is next to impossible without it.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16). The scripture is very clear that whenever we happen to have troubled consciences, we need to talk it over. We need to establish trusting relationships among Christian believers. Each should be ready to lend a non-judgmental ear to his or her fellow brethren and provide a safe outlet for those negative emotions and allow him or her to regain the lost inner peace.


3. Learn from it.

Every mistake can become a great learning opportunity. If we don’t learn, it becomes a double loss! Remember the saying: “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”

When we choose to learn from our mistake, it is likely that we will grow from it. We become more informed and mature. We are going to make better future decisions if we allow ourselves to be taught by our mistakes.

We change the value of our mistakes and give them some positive value when we turn them into our school. They become a source of knowledge, inform us, and might make us resourceful, not only for ourselves, but for those who are struggling with the same predicament and who do not know the negative side of their potential mistakes.


4. Make peace with it.

Since we can’t disown what we did, we are going to live with it. But no one wants to live with an enemy! It, therefore, make sense that we make peace with what we did so that it does not keep haunting us.

How do we do that? Ask three simple basic questions:

Are you the first one to do it?

Are you the last one to do it?

Does what you did make you the worst person in the world?

The sincere answers to these questions will always be NO! You are just one among many. The message it gives is that you are just a human being who happened to make a wrong turn.

Making peace with your mistakes normalizes the situation which is necessary to allow you to continue with the process of peace restoration. It also helps you accept yourself and prevents the possibility of beating yourself up by discovering that what you did was just a human error despite its severity and magnitude.

This step sets the ground for self-forgiveness (addressed later in the steps) when one discovers that “I am just one among many.” Again,

Some virtues are grown out of our own mistakes if used wisely. Making peace with our own mistakes demands humility that accepts and acknowledges that we are human beings, that we are not Angels, and that we have our flaws but still remain lovely children of God. Making peace with our mistakes presupposes taking responsibility for them. In this way our wrong choices and their outcomes can also make us equipped for ministry to those who are going through the same predicament. In this way we become wounded healers.


Next week we will continue with Father’s final four steps:

  1. Receive forgiveness from God.
  2. Request forgiveness from others.
  3. Forgive ourselves.
  4. Make amends.


Blessings on your week. May you process and release your guilt.

Betty Arrigotti


Justice or Mercy?

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Last week we considered Mercy’s two meanings:

  • to be compassionate and forgiving to someone
  • and to provide help to those in need.


In discussion of the first meaning, one reader asked, “When is it time for mercy, and when should I stand firm?” In answering, I’m keeping in mind three concepts:


  • Jesus admonishes us to forgive “seventy times seven.”
  • We must set limits to protect ourselves and others from people who feel no remorse when they take advantage of us.
  • If in authority, we must teach others about responsible behavior.

I read a quote lately something to the effect of “Forgive the unrepentant and accept the unoffered apology.” It seems whenever I try to write about forgiveness, a beloved member of my family has been deeply hurt and so I truly struggle with my subject matter. The temptation for me is to not even try to forgive people who show no regret for what they’ve done.

That’s certainly the easier path; if they aren’t sorry, why struggle to forgive them? Because a lack of forgiveness grows into bitterness and harms our mood, our nature, and our very souls. We forgive the unrepentant, in part, to keep them from having negative influence over us. In addition, our own pardon depends on how we have pardoned. In the Our Father we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We must work through our hurt in order to be ready to reconcile if the offender ever does apologize and ask for forgiveness. For more on  Steps to Forgiveness , click this link.

Consider the story of the Prodigal Son, who after demanding his inheritance squanders it on immoral living. When the money is gone and he is hungry, he realizes the error of his ways and returns repentantly to his father.  This story could also be called the Merciful Father. He has been watching daily for his son to return and, when he sees him in the distance, the father runs to his son with open arms and even sets a feast to celebrate his return. Obviously this man had done the hard work of forgiveness long before his son reappeared.

The son was sorry, the father forgave him, and showing him mercy, celebrated his return. But notice, when the son left, the father didn’t search for his son and drag him back, only to have the son leave again. The father’s mercy and forgiveness were ready and waiting for when the son had learned his lesson. I think of push-over parents who never quite enforce the threatened or natural consequences for their children’s disobedience. These parents are not being merciful. In fact, in their desire to be always the “happy, friendly, cool parents” they are keeping their children from learning the lessons of growing up responsibly. They are not merciful, they are selfish. They don’t want to feel those temporary emotions of their child’s anger, and instead forgo an opportunity to teach the child a valuable life lesson. 

In short, within our relationships, we must work to forgive time after time. However, mercy is not the same as leniency and our children must learn lessons from their mistakes. Those lessons are our responsibility to teach them. No matter how many times they make mistakes, we must continue to love them and be ready to run to them with open arms. People whom we are not in authority over are also deserving of our ready forgiveness and unending love, and in some cases we’ve built a strong enough relationship that they might be open to learning from us. But if not, and if that person continues to be harmful to us or our loved ones, we must set boundaries for acceptable behavior and sometimes limit contact with them. However, we should never “cut a person off” permanently.

We do the work of forgiving them in hope that in the future we can reconcile. A person who hurts us or others repeatedly must sometimes be loved from afar. This might mean putting a child in time out and then discussing why before they return to play. It means avoiding someone who is destructive in their treatment of our family until they show through their actions and words that they understand the extent of the damage they caused to such depth that it will keep them from ever wanting to repeat their behavior.

