Because you’re worth it

The themes each month on the blog this year have marked my own journey in ways I never expected. This month in particular forced me to grapple with some very real issues I’d been ignoring for years – and in some cases, to take the necessary steps to lay them to rest. 

Allie Millette’s guest post touched a particularly tender spot, not just for me but for many of us. It got me thinking about all the ways I let incidents and people in middle school and high school shape my self-perception and my interactions with the world around me, even as an adult.

I remember the bullies on my soccer team when I was eleven years old, skinny girls with painfully straightened hair and short shorts who mocked my thrift store jeans, bookworm’s vocabulary, and my refusal to cry or react when they kicked the ball at my head during scrimmage, even slapped me once (it was the last game of the season, and I resolved not to tattle), called me names.

The friend who told me as a young teenager that I was too fat. 

The high school friends who stopped calling because I was, apparently, a goodie-two-shoes, a prude, a nerd…

These things mold us imperceptibly, determining the shapes of the chips we wear on our shoulders.

It has been humbling, looking back from the ripe old age of 27 and finally facing these incidents down one by one, saying “I forgive them” – and trying to mean it. It’s even harder to look at my young, insecure self and say, “I forgive you too, and there was nothing wrong with you,” as Allie wrote so well.

And slowly but surely, I’m coming to terms with myself over past failings and present faults. Because forgiving yourself goes beyond accepting and loving who you are, despite what other people think of you. It also requires that you take a hard look at the places where you’ve flat-out failed.

If you’re even half honest with yourself, you know that at times you’ve done wrong, said unkind things, thought terrible thoughts, deliberately avoided doing good. And perhaps the hardest part of forgiving yourself – after acknowledging where you’ve been wrong, seeking to make amends where possible, and casting yourself on God’s mercy – is letting yourself move on.

We’re not meant to wallow in guilt, yet so many of us do. Reflecting on forgiveness this month, I’ve realized how much my own guilt over so many things in my life has kept me from living and loving as fully as I should. We let our memories of our falls shape our sense of self-worth, and so often they leave us feeling completely worthless. Funny how when you’re convinced that you’re not worth loving yourself, you struggle to love others the way they deserve. 

That’s where forgiveness comes in. You have to forgive yourself in order to smash through the lie that the things I’ve done wrong and the flaws in my character define me. Forgiveness blows apart our need to be perfect in our own eyes, because our worth goes deeper than that. Here’s the truth: we’re each of us fallen and flawed, but fundamentally worthwhile. Only when we set about the humbling task of forgiving ourselves can we really believe that … and live accordingly. 

It has been a humbling month for me, diving into these issues not just on the blog, but in my real life. I’ve spent a lot of time with them in prayer, trying to work some healing in my own heart and in my relationships. There have been a lot of surprises, some difficult conversations, and a lot of tears – the good, healing kind. Clearly I needed this “theme of the month” more than anyone else, and I thank you all for taking this journey with me.

–Mabel 

 

 

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GUEST POST: It starts at home

This guest post dives into one of the hardest (maybe the hardest) aspects of forgiveness: forgiving yourself, and accepting who that “self” is — regardless of what other people think of her (or him). 

By Allie Millette

Please pass your paper to the person sitting behind you…

Those are words I dreaded hearing during my junior high days.  Math.  I was so bad at Math.  I can’t really blame my teachers for doing it that way.  It was so much easier for them.  They could get us to check our work and they would assign the grade later.  The only problem with that theory is the person sitting behind me was smart, funny, and cute.  He was also on a mission to annoy me to tears, which he did…effectively…every day…for all of junior high.

Looking back on these episodes, I realized I had allowed this experience to define me. I considered myself to be “dumb”.  I spent three years and, therefore, the rest of my life comparing myself to a dude who probably never thought about me again after the eighth grade.  I often find myself wondering, “How would it be if I ran into him today?”

Every once in a while, you’ll hear me going off on some rant to my mama about having to pass my paper to the person sitting behind me and how it destroyed my self esteem.  Junior High can be a terribly cruel time in life and it certainly was for me.  As far as human behavior goes, Junior High was the bottom of the barrel.  I still shudder to think of it.

