Archives for posts with tag: forgiveness

baby photo

 

Photography courtesy of K. Farwell

I have been working on this forgiveness challenge thing (https://www.forgivenesschallenge.com), and it is helping me look at what happened in my last marriage and divorce a bit differently.

Yes, of course, I felt angry, hurt, and abandoned at the time my divorce occurred. However, as a result of being freed from a relationship that was slowly killing both of us I was given a new life.  What I went through has empowered me to live life my life fully as a survivor. Most importantly, hitting that emotional “bottom” over ten years ago triggered internal spiritual growth that has given me a true relationship with God. It has given me the choice of viewing others with compassion rather than blame or the fantasy that they can do better if I just love them. I no longer feel the need to play God or to form any relationship that has an element of me addressing someone else’s needs and issues while  ignoring my own.

Today’s forgiveness challenge had participants going through a guided imagery exercise that instructed people to hold the person they are working on forgiving as a baby in their arms….a baby pure, unblemished, and  full of potential, love, and hope. It had them, if able, to hold that baby, to bless it, and to wish it happiness. And, lastly, having done this, it asked them to let the person go. I was able to wish my ex-husband blessings and happiness, and to raise my arms and release him to God.

The exercise felt very real to me. It allowed to view my ex with compassion and forgiveness…..and to let him  and my resentment towards him go.  I felt immense relief and gratitude.  After his abrupt departure from my life over ten years ago , I used the Big Book’s resentment prayer endlessly—-or so it seemed. And, yes, to a great extent doing so worked. However, those who know me will tell you I have a very active and sarcastic tongue when it comes to talking about my ex-husband. I am hoping the forgiveness work I am doing now  is changing that.

I am learning to look at situations a bit differently. I am beginning to view actions rather than people as bad. I am learning to try to view all people with compassion knowing I am in no position to judge because there is much in my life and actions that also needs forgiven. I am learning I can choose to re-direct my thoughts from blame and anger to ones of compassion. God bless and keep you.

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Daddy's Poinsettia

According to Teleflora (http://www.teleflora.com/poinsettia/flowers-plants/poinsettia-detail.asp), “… in today’s language of flowers, red, white or pink poinsettias, the December birth flower, symbolize good cheer and success and are said to bring wishes of mirth and celebration.” In my church, it is an annual tradition to purchase Poinsettias in honor of someone who has died or in celebration. I have never purchased one or taken one home. This time I did so to honor the memory of my father who recently died. Now, if the Teleflora folks are right, I can hope that in addition to honoring my father this magical flower will also bring laughter and happy times to those of us who mourn his passing.

However, the time spent at church this morning focused on something much more important than magical symbols. A group of us attended a class on forgiveness and reconciliation. My  12 step involvement has repeatedly focused my attention on making progress in the areas of forgiveness and acceptance. Therefore, I  thought I was coming to this class with a good deal of “advanced work” that might give me “an edge” over some of the other participants. But of course, as every good “evolving elder” should be able to do, I was able to open my mind and heart so I could encounter some new ideas about forgiveness.

This morning I was introduced to a new take on the forgiveness/memory continuum—-and that was the suggestion that one of the pathways to forgiveness is to work at being able to experience a memory without simultaneously experiencing associated  emotional entanglements such as anger and hurt.

Another highlight of this morning’s class was the fact that forgiveness is not about fairness, justice, or apologies from those who have hurt and/or wronged us—-and that the process of forgiveness evolves over time. This process is nurtured by being part of a community that understands what you are trying to do and supports one’s involvement in this process.

This hit home with me because I realized that this has actually been my experience. In the past eleven years or so I have been actively supported both by my 12 step community and my church community in making the journey from a very painful divorce through hurt, blame, and anger to my current level of moderate acceptance. I can now think of what happened as a memory; I no longer get bombarded by waves of hurt, anger, or blame.  I can remember the important lessons I learned, and I can honestly say I am truly moving on. This could never have happened without my faith, my church, and my recovery program. Hopefully, I’ll get a bit quicker at my “forgiveness participation” as I continue on my life’s journey.

I want to close by wishing all my readers love, peace, and acceptance of God’s grace, love, and blessings during this year of 2015. In the past year this blog has been viewed about 2100 times with visitors from 39 countries, mostly from the US, Iceland, and Canada. Thank you, my readers,  for helping me believe in my writing.

