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Forgiveness is one of the main tenets of most religions, but for me, it’s a work-in-progress. Sometimes I’m able to forgive those who trespass against me instantly, and, at other times, only incrementally.

I realized the other day that I’m also guilty of “forgiveness head-fake;” that is to say, I start out full of compassion, intending to let go of an infraction, but then I get to mulling. Once I start really thinking about it, I start to smolder. Mulling and smoldering might be a good recipe for cider and fondue by the fire, but it’s not so good for the soul.

That Mull and Smolder Syndrome came into effect recently when I realized my mailbox had been run over, yet again. It really had me riled up, because the perpetrator was the grocery delivery driver. He’d brought my food into the house and never mentioned that he’d just demolished my mailbox.  I even gave him a tip and a granola bar! 

This irked me so much that I couldn’t let go of my anger, even after the grocery company paid to repair my mailbox. Then I came across the viral video about a young man who ran over a mailbox in icy conditions and apologized sincerely to the homeowner, even coming back a few days later with cookies. That’s how it should be done! I could forgive that young man in a heartbeat. If I could forgive him, I can find it in my heart to forgive the truck driver.

Sometimes, it’s important to forgive — even when the offender hasn’t apologized — to protect your own mental health. When you’ve done all you can do, let go, let God and leave the past behind you.

You know the guy (or gal). The one that takes up space in your head, whose very voice you cannot stand to hear. The one that makes you grit your teeth, scream in frustration, want to resort to acts of violence. THAT guy (or gal). Mental health workers tell us not to let someone like that take up real estate in our heads or hearts because it’s not good for us. Why empower them that way? But it’s more than that.

I believe we will all be called onto the carpet at the end of our lives here on earth, and we will have to answer for our sins, lacks and weaknesses. THAT person will have to do this, too. Let God judge him (or her). But don’t add to your own liabilities by harboring ill will toward someone. Don’t let THAT person add to your deficits.

Forgive them — even if you have to do it multiple times daily — and love them. (You don’t have to like or respect them. Those things are earned.) After all, you can only change yourself. Make yourself the best you.

Lord, you know them:
They try the patience of saints.
They take what is good and render it sullied.
They walk on hearts in their big black boots.
They laugh at those on the margins because they live smack dab
in the center of the page, where nothing can assail them.
Safe. Satisfied.

Lord, I am old enough to know
there is little justice on this earth.
Let me not become a part of the problem.
Take my soul and bleach it clean.
Take my heart and reshape it like clay.
Take my voice and redirect it from pain to prayer.
Let me love the least lovable, so as to be
the least like them that I can be.

first to apologize

When I was younger, it was made very clear to me that forgiveness meant forgetting.  To forgive someone meant forgetting what they had done.

That always seemed like questionable advice to me.  Forgetting everything could be dangerous if you situation is dire.

Then one day I was walking our church labyrinth with one of our younger members.  She suffers from anxiety and tends to fixate on the things that worry her.  Really fixate.  I explained that as we walked, she could pause at each turn and breathe deeply in and out.

When we left the labyrinth, she told me how much better she felt.  “At each turn, I let go of something, like letting go of a leaf.”

Hmm.  I may not be able to forget entirely but when I realize that I’m holding that hurtful memory in  my hand, I can envision letting it go like dropping a leaf.  I don’t have to carry it with me through my day.  I don’t have to let it shade my afternoon.

I’m sure I’ll have to remind myself of this again and again. I have a tendency to mull things over.  And I’m just as likely to be tormenting myself over something I did wrong.  I just have to remember.  I may not be able to forget but that’s okay.

I can choose to let it go.

–SueBE

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.

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

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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