Praying When It’s Hard: Praying When Trying to Forgive Myself

March 30, 2021

We have all been there. It may have been an argument, a stressful day, or maybe it was just a bad mood, but we have all said or done things that have hurt someone else. When we realize what we have done, we can ask that person to forgive us, but how do we pray through forgiving ourselves?

During this time of COVID, I find myself in this situation more than I would like to admit. The stress of all the unknowns combined with the sadness from missing out on different activities has me snapping at my husband and losing my patience with our kids more frequently. No matter the reason, I know this is wrong, and not only do I need to ask whomever I hurt for forgiveness, I also need to forgive myself.

When I pray, I find it much easier to offer prayers of thanksgiving for all the wonderful gifts I have in my life. It is easy enough to pray when I am sad or hurt. But when I know that I have messed up, when I need to ask God for forgiveness and when I need to forgive myself, I often find myself distracted and at a loss for words. What do we do when we find ourselves in this situation? While I am still working on this, these are a few things that have made it easier to pray when I need to forgive myself.

1. Keep showing up.

Prayer is like muscle memory. The more we do it, the easier it is. Even when it is hard to pray, still show up! If nothing else, we can ask God for the desire to want to pray. We can say a mantra. A couple of my go to mantras are, Jesus, I place my trust in you. and God, let me love like you. We can say a memorized prayer. We can read the Mass readings for the day. Whatever it is, just show up. Sometimes simply showing up is half the battle when prayer feels hard.

2. Name what you are feeling.

Something I struggle with is judging my time in prayer. It is only recently that I have gotten better about not judging if it was “good” or “bad” prayer. When it comes to forgiving myself though, I can get too wrapped up in my thoughts and in judging my prayer time instead of just praying. I feel guilty for what I have done and spend too much of my time focused on the guilt. Sometimes I feel selfish for “wasting” time feeling guilty and for spending my prayer time only worried about myself and on what I did. It takes a lot of humility, but simply naming what you are feeling and offering this to God in prayer is a great first step towards forgiving ourselves.

3. Ask God for forgiveness first.

I often feel embarrassed bringing the need to forgive myself to God. For a moment, I forget that God already knows that I am struggling! After naming what I am feeling–remorse, guilt, selfishness, or whatever else it may be–I tell God that I am sorry and then ask God for forgiveness. I find journaling very helpful when I am asking God for forgiveness. If journaling is not already a part of your prayer time, you may consider trying it. Journaling helps me keep my mind clear and my heart focused on what God may be trying to say to me after I have asked for forgiveness.

4. Pray for the person you hurt.

After asking God for forgiveness, I like to pray for the person I hurt. If I snapped at one of my children or said something unkind to my husband, I pray for them. I pray they feel loved by God. I pray that they know I love them. I pray that they truly understand how sorry I am.

5. Ask God for the grace you need to do better in the future.

At the end of my time in prayer, I may still need to work on forgiving myself. Instead of focusing on that, ask God for whatever grace we may need to not repeat the same mistake again. For my quick-mouthed Sicilian temper, this usually means asking God for the grace to simply keep quiet. I may ask God for the grace to remain calm or for the grace to think before I speak.

6. Remember that God loves and forgives you.

I have also learned that spending time with God in prayer, especially when I have hurt one of my children, helps me not get stuck in why I need to forgive myself. Sometimes I can focus so much on what I have done that it keeps me from being completely present to them after the offending event has happened. Our children are like God, arms wide open and ready to forgive us! Once I open myself to God’s forgiveness it is easier to remember their arms are wide open and ready to embrace me, too. So while I still may be upset with myself, I am able to appreciate and be more present to whoever it is I may encounter after spending time with God in prayer.

Photo by Naassom Azeved on

With experience in youth ministry, campus ministry, faith formation, and as a high school theology teacher, Charlotte has worked in numerous parishes and schools along the Gulf Coast and in the Diocese of Rockford. She holds a B.A. in Theology and Master of Pastoral Studies from Spring Hill College. Charlotte and her husband live in New Orleans with their four young children, where she enjoys Ignatian Spirituality, reading, listening to live music, and bike riding with her family.

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