Questionmark2

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I just saw a video on Facebook that depicted a young man wearing “Christian Regalia” on his person and who had Christian symbols on his car. This same young man talking on his cell phone walked by a woman who had dropped her groceries without noticing the woman’s distress—and, of course, not stopping to help. I shared the video on my timeline because I thought it had an important message. Then I had to stop and think. When am I the “young man” talking on my cell phone oblivious to my fellow human beings and their needs?

Frankly, this line of thought makes me nervous. As a child the “Good Samaritan” bible story was my favorite. Yet, here I am afraid to stop to pick up a hitchhiker, afraid to roll down my window in my locked car at night when a man of color taps on my window, reluctant to give money to strangers who ask for it because I don’t want to support their drug or alcohol habit…..these are all things I do. Or don’t do, in terms of reaching out to others. Am I prudent?  Or am I failing to do as Christ would have me do?

Granted, I am immersed in what I think of as “my mission”—-spreading spiritual ideas in meetings, in most of my actions, and in writing. But there are still those times when another human being may or may not be in need of my help, and I don’t notice or I look the other way.

Last night in a meeting, I said that in recovery we have to help ourselves before we can help anyone else. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will have nothing to share of value with others.  I would like to think the times when I look the other way are instances of taking care of myself so I will be able to help others in need.

But, what about the other times when I am so wrapped up in my own situation that I don’t even notice someone may need my help or a listening ear? It is at times like this when I am thinking these types of thoughts  that I am glad I can ask my God for forgiveness for “things done and not done” over and over again. When I was feeling prideful not too long ago, I asked why repeating the same prayer for forgiveness several times a day was necessary. Wasn’t doing so a sign that I wasn’t serious about my prayers or about keeping my word to God?

Now, when I am able to practice humility and get my “ego-I” out of the way, I can admit that I sin and don’t even know it. Sin to me is anything that separates me from God’s love.  And when I am so wrapped up in myself that I don’t notice what God would have me do, then I am definitely guilty of “things not done.” I need to ask God to forgive my oversight and help me be more aware of what he would have me do. I also ask every morning for the courage to carry that out.  I still don’t know if I will have the courage to roll my window down or open my door to a stranger, but I have a feeling there are lot more things out there God wants me to do than things that might endanger my safety.

Enjoy this beautiful day. Take a deep breath. Thank Creator for both the day and the breath. May God bless and keep you.

Broken Heart

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I finally got up enough nerve to ask a question that has always bothered me in Sunday School class this morning. We were discussing The Lord’s Prayer and the words “debts” and “trespasses.” I asked what these words meant in the context of this prayer because they surely meant more than owing money or trespassing on someone’s property. The consensus of those in the class was that these words meant to forgive those who have wronged us so that our hearts will be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. The class agreed that holding on to a resentment blocks your heart from receiving God’s healing love. The discussion about the harm done by resentments could have been lifted verbatim from a twelve step meeting.

I cannot believe I have been in recovery over thirty-two years and a Christian longer than that—–and did not begin to understand this important point until this morning. I realized a long time ago that the Lord’s Prayer is talking about creating God’s kingdom here on earth in the here and now by all that we do and by us being a conduit for God’s love, but I had never before realized the full meaning of the “forgive others” part of the prayer. I cannot feel worthy of forgiveness, forgive myself, or be receptive to God’s forgiveness as long as my heart and soul are barricaded by resentments that shut God and God’s love out.  It is not that God doesn’t love or forgive me; the problem is my heart can be closed off and unwilling to let God love and forgive me.True healing cannot occur without allowing God access to my heart, and bearing grudges and holding resentments keeps that from happening. No wonder the 4th and 5th step in twelve step recovery are so important————without forgiveness there cannot be healing, and without recognizing our transgressions and making sincere amends for them wherever possible, healing cannot occur.

Forgiving wrongs done us by others can be an overlooked, unspoken part of working the 4th and 5th step. Working these steps ask us to own our own responsibility for the part we played in the situations that gave birth to our resentments. We must do that first and forgive others their part in the wrongs we’ve experienced before we can be forgiven—–by others, by God, and by ourselves so we can experience the healing embodied in letting go of resentments and/or working the twelve steps.