For a while, I shut out that little girl.  “That’s not me anymore.”  I would tell myself.  I pretended those days never existed.  I acted as if I didn’t hate myself.  I especially acted like the internal hatred for myself at the ripe old age of 11 didn’t spill over into my life at 31.  What I have learned is that I am an incredibly good actress.

I thought I had moved past it, but in reality, I only shut the door and walked away.  So many times we think just because we can’t see something, it means it doesn’t exist.  You can have a messy room in your house and shut the door so no one sees it, but…it’s still a mess.  Often, I don’t want to even go into said room because I wouldn’t even know where to start with cleaning it up.  I feel the very same way about Junior High.

What I’ve found is that my regrets don’t really center so much around things I didn’t say or do to others, but I regret the thoughts I had of myself.  I regret that I cared so much what other people thought of me.  I regret that I cared so much about my grades.  I regret that I cared whether or not the Math god who took up residence behind me in almost every class (we can thank alphabetical order for that one) thought I was smart, funny, or cute.  I deeply, deeply regret not giving myself a break.

When we talk about forgiveness, people automatically assume it’s an outward action.  Most of the time, for me, it’s inward.  I find I have to forgive myself more than anyone else.  As nice as it would be for said dude to apologize for being annoying, saying mean things, going through my purse, and committing whatever other preteen atrocities he committed that I laugh at now, it’s probably not going to happen.  I will most likely have to get there on my own.

I can’t help but think about that poor, helpless, little girl, the one who isn’t “me” anymore.  All she wanted was to be loved, to hear a kind word, to be encouraged.  That’s all any of us want, but instead, I threw her out in the cold crying, and I tried to drown out her tears.  How inhumane!  The reality is, none of this was her fault! It’s not my fault that 11 year old me didn’t possess the perspective I have now at 31.  It’s not your fault either.  Don’t let your present perspective be the barrier to you finding healing.

I am still very much that little girl.  I am every bit that little girl…we all are and we would be lying if we didn’t stand up and admit it.  At this point, all we can do is speak truth into the situation and tell that little girl she is loved. We need to own up to the fact that she is very much a part of us.  I found myself relentlessly going over in my head all of the things I wish I could have said and done differently, but at the end of the day, what’s done is done and the only thing left to do is look in the mirror and say I love you, I’m sorry for abandoning you, and I forgive you.  After all, how can we honestly expect for others to accept our offers of forgiveness when we can’t even face forgiving ourselves?

I will leave you with this advice:  Make peace with your past.  Forgive yourself for the things that you didn’t know back then and give yourself grace.  Walk into that room and start with one small thing, but don’t close the door.  Let the room air out. Let Him guide you in cleaning it up.  That precious little girl needs a place in your heart.   God will use that shameful piece of your life to show his unconditional love and acceptance to the men and women around you.   Don’t shut the door on that.  If you want to be a more forgiving person, you are going to have to start with yourself.

We were never promised a peaceful life.  As Christians, the only guarantee we can cling to is that we will have the cross, which will eventually be followed by the Resurrection.   God wants to show His love to those around you through the mess in your life.  Let Him in and let Him bring you His peace.

Not gonna say I’m sorry

“I’m sorry.”

In the proper context, these words are the carpenter’s glue that puts relationships back together, the salve on wounded feelings, the first step toward making peace. 

Yet how often do we hear those two little words in the wrong context? How often do we use them when we ourselves have been wronged, or when we’re simply worried that we’re taking up too much space or inadvertently offending someone else? 

Confession: I’m a chronic over-apologizer. “Sorry” comes out of my mouth about as frequently as the offending adverb “like” (and while I try to avoid the Valley Girl sound, I know I overuse “like”).

I say sorry for all sorts of things: Sorry I’m standing in the kitchen and making my dinner while you’re also trying to make yours. Sorry I made noise coming down the stairs. Sorry I didn’t respond to your email or text message right away. Sorry I’m skipping your party tonight. Sorry I’m laughing. Sorry I’m crying. Sorry I’m angry. Sorry I’m not angry. Sorry I’m sitting in this seat. Sorry I haven’t vacuumed my car. Sorry my lunch smells funny. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. 

I list off all of these examples because I know I’m not the only one who does this. Nearly all the women I know — and quite a few men — do the same thing. My roommates, my sisters, my friends…we all apologize all the time. We apologize so habitually that we do it even when it makes no logical sense. I’ve had more than one conversation that went something like this:

Me: “Hey, how are you? It’s been awhile!”

