Two really important themes have come up when I have worked with kids and teens, both as an abuse counselor and as an Episcopal Youth Minister.
One, is that teens are worried that they are not worthy of forgiveness (I will pause here to give you a second to let that sink in); and two, is that they often internalize their behaviors and use that to determine their "goodness" or "badness."
As someone in the position to educate and nurture young people, it was important for me to address these things. I needed to help kids separate their behaviors from their self-image--I needed to remind them that "Sure, what you did was bad, but you are not bad." We are human. We make mistakes. When we realize we have hurt someone or something, we can apologize and take action to make it right.
This leads right into the need for young people to understand that they are forgiven and that they are never "too far gone" to be of value and be deserving of love.
From an Episcopal (Christian) lens, there is never anything that one could do to separate oneself from the love of God and God's tender mercy. We are loved by God and given value because of existing. Good deeds make us feel good and work toward building a loving and just community, but they are not required to be of value. The flip side of that is that bad deeds do not lower our value or our worth in the eyes of God.
From a secular perspective of shared humanity, I think most people would agree that we, as humans, are capable of reckless mistakes and negligent mistakes, and that our worth as a living being does not teeter on our mistakes. (I want to state that this has nothing to do with accountability and reconciliation--this is all about the worth and value of a human life and soul.)
Do you think that an adolescent who thinks they are irredeemable will strive to right their wrongs and make better choices for themself? Do you think they will love themself enough to not associate with people who are bringing them down? Do you think they will value themself enough to know they deserve to be treated with kindness and respect? It breaks my heart to think of anyone believing they are "too far gone" to be of any worth.
I bring all of this up today because we are just children all grown up. Where might you be telling yourself that you are not worthy of forgiveness or love? Where might you be placing your entire identity on a mistake or series of mistakes that you have made? How might you remind yourself that who you are is not the sum of your actions?
If you find that you are harshly judging yourself for something that you have done, place a hand over your heart. Take five slow, steady breaths--four seconds breathing in, four seconds breathing out. In, out. In, out. In, out. In, out. Then say:
I am sorry. I have not been as kind to myself as I could be. I have been upset at my actions. I have decided that I don't deserve good things because of what I have done. I have not been fair to myself. I am human and what I have done does not define who I am. I am loved. I am worthy of love. I have value. I am worthy of love. I have value. I am worthy. I am valued. I am loved.
If you are looking to take action toward righting some wrongs, reach out to me and can work through a plan together. If you are looking to do the internal work of forgiving yourself or forgiving someone who has hurt you, reach out. We are not meant to live a life of emotional and spiritual burden. Remember--you are worthy of peace.