In serious situations, this realization may require counseling or spiritual growth to accomplish. (As may our attempt at forgiveness.) An abuser must realize how he or she makes the abused feel. An unfaithful spouse must acknowledge and know the hurt he or she caused, to such a profound depth that the very idea of hurting a person they love that way becomes unbearable.

There is a time for mercy and a time for justice. Where would our society be if a court always granted leniency to criminals? Our parole boards exist to make this choice carefully. A serial murderer requires the full extent of justice to protect our society. Sometimes the balance between justice and mercy is obvious. But in those times when it isn’t, when we aren’t sure which direction to lean, let’s err on the side of mercy tempering justice’s demands.

We must ask ourselves, what is in the long-term best interest of the person to whom we consider granting mercy? Because a child needs to learn responsibility, the long-term merciful choice is to enforce consequences, so they become well equipped to deal with the adult world. If an adult has learned a lesson and is truly repentant, mercy rather than punishment is due. If he or she is unrepentant, justice and discipline may bring the transgressor to realization of better ways.

An element of Justice exists in Mercy which keeps an unscrupulous person from being allowed to continue bad behavior without consequence. Mercy is not a warm fuzzy emotion that accepts any behavior. It is hard-won forgiveness (sometimes a daily decision) and a reaching out to someone who understands their mistake and is determined not to repeat it.

Betty Arrigotti


Author of Christian Love Stories:
  Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010)
  Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012)
  When the Vow Breaks (CreateSpace 2015)






Jubilee Year of Mercy

B hat borderedLent is here and it’s time for my weekly posts called 4 Minutes 4 Growth.

This Lent we will pursue the topic of Mercy in Relationships.

Pope Francis proclaimed this to be a Jubilee Year of Mercy. Let’s start with understanding this a bit better.

What is a Jubilee?

In the Old Testament, God proclaimed to Moses that every seven years a Sabbath year should be proclaimed when the land, and by extension its workers, should be given a rest. After seven Sabbath years, a fiftieth year would be proclaimed as a Year of Jubilee.

8 ” Count off seven sabbaths of years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan. 11 The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. 12 For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.” (Leviticus 25:8-12 NIV)

Here are some of the above elements broken down and suggestions for how to apply them today:

  • Day of Atonement – Forgive yourself. Forgive others’ debts to you. Ask for other’s forgiveness.
  • Sound the trumpet – Rejoice! Celebrate!
  • Consecrate the fiftieth year – Declare or set apart sacred time, a year to discover the better life God offers you.
  • Proclaim liberty throughout the land– Commit to release yourself and others from the shackles of injustice, addiction, dependence, negative habits, and attitudes.
  • A jubilee for you – Focus on yourself, for others.
  • Return to your family property – Slaves were freed in a Jubilee year and returned to their homes. Return to your homeland. Go home again and see what home can teach you about yourself. Or take a pilgrimage, pondering what has enslaved you, and how you can be freed.
  • Each to his own clan – Reunite with family, reconnect, make peace, reaffirm your roots.
  • Do not sow, reap, or harvest Refuse to worry. Trust in God’s provision for what is necessary and even abundant.
  • Eat only what is taken directly from the fieldsSubsist or simplify, so you have time to ponder.
  • For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you Where is God in your life? First? What does holy mean to you? What would make this year holy?
  • For you Realize what a gift God offers us in rest, forgiveness, celebration, family, and even work.

A few more notes on Jubilees:

In the Old Testament, a Jubilee year was a year of remission of sins, slavery, and debts, therefore, preeminently a time of joy.

Some believe that Jesus proclaimed a Jubilee year when he read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” then rolled up the scroll and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:18-21

The Catholic Church has often proclaimed Jubilee Years, beginning in 1300. It symbolizes a Holy Year by un-bricking a particular door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In 2000, Catholic Churches throughout the world celebrated the year as a Jubilee Holy Year. Each parish designated a particular door as their Holy Year Door in a campaign to Open Wide the Doors to Christ. Passing through a holy door harkens back to the idea of a guilty person asking for sanctuary or immunity from punishment by entering a church. Priests, nuns, and monks have long celebrated their Jubilees, or 50th anniversary of religious profession, and tenacious married couples celebrate a Golden Jubilee when they have been married 50 years.

The Jubilee 2000 Coalition petitioned the world to proclaim a Jubilee Year and cancel the debts of the earth’s poorest countries. Then-President Clinton offered a Jubilee debt forgiveness to Third World countries who would spend the money on children instead. Canada and England followed his lead.

Near the same time, the Coalition for Jubilee Clemency petitioned President Clinton to release, on supervised parole, Federal prisoners serving long sentences for low-level, nonviolent offenses.

So Pope Francis has asked the world to celebrate a Jubilee Year (a year of remission or pardon) based on Mercy. But…

What is mercy?

In the Merriam Webster dictionary, mercy is defined as compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

The Christian tradition, however, adds another element to the word, focusing on kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad situation, or a willingness to help anyone in need.

In the weeks ahead during this special, holy year, we will look at what mercy might mean in our relationships, whether relating to God, ourselves, our families, or our communities. Until next week’s email, think about what Mercy means to you and when you have granted it, denied it, or received it.

Blessings on your first week of Lent!

Betty Arrigotti
Author of Christian Love Stories:
  Hope and a Future (Oaktara 2010)
  Where Hope Leads (Oaktara 2012)
  When the Vow Breaks (CreateSpace 2015)






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