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable Sunday. May God bless and keep you.

bridge

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In the sermon I heard in church this morning a question I had asked several months ago came up as a topic of discussion. The church I belong to suggests we pray a series of prayers and read accompanying scripture 3-4 times daily. Included in each prayer session is a prayer of confession apologizing and asking God for forgiveness for our sins and promising our repentance. Today in our adult bible study class we learned that repentance is more than an attitude—-it also means actively turning away from what one is repenting.  The question I had previously asked was why  do we need to confess four times a day? My reason for asking the question was that I am uncomfortable asking for forgiveness when I promised “not to sin again” just a few hours earlier.  I am reminded of the story of the little boy that cried wolf too many times, when he finally did spy a wolf and run to tell the people in his village they wouldn’t take his warning seriously. By repeatedly confessing, asking for forgiveness, and promising to repent several times a day, do I not run the risk of God not taking me seriously—-or worse yet, not taking myself seriously?

The answer I was given to this question,  both at the time the priest and I had our conversation and again in this morning’s sermon, was basically that since we are imperfect humans we  tend to sin whether we realize it or not; hence the need to repeatedly confess and repent. I still have a bit of trouble with this philosophy. If repentance is based on a sincere apology and a promise not to do something again, wouldn’t we need to consciously know what sin  we were apologizing for in order  to avoid repeating it?

When I turn my will and my life over to the care of my Higher Power as I understand him, I need to  begin looking at my past and present actions to identify things I have done or am doing that hurt myself or others.  According to AA’s 12 steps, one then needs to  “make amends” and change one’s  behavior accordingly.  If I am sincere about changing something in my life, I ask for knowledge of God’s will and the power to carry it out on a one day at a time basis. And, yes, I often repeat that prayer several times a day.  AA’s 12 steps suggest we take a careful look at what we have done each day and make amends in a timely fashion. Nowhere in AA’s “Big Book” have I read a suggestion that we ask God to forgive our mistakes, promise not to do them, and then repeat the exact same prayer three more times in the same day.

Now that I’ve gotten that “rant” off my chest, I need to look at what is really important for me to realize in the midst of all this spiritual “free association.” Obviously, I and my self-pride are the problem. I doubt God is bothered by repeated requests for forgiveness and promises to repent. It is my pride/ego that resists “humbling” myself that often. I need to get over myself and  ask my Higher Power to forgive me for thinking I am above asking for forgiveness several times a day.  In reading what I have written so far, it is also obvious that many of my sins fall in the realm of attitude and false pride. My character defect of procrastination also lands a lot of my “sins” in the “things left undone” category. I need to “open the bridge” between God’s love and forgiveness and myself by being willing to ask for and receive it more  often than I do—–especially since I tend to deny my sins and not recognize them until I force myself to take a serious “mental inventory.”  Perhaps following a discipline of structured prayer sessions throughout the day may offer me a way to cultivate this habit.  May God bless and keep you.

 

self

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I am not just talking about “personal hygiene” here—-or even “mental hygiene” as the Veterans Administration folks used to call it. I am talking about steps that need to be taken for the miracle of recovery to occur. I cannot count the times I have heard people talk about the importance of completing AA’s 4th step in supporting recovery. This step involves taking a self-inventory. There are a variety of ways to work this step; many old-timers are “big book thumpers”  who insist it has to be done exactly as outlined in the “big book.” Personally, I think each person needs to find a way of working this step that works for him or her, and I tend to think it is as important to look at assets as it is defects.

After this inventory is completed the person working the steps is expected to talk it over with another human being and to eventually “make amends” for the past wrongs that were identified. Sadly, in terms of acknowledging wrongs done and making amends, the person working the steps is the one most often overlooked. I believe it is essential for both the inventory and amends to include both the harm done to oneself and forgiving oneself.

I just finished reading a meditation for the second time today. I want to share part of it with you. It is from John Kirvin’s Where Only Love Can Go: A Journey of the Soul into the Cloud of Unknowing (1996, pp. 122-123, Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press). This particular book is a book of meditations based on a book written anonymously in the thirteen hundreds. Text from this ancient book is still used today as one of the basic cornerstones of contemplative prayer.

