How to Forgive Yourself

By Alan Cohen

I signed up with a trash removal service that requires rural customers to mark their addresses on their garbage cans. I took a can of white spray paint and etched my street number on one of the brown rubber cans. I set the can in the back of my SUV, drove it to the end of my road, and left the garbage in the appropriate spot. When I returned to my garage, I was irked to notice that some of the white paint had rubbed off on the back of my seat; apparently, it had not fully dried on the can. But it did dry on my car. I tried to remove the paint, but by that time it was stuck fast.

Over the next weeks and months, every time I noticed the paint marks on the back of the seat, I felt foolish; a stream of judgment chided me: “If you had paid closer attention and left more time for the paint to dry, this wouldn't have happened. Now you have ruined your car seat, and every time you look at it, you are to be reminded of your carelessness.” (Do you know that voice?)

Then one day I accompanied a friend to the local hardware store to find some paint. On a shelf I noticed a small can called Goof Off®—a remover of paint and other hard-to-get-out stains. I grabbed a can, took it home, and applied it to the defiant stain. To my delight, the paint disappeared instantly!

I now see this product—especially its name—as symbolic of forgiveness. The name acknowledges that you made a mistake (“goof”)—but it also acknowledges that it can be undone (“off”). If you are subject to the tyranny of guilt, this name offers an especially important teaching: Any sin is forgivable. Any error is correctable. Nothing is etched in stone. You always have another chance.

A Course in Miracles distinguishes between a sin and an error: a sin requires punishment, but an error simply requires correction. The Course goes on to tell us that we have made many errors, but we have never sinned. All our sins (“self-inflicted nonsense”) are undone the moment we bring our judgmental thoughts into the healing light of love.

The story is told about a Filipino woman named Josephine who claimed to have daily conversations with Jesus. A cynical priest heard about Josephine and sought to debunk her. He went to her and asked, “Is it true that you talk to Jesus every day?”

“Yes, I do,” she answered.

“Then the next time you talk to Jesus, would you ask him what sin I committed when I was in the seminary?” the priest asked smugly. Then he walked away proudly, certain he had cornered the charlatan and would soon expose her.
A week later the priest returned to Josephine and asked her, “Did you ask Jesus what my sin was?”

“Yes, I did,” she answered.

“And what did he say?” asked the priest.

“He said, ‘I forgot.'”

There is no sin so heinous that it cannot be undone by reframing it in compassion. Love has no consciousness of our sins; God sees us only as pure and innocent. It is we who have fabricated the concept of sin and crushed our life force under it. A Course in Miracles also tells us, “God does not forgive because He never has condemned.” In the inspiring movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon, the Pope tells St. Francis, “In our obsession with Original Sin, we have overlooked Original Innocence.”

All self-judgment can be undone by recognizing that we have never committed a crime against God. I met a man who, during his senior year in college, was walking past the college bookstore where he saw a large display of yearbooks on the sidewalk outside. Since this fellow had no money, he grabbed a book and kept walking. Over the next few days he began to feel guilty about his theft, and he decided to return the book and confess. He went to the bookstore manager and guiltily admitted, “I stole this book.”

The manager told him, “Come with me.” Then he led the student to the yearbook display and pointed to a sign the young man had not seen: “Free—Please take one.”

I am not suggesting you go out and steal anything or hurt anyone. This true story serves as a metaphor: For every sin you can find in your life, God can find a way to forgive it. For every way you have separated yourself from love, higher consciousness reminds you that you have never for a moment been outside of grace.

And for every paint stain you berate yourself for leaving, there is a can of Goof Off to remove it.

The following excerpt appeared in a booklet from Unity, The Survival Guide for the Soul—Part II.