Next Saturday there will be a gathering. A gathering of remarkable people. A gathering of incredible courage. A gathering rich with support and empathy. Be thankful if you are not invited.

Parents Left Behind has offered support to grieving parents since 2014. Twelve years ago my church began a candlelight service each December to remember children and grandchildren who have died. Ten years ago we began a monthly support group called GPS (Grieving Parents Support). And then five years ago local pediatrician Dr. Susan Averitt founded Parents Left Behind. Hundreds of heartbroken people have found support through these efforts.

Just yesterday I forgot to wish my son a happy birthday before he left for school. I felt ashamed all day. Twenty years ago I made a joke when an older friend shared a story about his deceased wife. I still relive my regret. I’ve hurt the people I love the most and struggle to forgive myself. Am I the only one who finds it hard to move past the shame and pain of these mistakes?

At next week’s Parents Left Behind conference I am facilitating a breakout session. This breakout is called “Pushing Forward: Struggling with Remorse, Grief and Forgiveness.” As each of us struggle to forgive ourselves, in the last decade I’ve learned that grieving parents experience this struggle in ways the rest of us can hardly imagine – regardless of the circumstances of their child’s death.

It has been said that forgiving ourselves is “releasing my hope for a better past.” And it is certainly understandable that someone suffering the loss of a child will cling fiercely to a past when their child was alive, not to mention the agony of living in a present and future that feels impossibly painful.

But there is more to this story. If we believe the Christian narrative, we know that because of Jesus, God offers us complete forgiveness. So why do we struggle to let ourselves enjoy the freedom of this forgiveness? Maybe we don’t believe it? Maybe we don’t want to give God that much power in our lives? Or perhaps it is something else.

If struggling to be forgiven is our effort to create a better past maybe that is a clue. Maybe we are looking in the wrong direction. Struggling to forgive ourselves might be a symptom of focusing on a past we cannot change at the expense of anticipating our amazing future. We can release our imperfect past as we embrace our perfect future with God. That is a trade-off I can sink my teeth into.

So let God love you. Let God forgive you. Let God give you a glorious future that exceeds your imagination. And then let yourself live in the wonderful freedom of forgiveness.