Category: Mercy in Relationships

Letting Go of Guilt 2

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Welcome back!

Last week we began Fr. Peter Siamoo’s steps to forgiving ourselves, or granting ourselves mercy.


We covered:

  • Acknowledge what we’ve done.
  • Talk about it.
  • Learn from it.
  • Make peace with it.


This week we will continue with Father’s words.

Since we are social beings created for a purpose in life, any mistake we commit has three dimensions. It is against God, it offends and hurt others, and it hurt us. If we want peace to be restored after mistakes, then we need to touch or address those three dimensions, namely God, others, and oneself.

Ask for and accept forgiveness from God.


What kind of God do you believe in? The majority of religions including the three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) believe in God who is loving and forgiving. Those religions have different ways of seeking and obtaining God’s forgiveness. (Sacrament of Reconciliation, Lent, Yom Kippur, Ramadan.) The common point is God readily forgives our transgressions when we sincerely ask for it.

Use whatever you are familiar with according to your faith tradition and seek God’s forgiveness to free yourself from the negativities of past mistakes.

Jesus said, “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7).

Forgive and request forgiveness from others.


Give forgiveness. Despite the hardship of forgiving major transgressions, choosing not to forgive is not an option for the spiritual, psychological, emotional, and even physical wellbeing of the offended.

The perpetrator has already wounded you. He or she does not have the credibility, dignity, nor honor to be remembered and carried in your heart all the time. We might occasionally remember them when we are praying for their conversion, asking God to change their hearts to make better choices for their sake and the sake of other people who might be the recipient of their poor choices, as we once were. Otherwise we need to let them go from our hearts.

What is the right thing to do when I feel that I cannot forgive, at least not for now? Do not condemn yourself by saying “I will never forgive!” Rather, it is better to tell yourself or the other person for that matter, “I do not feel ready at this time!” You need to process more. You may need help from a professional counselor, spiritual director, or your clergy to assist you as you explore and make a safe way out of that mess. It means you are not permanently putting yourself in the corner of “lack of inner peace” where you might not have an escape.

Be humble enough to ask for forgiveness. The scriptures indicate that God prefers reconciliation over sacrifice. We read, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24).


Since asking for forgiveness works whether the victim accepts your request or not, it gives you 100 percent control of the situation or process. This means you are not under the mercy of anybody while working to free yourself from the bondage of those negative emotions which rob you of your peace. This fact makes you ultimately in charge of the entire process of restoring your peace.

Forgive yourself


Do you remember the saying, “Charity begins at home?” If it is good for other people to be forgiven of their transgressions, it is good also for me to forgive my own transgressions. But forgiveness of self is a very unfamiliar concept to most of us.

Self-love is biblically mandatory and demands self-forgiveness: When our Lord was asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” He replied:

“The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Luke 10:27)

In summary, forgiving yourself after messing up is:

  • An act of appreciation for God’s love and forgiveness; it is accepting it and owning it
  • Self-love that restores your inner freedom and peace
  • A choice you make to acknowledge and accept God’s mercy and choose to treat yourself better than what you think you deserve for doing that wrong thing
  • Worth doing it because you are special and unique and therefore you deserve a better life than carrying guilt around
  • A way of imitating God who has forgiven you, and
  • Important to be happy, since life is short, and we should make the most out of it


Make amends


As a last step of the process of inner peace restoration, do something small or big, as the situation demands, to repair the damage and restore the relationship.

Where possible, pay back the whole of what is owed and repair the damage in full. More often it is impossible to make a full repair. In that case amends as a token should be made. It is necessary, acceptable, and enough.

It might demand further action to prevent future occurrences of the same mistake such as attending anger management classes, DUI classes, AA meetings, or seeking help from counseling professionals, etc.

As a closure of the process, making amends is intended to open a new page and start a new chapter of the restored relationship. Psychologically, it might make the perpetrator feel better that at least he did something positive to make up for the mistakes, and to the offended that the offender desires a new beginning and cares enough to do something about his mistakes.

Yes, being perfect is our call and our goal, but it is also true that no one is there yet. Demanding perfection of ourselves sets a path for hopelessness and despair which are a good recipe for low self-esteem and depression.

The point is, love yourself enough to forgive!


Thank you, Fr. Siamoo, for your wise words. We hope it won’t be long before your full book on this subject finds a publisher!


Next week, Works of Mercy. Blessings until then!






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)






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