My friend: “Yeah I know, sorry. I’m good.”

(This example works the other way too, I know.) 

So we both have lives. Yes, it’s been awhile. It’s really great to catch up now. Why say “sorry”?

Why do so many of us feel this guilty need to let the world know we feel terrible for being an imposition, for having needs, for daring to feel things and think things, even things other people might not necessarily like? 

There are probably as many reasons for overusing “sorry” as there are people who do it. But I’ll tell you why I overuse it, and why I’m determined to stop. I say “sorry” all the time because I am afraid. I’m afraid that if I assert myself I’ll end up inconveniencing or annoying or even hurting someone else, and if I do that enough everyone will eventually hate me. I say “sorry” because I want people to think well of me, I want to come off as a nice person, I want to appear considerate and sweet, and I want to keep all of my relationships comfortable — and alive.

“Sorry” is safe. It’s my shield, my cover, my white flag of truce. It’s my buffer against any and all interpersonal challenges. It’s a convenient wall I can put up to block others out. And as long as I hide behind the overused “I’m sorry,” I can avoid most encounters with authentic forgiveness. 

It works whether I need to forgive or be forgiven. If I’m apologizing all the time for simply having mass and taking up space, then I’m automatically assuming fault in every instance of conflict. As a rather shallow example, I read an article in the Telegraph, in which the author describes her personal space being invaded during rush hour on the London tube. Her immediate reaction, even though the other person was pretty obviously at fault? “Oh, sorry.” The misappropriation of guilt leads to a lot of confusion, and over time it can mean a lot of hurt, but it isn’t likely to lead to forgiveness. How can I forgive people who have wronged me if I insist on taking the blame and even letting them think it was my fault? How can they be forgiven if I don’t allow both of us to recognize reality?

More, taking the blame all the time can lead to a pretty warped sense of my own self-worth. It makes good sense, doesn’t it? If I’m always in the wrong, then I must be a pretty awful person; if I’m a pretty awful person, I’m just lucky there are a few people out there who want to hang out with me at all; if I’m lucky to have any friends at all, I’m going to do everything in my measly little power to keep them, because otherwise I’ll be all alone. So the sick spiral continues. 

Believe it or not, it gets even worse. Overusing “sorry” protects me from having to be forgiven by anyone else. In other words, hiding behind “sorry” lets me get away with a pretty deep lack of humility. You see, if I automatically say “sorry” every time I sense I might be inconveniencing or aggravating someone else, I relieve myself of the burden of really looking at what I’ve done, acknowledging when it was truly wrong, and really apologizing for it. When “My bad, sorry” becomes my typical reaction to anything and everything, it keeps me from really examining my actions and interactions with others and assuming responsibility where I should — and humbly asking to be forgiven. 

Ultimately, at least for me, the overused “sorry” is a copout. I don’t want to look like a jerk, or I’m afraid to delve into this issue or make a scene or deal with the messy human emotions that might result, whether I’m at fault or you are, so I’ll just fling out yet another “sorry” and let us both move on. 

When we overuse “sorry,” we turn something that’s fundamentally precarious into a safety net. Real remorse for real wrongs done can’t be safe. A heartfelt “I’m sorry” has to be vulnerable. It demands that we look at ourselves without flinching and then let someone else look, too … all the while accepting that the other person may refuse to forgive us. 

“I’m sorry” should always be a really big deal. So let’s save it until it counts. 

Next time someone bumps into you on a crowded metro, you can just punch him in the face. 

… then it might be time for a genuine “I’m sorry,” but I leave that to your discretion.

-Mabel

 

 

 

Paying it forward

As I wrote last time, one little sister taught me how to forgive years and years ago. Another little sister — the littlest in our family — taught me how to be forgiven.

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Every time I visited home during my breaks from college, I reverted to my old bossy, cantankerous, self-righteous self within about two seconds of walking through the front door. It always hit me like a ton of bricks, how little I had really changed, when I went home for visits. No, college and young adulthood had not made me more patient, more selfless, or more saintly; they had simply removed all the old irritants that tested my weak patience, selfishness, and very weak sanctity. A few hours with my siblings was more than enough to cure me of any delusions I might have entertained about my own goodness. In one particularly bad fit of temper during a break, I remember going off on my youngest sister over absolutely nothing.

