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What if you found out you’d never be able to lose weight as long as you held a grudge in your heart? Say you hatched a plan to exact revenge and succeeded in getting your “pound of flesh,” only here’s the catch: you have to wear it on your person as a saddlebag! I can only imagine how quickly most of us would find a way to be forgiving.

We seem to hold onto grudges as a means of survival, as if being cynical will protect us from being hurt or betrayed ever again. Perhaps your body is listening and thinks you want to keep a wall between you and the possibility of being wounded again, a “blubber buffer,” if you will.

Or maybe God’s getting tired of hearing you complain about that last boyfriend who never bought you flowers, and now he’s gone and married a florist! The injustice! So the maker of all things decides to teach an object lesson. You stop hurting when you stop hating, child. Until you do, I’m going to physically add weight to you until you get the correlation. Zap! You’re zaftig.

Whatever the particulars were, whoever the players were, the only way to release yourself from past pain is to love yourself more than you hate the ones who hurt you.

When you lighten up and let go of that heavy burden, the least that will happen is that you’ll have more time for the blessings in your life. You may not lose weight, but you’ll lose hate. And that’s how you make space for grace.

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Image result for early sketches Michelangelo

Studies for The Libyan Sibyl, Michelangelo (from Wikipedia)

Isn’t it funny how it’s possible to give yourself a hard time over mistakes you made years ago? I wonder why the brain holds onto what hurts it in that way. Whoever made those decisions doesn’t even exist anymore. The you of today would surely choose a different path.

Rather than beating yourself up, seeing yourself as another person will make it easier to forgive yourself. That wasn’t you at all. It was the you of today in training. When you’re in training, you make mistakes. Good news: you’re not in training anymore. You’ve graduated to become the you of today. One thing is true: you won’t make those same mistakes again, having learned the hard way what doesn’t work. You get to make new mistakes! Lucky you!

But in a way, there are no mistakes if you’re sculpting a life of your own creation. You chip away until the figure forms and you’re satisfied. If you look at all the early versions of his great paintings Michelangelo threw into the scrap pile, you’ll realize those drawings weren’t mistakes. They were practice.

Think of the you of the past as a dusty still life on a shelf. And the you of today? A whole new work of art, in living color.

Picture this, if you will. You get to Heaven and God says, Listen, we’ve got a backlog of cases up here, so we’d like you to decide the fate of the people who mistreated you in life. Okay? Thanks.

Suddenly you’re behind a judge’s bench with gavel in hand. A stream of familiar faces flows into the courtroom. People from your past. They’re led to a table to await your decision. So. If you cast them all away forever, aren’t you doing to them what they did to you? Now who’s the perpetrator?

Isn’t it true that people who treated you poorly justified it that you hadn’t met their expectations? Or that you weren’t trying hard enough. Pulling your weight. That boss who yelled at staff. Didn’t she believe that employees need to fear the boss or they won’t meet deadlines? That ex who was cruel to you. Didn’t he feel he had a right to do that, since you weren’t the person he wanted you to be?

So this is the case for forgiveness. If you were in a position to mete out justice, it’s possible you’d throw the book at people – or even your gavel if you were in a mood – and become just as bad as them.

Not only is it better for your mental health to let go of the things you can’t change anyway. It’s possible that you’ve mistreated others without even realizing it. When you felt someone wasn’t trying hard enough, did you yell or give them the cold shoulder? Someone’s in the passing lane on the highway driving too slowly. Did you tailgate them? Of course, these are relatively minor infractions, but it all falls on the spectrum of disrespect. Keep your own karma clean: forgive, forget, and put the past behind you.

Like many of you out there, I’ve always had questions about the parable of the Prodigal Son. For instance, why was it such a big deal that he asked for his inheritance early? My pastor put an end to my wonderings: to the Jewish people of the time, asking for your inheritance was tantamount to wishing your father dead. It was a breach in relationship that could not be mended. Except that the father in the story does mend it — just as God mends the breaks we make with God, over and over, on a daily basis.

Does God make it too easy for us to return home? Maybe. But if God made it harder, we’d never come. Imagine the waiting God does for us! Perhaps a modern perspective will help:

Waiting became habit;
habit became a life.
Day after day,
your father longed for you.
His world became one chair,
one single pane of glass.
Through the window,
he could track the hour
of every package delivery,
chart the bladder capacity
of every dog on the block.
He missed nothing.
When you came,
he was out of his seat in a shot,
prepared to embrace
even your apparition.
Your real flesh,
on the welcome mat,
made him weep.
Yet all the time
you embrace him,
your eye is on the door.

Try as you might, you can’t be in the present and in the past at the same time. Well, not unless you dive into quantum theory. But that’s neither here nor there. Get it? It’s a pun!

Two quantum physicists won the Nobel Prize for proving “the correctness of the bizarre properties of quantum mechanics, i.e., that electrons can be two places at the same time.”

