How To Pardon The Past Even If You Think You Don’t Deserve It
(Published in ProductiveMuslim.com, November 2014)
Have you committed a sin or a crime that you’re unbelievably ashamed of…?
Have you made a horrible mistake or let your loved ones down…?
Are you terrified of God’s punishment or of being humiliated…?
Are you having nightmares about scandals that might ruin your life…?
“Everybody makes mistakes. Forgive yourself, you’re only human”
There I said it!
So? Do you feel better…?
Yeah, didn’t think so. As much as people will try to help us move forward, and as much as we try to let the past go, it’s truly easier said than done. Most often than not, you’ll find yourself blocking the guilt out and submitting to numbing denial, pretending like nothing happened. Or worse, you’ll dwell on the mistakes you’ve made, magnifying them in a way that makes you believe you don’t even deserve forgiveness. Am I close…?
Yes we are all humans and we all make mistakes, but somehow it’s easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves, simply because we hold ourselves to higher standards! Other people don’t live inside our heads the way we do. We can’t help but listen to that creepy voice in our minds that relentlessly reminds us of our failures and puts us down, no matter how hard we try to move on.
If you’re stuck in the mire of guilt, know that you’re not there alone. Some people choose to stay held back, others throw in the towel and follow the steps of Satan, while the smartest, most determined to help themselves, pursue a path of true redemption, by grasping the answers to these questions:
- Did you say it…?
Throughout the years of working as a therapist, I’ve seen my patients struggling to hide their crimes, and adamantly refusing to face what they did. Perhaps it’s shame or regret, but unless you acknowledge your mistake, you will never be able to fix it. Defending your actions and giving excuses to why you slipped seems like the safest remedy at the time, but that only means, given the same situation in the future, you’ll definitely make the same mistake again!
Stop hiding and running away! Sit alone with God and confess what you did. Talk to Him like you’re talking to your best friend. Explain what you did in detail, say how sorry you are, what you’ve learnt and what you’ll try to do to fix it. If your sin is irreversible, then confide in God and promise Him you won’t do it gain. Sense and accept the immensity of your guilt, as you let your tears melt your frozen heart. Because the truth is… you can’t heal what you don’t feel…
- Do you know why?
We’ve all heard it from our parents when we were younger, but still defied the number one reason why we go astray down the road.
If you’re in the wrong crowd, you can repent till you’re blue in the face, but unless your friends support your faith, you’ll keep slipping! I remember my mom clenching her jaws when she met one of my ‘loose’ friends. She made it very clear that I was not allowed to hang out with that girl anymore. After a couple of tantrums and crying out the famous words ‘that’s so unfair!’ I finally listened, and I’m glad I did. I now do the same with my daughter…. And I know she will thank me one day, too.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “A man follows his friend’s religion, you should be careful who you take for friends.” (At-Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud)
Finding the source of what led you to commit this sin is a crucial part of your repentance. Friends are the primary culprits, but there are other reasons, too. Sometimes being overconfident and careless can lead to the wrong path. Psychologists call it the ‘snow-balling’ effect. It starts with a simple “it’s no big deal” but ends disastrously. The small mistakes you ignore pile up to make you someone you’re not. You start chatting with a married man, or go out for an ‘innocent’ coffee with a coworker, and before you know it, you’re having an affair! You take something that’s not yours, ‘it’s just five bucks!”, or cheat someone and say “come on it’s a while lie!” Trust me, soon enough, your heart will be stained, and you’ll find yourself doing the unspeakable.
It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“When the believer commits a sin, a black spot appears on his heart. If he repents and gives up that sin and seeks forgiveness, his heart will be polished. But if (the sin) increases, (the black spot) increases. That is the Ran that Allah mentions in His Book: “Nay! But on their hearts is the Ran (covering of sins and evil deeds) which they used to earn.” [83:14]
- Are you back yet?
Imagine a world where there was no forgiveness…
What would happen to humans if their mistakes define who they are? What would become of you if you had no hope for another chance? Would you strive to be better, or will you end up hurting yourself and everyone around you?
There’s a reason God loves those who have sinned and repented, for they have the softest of hearts. They embrace new beginnings, and are driven by a force to become better people, to make up for their mistakes. They are compassionate and forgiving towards others, because they’ve been there and they’ve been humbled by their own experiences. Those are the people who convey hope, show mercy and guide others to the right path. Their sins become blessings in disguise because they renew their promises to Allah, and work harder to please Him than they ever did before. They are reborn in the most beautiful of ways…
“The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘The one who repents from sin is like one who did not sin.’” (Sunan Ibn Majah Vol. 1, Book 37, Hadith 4250)
Those with the worst past can create the best future, and some of the sinners of yesterday did actually become the leaders of tomorrow. I’m sure you’ve heard many stories about Islamic scholars who were once dubbed as ‘lost souls’ or ‘wrongdoers’. Their crimes and mistakes were in fact wake-up calls! Pardoning your sins is the only gateway to being productive, because you breakoff those strains bolting you down to the past, and move on with renewed hope. Guilt left unresolved scars our souls. It’s the same as breaking your arm (even if you were doing something wrong at the time) and refusing to cast it. You must heal your emotional injuries the same way you would physical one. Eternal punishment isn’t the solution, it’s only a pause button on life, where you miss the chance to erase your bad deeds by doing good deeds and helping others.
Your sins don’t hurt Allah…they only hurt you. And Allah loves us too much to watch us damage ourselves. God is Merciful and Kind; He forgives His salves when they ask for forgiveness… and gives them countless chances over and over.
Do yourself a favor and start a new page….
Because if there is anyone in this world worthy of your forgiveness…
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.” (Holy Qur’an, 39:53)
By Lilly S. Mohsen