I listened half-heartedly as a family member recounted a perceived wrong one more time. I had heard it before and so had everyone else in the family. Something had changed for me for I became an observer and I uncomfortably recognized a familiar friend…his name was un-forgiveness, as I listened to the discussion I was entertaining my old friend. This face to face encounter with un-forgiveness began a slow purposeful process.
After my brother died I began the grieving process by working harder, I deciding to go back to school. I had planned to get my master’s degree years before and I already had the degree program picked out. So I started into school while working full time and ended up in a psychologist’s office. I tell you that only because that was the last place I would have expected to end up. I had all the right answers but nothing seemed to make sense. I was angry and didn’t even realize it until anger started popping to the surface like a beach ball being forced under water. I cried myself to a fitful restless sleep some nights and other nights I put myself in timeout with warm bathwater. I started recognizing the questioning looks on my kid’s faces as they looked at each other for an explanation and a way out of the “hot seat” that each found themselves in at one time or another. It broke my heart to see that look. Somehow I knew the anger had little to do with them and much to do with me. I was the problem. This realization brought me face to face with myself and I didn’t like the person looking back at me.
If you have never been in counseling I will tell you the process is difficult, demanding and continues long after the counseling sessions are over. It is not a linear process and I could not explain the process if I tried. Seemingly disconnected parts of your life start to come together and things begin to make sense. I will leave the how that happens to the professionals, one of which I am not. The process began with me coming to terms with never feeling good enough. I finished my master’s degree in 14 months with a 4.0 GPA but ran into a bias I did not expect. I was now over educated, liberal, and a product of a corrupt education system. Blindsided by this bias, I started to recognize that I actually felt criticized in every area of my life from the way I dressed, to the way I talked, to the way I did my job. I was constantly trying to achieve perfection and felt like I continually fell short. I wanted to please everyone around me so I was constantly saying yes to all kinds of extra projects feeling often like a juggler with too many balls in the air and I was quick to criticize myself over the one ball I dropped. This busyness occupied every area of my being. I could not turn off the busyness. I would lie down and the busyness would find my brain and start an endless circle of conversation. Criticism would permeate my being and I would condemn myself over and over again, I began to think that everyone in my life thought I should change something. My doctor put me on sleeping pills because this busyness and constant conversation was not confined to daylight hours. Sleep made me sane and functional for the next day and I am quite thankful for the wonders of modern medicine. My kids will tell you, “Mom without sleep… not a good thing!”
During this time a pastor was talking to me and encouraging me to try contemplative prayer and I was reading a book on the subject, so I tried to sit quietly and still my mind. I made it 30 seconds with about two weeks of daily practice, I made it 3 minutes. This may not sound like much but to me it was monumental. I could for three minutes turn off the voices. Gradually I lengthened the time and this concentrated effort to settle my mind was key to finding peace. Do not misunderstand me this was not easily obtained. It was however, well worth the effort and eventually created the space I needed to connect to God or maybe it was the space God needed to connect to me. This idea of creating space, meditation, or contemplative prayer made me aware of my spirit guide; in the Christian community we call him the Holy Spirit.
I was perplexed by the idea that the Holy Spirit as my inner guide needed my help. I was to read the right books, go to the right church, or be guided by the right kind of outside force in order for him to work in my life. This bewilderment led me to decided that if the Holy Spirit was indeed my guide I could stop reading, stop going to church, and stop listening to as many outside voices as possible and He would still led me. My deepest inner desire was to know God and to tap into his life flow. I noticed the fear of the people around me. I saw their countenance fall when they ask if I was going to church and my response was no. I felt the scourge of judgment and their disappointment rubbed my desire to please raw. I refused to listen to their voices for I very intently tuned myself to the Holy Spirit. I started to look for truth to resonate. Some may have thought this rebellion and it may well be depending on the definition used but to me it was a purposeful act of silence. It was indeed the fertile soil God needed to reveal His limitless love to me.
“Be still and know that I am God…”Ps. 46:10. As I let things go, allowed things to fall away, and released both success and failure. I became intimately aware of a presence; it was familiar, understanding and accepting. It held me as my father died when I was six years old and I was searching for it. It was a knowing, a feeling, not really an emotion for it was constant…it was God and He was quietly waiting for me in the stillness. As I settled my mind and created space distancing myself from the thousands of notes playing and tuned my spirit to the one note that resonates with truth, I heard it. As I continued to reject the other sounds and tuned only to the single note of the conductor, I found a perfect pitch, which allowed me to be part of a symphony. I was in touch with the conductor of the universe and I was tuning myself to His love.
Forgiveness came quickly for me after that for I was intimately aware of my failures and God’s acceptance of me in spite of them. I could not earn love; I could only accept love and choose to be loved. I found it hard to be angry because I started loving people; faults are easily overlooked when you love someone. I began responding to them with the love and acceptance I found in the lap of God. I started to recognize that every perceived wrong involved a person who needed to be loved. I realized that I would not be the person I am without the artistic hand of the Creator who molded me through abandonment, betrayal, guilt, shame, death and I started saying thank-you for each event. Thank you for the experience of loss, the experience of guilt, experience of being out of control, and the experience of personal failure. Each of these experiences gave me the ability to react compassionately to the people around me. Each gave me the ability to love. Each made me into the person I have become, the person God can use, the vessel needed for a given situation. I am formed by my experiences and I am the sum total of all of those experiences. Experience is like sand bombarding an ordinary rock, polishing it to a magnificent sheen. As I began viewing every experience as a gift, I become thankful for my brother’s life and thankful for his untimely death. I recognize that without the iconoclast of death pausing long enough to experience the lap of God, would have taken me many more years. I may not have come to recognize how precious little time we have and how important it is to seize the moment and live right now today. I may not have come to know God as a presence that is so loving, kind and accepting.