I mean it. She didn’t do a single thing. We were driving together to somewhere (I don’t remember where), and I hadn’t written down directions and I got lost. When it became apparent we were pretty hopelessly lost, and that we were going to be embarrassingly late to wherever we were going, and that we had been driving around in circles for the past half hour, I flipped out. If you’ve ever seen me flip out, no more need be said; if you haven’t, I pray God to spare you the sight and I’ll spare you the description.

My poor baby sister — she was about twelve at the time — just sat quiet as a mouse in the passenger seat of the car and took my ranting like a saint. I know I snapped at her more than once, and she quietly took that too. It was an hour I still haven’t quite forgiven myself for, and I would never have blamed her for holding it against me. Yet when I sought her out, my tail between my legs, later that afternoon and just said, “I’m so sorry,” she stared right at me and asked in all sincerity, “For what?”

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That wasn’t the first or the last time that sister had to forgive me for being a jerk, and every time I’m humbled by her willingness to say, “It’s all good,” and end the matter with a hug.

A few years ago I encountered that same kind of forgiveness in someone outside my family. I went through a less-than-peaceful transition out of a housing situation that had become pretty unhappy for me. There were tears and misunderstandings and hurt feelings all around, and I moved into my new apartment fearing my old roommate and I would never patch things up. To my surprise (and joy), though it took a little while, she forgave me. We remained friends, and still are, and I attribute it all to her mercy toward me, even though I didn’t deserve it.

The hardest — and best — thing about being forgiven is that it’s not something you can ever deserve. In fact, the whole point of forgiveness is letting go of what you do deserve for a wrong done. And it can’t be manipulated or controlled; it has to be freely given. Maybe that’s why I’m a little bit in awe of every person who has ever forgiven me, and a little bit terrified every time I screw up again, wondering if this time I’ve really hit the limit.

Yet it’s knowing that I have been forgiven in very concrete circumstances that gives me the patience and the willingness to forgive when I’m wronged. Even in those cases where I still struggle to let things go, I want to forgive, because I’ve had good people in my life who willingly forgave me when I screwed up. To all of you: thank you. I’m going to keep on doing my best to pay it forward.

-Mabel

More than a broken tea pot

“That’s okay, I forgive you.”

I remember marveling at how easy it was to say, and how the feelings followed almost immediately on the words — no more anger, just a lovely, calm benevolence. My six-year-old chest nearly swelled with it.

My little sister didn’t believe me. She blinked, incredulous, and rubbed her teary eyes with the backs of her hands. “But I didn’t mean to,” she whimpered, and hiccuped. 

And I shook my head and said, “No, I mean it. It’s okay.” 

She had taken the tea pot out of my new, big girl porcelain tea set without asking, and had broken it in the bathroom sink when she tried to fill it with water. But when she came to me right away with the broken pieces and said, “I took it without asking and I broke it and I’m so

sorry,” I couldn’t be angry. Even though my heart sank at the thought of losing my brand new tea pot, I realized there was no sense in making a scene over it. After all, what more could she do?

That was my first brush with forgiveness. No strings attached, no hard feelings, just “It’s okay” and the joy of seeing my sister’s face light up with gratitude.

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If only forgiveness could always be that easy. More than twenty years later, I find myself looking back to my six-year-old self and wondering what she understood that I seem in so many ways to have lost. It’s so easy to be angry, even over slights so much smaller than broken tea pots. It’s so easy to stifle and ignore the anger that inevitably arises in relationships, so it festers and becomes a wound that aches. It’s so easy to pretend the wounds are no big deal, and to push people away because that’s easier than scraping out infections and applying the dressings that will let healing set in. 

It hit me a few months ago that I’d been holding on — hard — to many old hurts, from many different places. The catalyst was an out-of-the-blue message I got from a girl I used to be close to. Years ago she was one of my “inner circle” friends, the kind you’ll drop everything for, the kind who knows you in and out and laughs at the same jokes and shares a lot of the same memories. The kind you’ve let down your guard for and come to really love. Then, with no explanation, she seemed to just disappear from my life. We still ran into one another now and then, and she was still her sweet self when we did; she often mentioned in a sort of wistful way that we “ought to get together,” but the relationship ended up dying a slow death of starvation. And her life moved on and she eventually left the area, and I finally shook off the ache of it and determined to move on and forget her. 

