Dear One –
I know I wrote to you about some of this recently, but I am feeling really drawn, really actively allured and invited into the idea of “Forgive yourself for everything every day.” To go a little deeper and explore it some more in light of some experiences I’ve had the past week.
You see, I’m on a discernment retreat this week, and so I’m finding myself in deep, quiet spaces of reflection and friendly curiosity. And today, I’m curious about forgiveness. Again.
Forgiveness is, according to Martha Beck, giving up the hope of having had a different past. There’s something there about acceptance. It happened. It was. It can’t not be. Letting go of the wish that the “here” I’m in would just—damn it!—be somewhere more like an imagined “there.”
Forgiveness has also been described as no longer letting a given person or event rent out space in your mind. It’s considered to be a fruit of the Holy Spirit, a mark of Love, and one of the last and most important things uttered by Jesus of Nazareth prior to his resurrection: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
But there’s this piece about condoning. Does it make you uneasy? It does me.
I can get into not letting Rob Thornton become more and more a footnote, and less and less a chapter in my sense of the Book of my Life. I’ve gotten to the place, these many years later, where I can decide when and how I think about him and what he did to me. I think of everything I have learned about grooming and culling the socially vulnerable from the herd. It’s useful information to have and to watch out for.
But I will never condone what he did to all the girls he left in his wake, up to and including the mother of his son. And for all I know, his wife.
And with all sympathy, I say yes, you may have read me on this topic before, and maybe I’m a little sorry for it. But forgiveness is such a thorny thing, I expect to keep coming back again and again to it, so you know, seatbelts and all.
Similarly, there is no condoning the actions of the people and the SYSTEM and the PANIC around repressed memories that came up in the ‘80s and lingered into the aughts. That system, that panic, the people at the psych hospital who coerced me, threatened me, and insisted that I was not manic-depressive, but rather, had “all the symptoms of sexual abuse happening at a very young age.” Their approach to this “diagnosis,” their pushing, their coercion, all of it wedged ruptures in my family that lasted for nearly two decades.
So what is forgiveness without condoning? And where might acceptance come into it?
When I read my little post-it, “Forgive yourself for everything every day,” what am I really leaning into?
I am NOT, let me be clear, I am NOT telling any of us, me included, that I get off scot-free from responsibility or consequences.
There is an assumption built into the post-its message: empathy for others. The post-it assumes that you/I need a little help being gentle with ourselves. The message assumes that you are someone likely to hang onto guilt or shame, turning in on yourself, rather than owning up to your actions and not becoming mired in guilt.
Cause see, here’s another little thing about guilt. Guilt can be a way not to take responsibility. “Oh, I’m such a bad person!” “Oh, I never do anything right!” “Oh, I’m just terrible!” These expressions of shame—that the speaker is essentially broken—come from guilt, but they turn that guilt inward, twist it into a pretzel, and make it so that behavioral change becomes MORE difficult, rather than less.
What the post-it is advising, then, is self-compassion. Just compassion. Ha. Just compassion, as though it’s a simple thing.
And it’s not really just compassion, anyway; it’s also a clear-eyed sense of a thing done, perhaps some curious-and-tender investigation into what motivated my screw-up. Then I can see where I need to take responsibility and own the consequences of my actions. Then I can accept that the thing happened at all, and I can also accept that I did it and its consequences are mine. Acceptance, too, is not the same thing as condoning.
At each of these moves, self-compassion, self-compassion, self-compassion.
There is no step, no occasion, no movement that does not require compassion. Especially because compassion – the capacity to suffer with another (whether than be another being or one’s own limitations) – is not about letting off the hook. Sometimes compassion raises the hand that says, no. And when the hand of compassion says no, we can stop, repent (as in, turn back toward our values), make amends, and move on.
So I forgive myself for every day at the same time that I commit to being responsible for myself, a grown-ass adult who is not responsible for what was done to me when I was young, but who must take responsibility and acknowledge the consequences of my choices or inattentions.
So compassion, compassion, compassion. Not “let yourself off the hook for everything every day.” Not “your actions are all perfect every day.” But “Forgive yourself for everything every day.”
Yes.. That. Forgive yourself, with buckets of compassion, for everything every day.
Blessings of forgiveness, of acceptance, of compassion to you—
Oh and PS – All this compassion applies doubly during Lent. Ash Wednesday is this coming, and remembering you are both of Earth and Stars bears reflection.
PPS – Oh, and about acceptance. Just remember, as I believe Byron Katie says, “Reality only wins 100% of the time.” It happened. It was done to you or by you. Acknowledging its existence in your history, well, that’s telling the truth of your life, your history, and it’s where one must begin.