I like to read about quantum theory, although I can honestly say that I don’t quite understand it. It’s so murky that even Einstein refused to accept it, saying, “God does not play dice.” Niels Bohr responded, “Einstein, stop telling God what to do.”

I’m with Richard Feynmann, who said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.”

That being said, you’re not an electron. You may have an electric wit, even flashes of brilliance, (not to mention hot flashes😉) but you’re still only human.

You can’t hold onto the past – whether it was your heyday or a Nightmare on Elm Street – and reach forward to the future at the same time. You may be in your cubicle at work, but once your psyche time-travels back to your first heartbreak, you’re not really anywhere, anymore.

Not to worry; there’s a map to mental health in Philippians, with two keys.

“…One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”  

Forget what lies behind.

Reach forward to what lies ahead.

Forget and reach. I think it’s interesting that “forget” is used here. It’s something separate from “forgive.” Not just forgiving a slight, but forgetting it to make way for better things. To put it more simply, let go, let God, and let new blessings in.

As  much as I love this quote, I realize it can make you look like a push over.  I think we simply have to acknowledge that there are things you pardon and things you do not.

This weekend I was at a writer’s retreat and the editor told a story about someone including her in an e-mailing they sent their agent.  Ooops!   The editor then went on to make it clear that people make mistakes.  That just isn’t the sort of thing that phases her.

Not a bad lesson.  Save the condemnation for the big stuff.  But those little slips we are all commit?  You may as well forgive it because the next person to commit one might be you.

–SueBE

As much as I post about forgiveness, you might think I’m really good at it.  If only.

Sometimes I am.  But other things I have troubles letting go.  Very often the person I have the hardest time forgiving is myself.  I’m really good at counseling others to forgive themselves but what I need to do is learn to apply that to myself.  No one but no one is perfect and that includes me.

–SueBE

Once upon a time, I was a world-class grudge bearer. I’d harbor ill-will toward people who’d wronged me for years on end. But when I found faith again about ten years ago, I realized that there’s only so much space in your heart. If you only store the broken china and the ratty old throw rugs of the past, there’s not much room left for good things to come.

So I came up with a couple of personal policies.

  • If you say something to me that is factually accurate, I won’t get mad.
  • If you say something factually accurate, but say it in a “jerky” way (as we say in Jersey), I’ll respond immediately, while (hopefully) keeping my cool. I won’t harbor it in my heart ad infinitum, but will make sure you know that how you said it was not acceptable.

Get it out, or you store it up. Say what you have to say. If not? You put it on layaway.

Before you know it, that person will be doing that same thing again in the same way. But at that point, you’ll really be steamed. Why do they keep doing this? Don’t they know better?

Sometimes they do.

But what if they don’t?

Could it be that they don’t realize that most people don’t stand two inches from your face in a conversation? I had to gently correct one of my son’s friends who had that habit when he was younger. “Personal space, please, son,” I said. After that, he gave everyone space. I actually did him a favor by giving him this advice.

When somebody crosses a line, you’ve got the right to speak your piece, for your own peace of mind. You may even help them break bad habits they didn’t even realize they had.

Credit: Elfie Hall

When my son was young, he asked me how to pronounce the name of a particular Egyptian pharaoh.

“Hatshepsut,” I said. “Friends called him Bill.”

He cracked up, so I had to keep going. “I mean, what else could they call him? Hat? Shep? Sut? Nah. Bill.”

Looking up the name on the computer later, I was mildly chagrined to learn that this ruler was actually a woman! Oh, blerg. Digging deeper, even that fact was in question, so I wasn’t too far off the mark after all.

History is fascinating – and often funny – isn’t it? And so is the future.

When the actor who played Steve on “Blue’s Clues” left the show, he seemed to have fallen off the face of the Earth. Today I read that  a newly-discovered aurora borealis has been given the unlikely moniker, “Steve.” Coincidence? Perhaps. Now, I’m not suggesting that this light formation is actually Steve Burns in deep disguise, but let’s just say, I’ve never seen them in the same room together. 🤔

It’s one of life’s great joys to be able to laugh about silly things and spin a yarn. But when it comes to forgiveness, we may find it hard to let go and laugh things off. It’s as important to forgive ourselves as to forgive others.

If Bill is the past and Steve is the future, we could look upon them both more kindly. We might feel the same way about ourselves as we look back with regret, or look ahead with uncertainty. That’s the yester-you, and she did her best at the time. And that’s the you-to-come. She’ll do her best as well.

Be good to yourself and it’s a breeze to be good to others. There’s a word for that, isn’t there? Oh, yeah. Love.

There’s a difference between forgiveness and being a victim. Being a victim means that we let people do the same things to us again and again.

Forgiveness?  You put down the anger.  You toss away the rage.  You don’t give it space in your head 24-7.  It doesn’t mean that you forget, but you let go of the rage.

Instead you look for a spark of light.   That becomes your focus and what you show the world.  Not the rage.  Not the anger.  The light that pushes back darkness.

–SueBE

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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