One of Kirvin’s selections from this ancient text  addresses how we must start our spiritual journey by “cleansing our consciences, and enduring the pain of restoring creation to its proper place in our lives” (p. 122).  It basically says that those of us who have sinned will have a harder job of it, but that “God gives his  grace in a special way to the least of us and to the amazement of the world ” (p. 122).  It points out that many honored in this life will be pushed aside on judgment day while “some who are now despised and considered of no spiritual worth will take their place with the angels and saints.” It ends by admonishing us to “Judge no one in this life, least of all yourself” (p. 123).

Both anonymous works (The Cloud of Unknowing and AA’s big book) stress the importance of self-inventory and conscience cleansing. However, not judging yourself is not emphasized in the big book, and, in my opinion,  doing so is essential for true recovery to begin and to continue. Most of my professional life has focused on two things: teaching mental health nursing and promoting recovery in women who are alcoholics and addicts. Time and time again, one of the major obstacles women often encounter in their recovery journey is the difficulty they have in forgiving themselves. Our culture and most of our religious teachings does not stress the importance of self-forgiveness. But forgiving ourselves is an essential component of being able to begin to love ourselves as God does. After all,  if God through his grace can forgive us, who are we to question his judgment?

Enough said. Just because I am obsessing about a particular topic, it is not fair for me to keep going on and on about it. I hope your spiritual journey includes. self-forgiveness and a growing self-love. I am still working on it  one day at a time myself—–even after over thirty two years of recovery. May God bless and keep you.

Freeing butterflies

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I realized as I listened to the sermon in church this morning that a good deal of my life has been spent on spiritual waiting.  In terms of my own spiritual development, God has been doing most of the waiting for me to realize, begin to understand, and begin to accept the gift of immeasurable love that has always been waiting for me.

In regards to my career, I realized most of what I have done as a psychiatric nurse and professor has been to plant seeds. I realized that the majority of my professional time has actually been spent practicing spiritual waiting for the seeds to grow in God’s time following God’s plan rather than my own.

I realized I spent most of yesterday worrying about two friends, one who is suffering from depression and the other from addiction relapse. I know intellectually I cannot “fix” their situations, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting things to be better for them. I have to accept my role as a supportive friend is one of spiritual waiting. I can offer human caring and support, but the active healing process for both friends is between them and the God of their choosing. I can suggest tools, options, and opinions—-but it is up to each individual to make his or her own decisions and to travel his or her own spiritual pathway.

During the sermon (I still use the old “protestant terms” I grew up with; my apologies to my Episcopalian friends and colleagues) the priest also talked about passion and the different meanings that concept can have. The one we are most familiar with is the one that has to do with strong emotions and/or lust. We are also familiar with having intense passion for specific activities or objects. An example of the latter, would be my newly found passion of trying to communicate my spiritual journey and thoughts in written words.

Then, there is the religious meaning associated with  Christ’s death. At this point that the sermon went into new territory for me. It seems Christ’s passion was not only the suffering type most often alluded to in sermons. It was also composed of two other variants of passion. One type of passion occurs when one is powerless and cannot control what is happening to him or her. Twelve step recovery has taught me quite a bit about that one—–as has being a patient at Barnes Jewish Hospital numerous times. I have thought about Christ’s painful suffering, but never of Christ being unable to control what happened immediately prior to and during his crucifixion. The fact that Jesus was incarnated in human form would support that his human form was powerless and could not control what was happening. I will be doing some extensive thinking about this variant.

The last variant discussed in terms of Christ’s passion was that having to do with  the “handing over” of something. It seems that the word betrayal can also mean handing over….as Christ was by Judas prior to his crucifixion.  The priest also implied that Christ “handed over” his spirit to God when he said, “It is finished.” For the first time ever, I realized perhaps betrayal is necessary for positive outcomes to occur.  With that thought came  the realization that what I had always considered a negative betrayal prior to my last divorce was instead the impetus for a good deal of spiritual growth which otherwise might not have occurred. It forced me to turn my life and my will over to the care of God as I understood him. I have been learning to fly as a free spirit of God. I have had many lessons to strengthen my “butterfly wings.” At that moment in church this morning, a small kernel of gratitude was planted in my heart.  I am finally able to fully release the hurt and truly forgive the one who betrayed me because he actually set me free.