Reading her message reopened all the old wounds. Maybe it would have been okay if she had expressed some sort of regret at the way our relationship sputtered to an end. Instead she only wrote, “I’m back in the area,” and “Maybe I’ll run into you sometime.” 

Of course, some of it was my own fault, for not saying anything when the distance became an unavoidable fact. But either way it’s so much harder to forgive someone who has no idea she’s broken your tea pot and doesn’t seem to be the least bit sorry. You don’t get the satisfaction of seeing the other person’s surprised gratitude; you don’t get to experience the lovely glow that sort of settles over the whole relationship because your willingness to let the thing pass has brought you both to a place of peace. Accepting your place in another person’s heart when it’s not the place you wanted is much harder. It requires humility and that real, self-sacrificial love that’s so very hard. It’s a very lonely process, and the end result may not be a relationship at all, but accepting that a relationship has come to an end.

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But I’m coming to realize forgiveness can’t be based on the other person “coming around.” It makes it a lot easier, certainly, but we can’t live our lives angry, just waiting for other people to realize the error of their ways and come crawling back to us for mercy. At a certain point, I have to take responsibility for my own reactions and feelings. I have to dress my own wounds and move on, whether or not the people who caused them ever realize or acknowledge it. 

I will be brutally honest: I’m not capable of that kind of forgiveness yet. But I want to be capable of it, and I hope and pray that wanting can be enough of a first step to get the ball rolling. So much depends on grace. So much depends on realizing that I also have been forgiven much, not just by God but by family members, dear friends, roommates, even acquaintances who have sustained hurts from me, many of which I know nothing about.

More than anything else, though, learning to forgive — to really forgive and let go and move on — requires so much prayer. For now, all I can do is pray, “Lord, give me a heart of mercy, like your heart.” And I just keep hoping the rest will follow, in good time. 

-Mabel

*Broken tea pot image from here

November’s Theme: Forgiveness

The fall colors hit their peak this weekend in the Northern Virginia area. I realized it as I crested the hill leading into my neighborhood on Saturday afternoon and saw the long avenue of oranges, reds, and browns standing out against a dazzling blue sky. You know those moments where you feel like you’ve just gotten a brief glimpse of something Other? The veil is lifted for a quarter of a second and you wonder if you’ve fallen into heaven without realizing it. That’s how I felt in that moment, seeing all the glory of autumn on a beautiful weekend day. 

Now it is November, and time for a new theme of the month. I’ve been struggling with selecting a topic that fits this month. My ideas have been all over the place, but the one I keep coming back to is forgiveness.

The fact of forgiveness, and my need to be forgiven and to forgive, has been very close to my heart in recent weeks. It can be a difficult topic, but I think it’s one that merits its time in the spotlight on this blog.

People hurt each other. It’s a simple fact of life, and asking for — and granting — forgiveness over slights and hurts should be an equally simple fact. Unfortunately, many of us have a hard time making it to step 2. I was reflecting in Mass today on some areas in my own life where I haven’t taken the step of forgiving people who hurt me, some of them recently, others years ago. This leads me to ponder how many people I may have hurt, without asking for forgiveness. And how is this failure to forgive hurting my heart as I try to prepare for a vibrant and fruitful life, wherever my vocation may be? 

In other words, how can I as a single person really prepare for the life God is calling me to if I’m holding onto grudges, or refusing to acknowledge when I may need to ask forgiveness?

There’s a lot to chew on here, and it seems appropriate as we begin to look toward Advent, and the coming of Mercy Himself into the world. “Virginia” and I will weigh in, as always; and we’d love guest posts from you, our readers. If you want to share a personal story and prefer to do so anonymously, that’s always great, too!

Thanks to each of you for reading, for commenting, and for sharing with your friends and families. We love your input! The blog is about to celebrate its third birthday, and it’s been such a wonderful journey, exploring the single life with you. Please know how truly grateful we are for the opportunity to write about these issues that are so close to many of our hearts, and for your encouragement, support and feedback. (And of course, your guest posts.)  

–Mabel

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