When we get around to the matter of forgiveness, it is often hardest to extend it to ourselves and God.
We’ll cover the matter of forgiving God for later. Today let’s consider how much we need to be compassionate towards ourselves of a lifetime of mistakes, be they minor or significant, genuine or merely perceived. We don’t really have to carry around guilt and possibly shame. The process of giving ourselves a resounding not guilty verdict isn’t easy. It’s a path overtaken with brambles.
May I share an example from my own life?
When I was young, I spent a lot of time with a great brood of cousins. One was several years younger than me and we were frequently together on weekends, holidays and during summers. As much as I loved her, and I dearly loved her, she was at times a frustratingly bratty kid (ahem, not that I was any where near perfect!). There was a lot that I had to cope with when I was growing up and without siblings on site, my 8- or 9-year old self had pent up anger that was easily triggered by my cousin. I’d pinch, bite and dig my fingers into her arms, unable to control my feelings or behavior.
I felt very guilty about how I treated my cousin and also about my inability to avoid it. At some point I started picking my arms until they bleed. I had scabs and scars up and down both arms, which were usually confined to long sleeves in public no matter the weather. I was deeply embarrassed about my behavior that couldn’t be hidden well.
One spring day when I was in my early 30s, it occurred to me that I was carrying guilt for “picking on” my cousin, inflicting harm as punishment for the guilty verdict I pronounced on my childhood self.
Although I didn’t see or have much contact with my cousin at that point, I called her and I apologized for my behavior when we were young. She didn’t remember it, really, and kindly shrugged it off as likely well deserved.
In that exchange, with the opportunity to express my remorse and ask for forgiveness from my cousin, I was able to forgive myself. Without thought or effort, I never again picked my arms. Guilt had caused me to literally pick on myself. When I forgave my young self, the matter was finally over.
These posts on forgiveness have not met with enthusiastic responses. I don’t expect them to! Yet, I encourage you to glance over your life to see if there are actions for which you need to forgive yourself. Take the time to face them and then let them go in a way that gives you a sense of release and freedom!
Peace to you!
“To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.”
Henri Nouwen via Henri Nouwen Society
Nothing robs us of inner peace like unforgiveness. Whatever offenses we have suffered at the hands of another, and they may be grievous injuries, we add to our misery when we hold on to unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness causes difficulties beyond the person or institution that harmed us, resulting in problems with other relationships. It takes a toll on our emotions and even our physical health. It definitely impacts our spirits, weighing them down and, if you’re a praying person, can be a reason for unanswered prayers.
Just as it’s good to keep our homes and offices tidy, regularly doing thorough cleaning, it is wise for us to tend to spiritual housekeeping. We are wise to forgive those who have wronged us and take account of those we have harmed, too.
Catherine Marshall writes in her book A Man Called Peter about a time when she experienced dibilitating health that confined her to bed. She reached a crossroads. If she was to genuinely live a life sharing in God’s love, she would need to do deep cleaning — letting go of resentments, forgiving others, and being accountable for her own behavior for which she needed forgiveness.
I knew that anything unloving in me, any resentment, unforgiveness, or impurity shut God out, just as a muddy window-pane obscures the sunlight. Painfully, in an agony of mind and spirit, I began thinking back over my life, recalling all too vividly all of my transgressions and omissions. … Through many days I put down on paper all of the things of which I was ashamed. Some of it I shared with my mother, some with Peter. To some people far away, I wrote letters asking for their forgiveness for things they had long since forgotten, or had never even known about. It took me days to muster the courage to mail those letters. Then I claimed God’s forgiveness and cleansing. (P. 181)
The process is much like the work done in 12-step groups when people make a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of themselves, followed by the act of admitting to God, to themselves and to another person the exact nature of their wrongs.
Does your spiritual house need a quick tidying up, or do you need to spend more effort to face your resentments, unforgiveness and your own behaviors for which you need forgiven?
Invest the time! It’s vital work and it will transform your life!
More on forgiveness this week!
Peace to you, friends!
” … make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you ….” 1 Thessalonians 4:11
Among Bible verses that are frequently displayed like glittering gems in a jewelry store window, this one from 1 Thessalonians gets me to stop and admire its beauty every time. I am deeply drawn to the ideal of a quiet life, the minimalist antidote to all of the incessant clamoring for more, better, faster, shinier, newer and greater.
The goal of having a quiet life goes against every messsge that badgers us from every street corner. Perhaps I’m sensitive to cultural noise from years spent in marketing and public relations, with the ultimate goal to shout the loudest to get the most attention. It’s impossible to escape oppressive intrusion by people and organizations telling us to get with it — live large and loud!
How do you envision a quiet life? What does it mean to you where you are in life at this moment? Is the idea of pursuing a quiet life attractive to you? What appeals to you? What’s off putting?
More and more I want to let go of all that doesn’t serve me well and narrow my focus in order to pursue a quiet life. There’s a death-to-ego element involved, and that’s never easy to overcome. And there’s fear about enduring the poverty of invisibility if I step out of the emotional barter system interwoven in this age of self branding and promotion.
Still … a quiet life is what I want.
What about you?
The good people who oversee Merriam-Webster cite a definition for entropy: “A process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder.”
I don’t know about you, but the entropic process to disorder happens quickly in any aspect of my life. At first the symptoms are subtle, but like anything rolling down hill, there’s a pick up in speed until full-on chaos ensues.
This patterns happens to me repeatedly. For example, not too long ago my home was neat and tidy. Now it’s not. Countless decisions to put off one task and another that would have maintained the orderliness meant that one day’s mail stacked on the counter became a week’s worth, then a month’s. Now my home is in frustrating disarray that drains my energy and leaves me with a discouraged mood. I’m overwhelmed with all that needs to be done to return my home to a condition that pleases me.
Recently I returned to the task of daily exercise. Nothing extravagant, mind you. But the energy required to overcome inertia made it almost impossible to do what I really wanted to for a long time — in this case, get outside first thing in the morning and walk for about an hour.
Add these two examples and multiply by 12 and you’ll get a sense of just how far entropy has created disorder in my life.
I’m trying to overcome this pattern and create positive momentum in each troublesome area. I’m not sure how it all works, but talking one step leads to another. The first step was tending to this blog after several years absence. Then, I started being more consistent with daily prayer and meditation. These, then, propelled me forward so that when I started walking, it was an easy matter of simply waking up one morning, throwing on shorts and a t-shirt, and heading out the door. What I had wanted to do for such a long time just happened and I’ve been at it nearly everyday.
As I resume former, lapsed habits and put into place new behaviors, positive momentum is building in my life. As momentum gradually builds — it takes longer to regain ground lost to entropy — there’s a renewed sense of flow.
If you’re sensing a degree of stagnation in your own life and want to move up out of disorder into being at ease in your life, start taking small, meaningful steps in the most challenging areas of your life. Strengthen your discipline, but not to the point of obsessive perfection. Above all: Keep going!
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11
“Prayer lifts our hearts and souls to sail above our stale and old way of living life with its worries and preoccupation with self-will and gratification. It frees us from the bondage of being consumed with ourselves and opens a pathway to experience peace with God, ourselves and others. It transports us beyond our obsessive need to defend ourselves and lets Christ be our defender. It helps us release and surrender our fight for personal rights and the second by the second need of control and oversight of every minutia of life.” From Mindful Christianity Today.