Self-acceptance is the launching pad toward freedom (8)

Our anguish reveals itself to be our treasure. Over the time Angie and I worked together, we stayed closely with her experience. In fact, it was her experience that led us.

Normally we fear the unknown depths of our sorrow and fear. We tighten against it. We turn the other direction. We push it out of our sight. We pretend we are happy. We present ourselves to the world as strong. As good. It is a violent way to treat ourselves and how we suffer when we do this.

One of the first things Angie and I did together was to develop in her a tender gaze toward all the different levels of her being. She was scared. But she was also angry. She felt guilty that she had been a part of this decision to move which now she feared would dreadfully affect her daughter’s lives. She felt deficient. Ugly. Loveless. Depressed. Lonely. As she felt her way through all the levels of her experience, she learned to let it be, to stop trying to escape it.

This acceptance brings the freedom to look at situations with new eyes. The situations that break our hearts tear us to pieces in an upward cry. These circumstances ask of us a newness, and if we find the new, then tomorrow will never be as yesterday.

The most important thing is to feel the humanity which makes us suffer, that breaks us to pieces, in a positive way. From every ending, then, everything can begin. Our humanness reveals to us that we are made for the Infinite. That nothing less than the Infinite can satisfy us. The pain we feel is the means we become aware of what Jesus is attracting us to. It is the instrument through which he makes himself present. This is why we must open ourselves to ourselves, acutely aware of how circumstances are reverberating in us on every level of our being: physically, in our emotions, through our thoughts….This is why we must seek the complete meaning of what we feel.

One day I was sitting in a coffee shop with two sisters. As we spoke of a project we were doing, they divided up the writing aspects of the project. It didn’t occur to them that I could contribute. At least that was how I interpreted it. It was the culmination of months of inner soul searching, of a series of events in which others were chosen for projects, of the rejection of other projects that I had worked on, and failure of still others. When we returned home I took a walk in the backyard where I could be alone. It was a small thing, so small I felt guilty even feeling it so deeply. I knew God was at work in all of what was happening in my life. Yet it still hurt. As I looked across the new spring garden just beginning to be dotted with the bravest of flowers poking above the dirt, I began to cry. I embraced the sorrow, the disappointment. From somewhere deep within, the bravest of prayers at last came forth: Jesus, take everything, everything, but give me You.

God doesn’t cause the painful situations in our life, but as our heart is thrown wide open in agony, we discover a treasure we had never known was there: the presence of God that grows stronger and stronger. We crumble in admiration and gratitude.

A healthy way to become aware of the whole texture of your experience is to take a few moments reflecting upon what you are feeling about a situation that is still upsetting you. There is a surface feeling, probably anger, grief, fear. When you focus on this feeling you will notice that another feeling makes itself visible. When you focus on that feeling, another feeling will make itself visible. With this tender loyalty to yourself you find yourself relaxing, even if it is painful. Our humanity was given to us to recognize Christ. So live the immensity of the question, the depth of the pain, and there will blossom a new humanity that is brave, tender, real.


In Part I, you have learned that the process of forgiving yourself means you’ll have to give up for a while the attempt to forgive yourself, that forgiving yourself has more to do with resetting your life back to normal. This “normal” requires a mental and emotional clarity, in order to be surprised by the gaze of Christ who communicates to you through his eyes who you are.

Simple tools like breathing and not running from your feelings help you re-connect with yourself gently. Standing before the gaze of Christ, as did the woman in the Gospel and Angie, can melt the self-hatred of a lifetime of self-escape and refusal to address head-on what you really feel about yourself.

So before you go on, I invite you to return to the story of the woman bent over double and the story of Angie. Take your time and allow both of these women to lead you before Jesus gaze, to receive his healing tenderness.


Making Peace with the Life That Has Been Ours (7)

Self-forgiveness is closely tied with self-acceptance. On some level the person who can’t forget something they’ve done, who continually brings up mistakes they have made, or who feels guilty about their choices in life, cannot accept themselves for who they are. Part of maturing is making peace with the life that has been ours. What stands between us and this perfect surrender is a mind filled with judgments and comparisons and labels and excuses and analysis. Surrender is possible only when we live in the absolute immediacy of our experience without commentary and rejection.

At any given moment one thing, and one thing only, is happening. I’m sitting. I’m listening. I’m talking. I’m singing. I’m kneeling. I’m folding my hands. I’m praying. I’m eating. My hands are in the sink, and I’m washing dishes. Most of the time, however, we aren’t present to the immediacy of the present experience. We are thinking about something else. We are commenting to ourselves on how much we like something, or how this is better than that, or why this person next to us is doing what she is doing. We re-run the past and rehearse the future. We live in a world of our own creation, and miss out on the beauty of the world that is of God’s creation.

We live in God’s world when we live fully awake to what is currently unfolding, receiving it silently, curiously, with wonder. Full awareness includes a complete opening to our inner space without judgment.

What is it that you can’t forgive yourself for?

What do you think about the situation or issue that still weighs you down with guilt?

How does this unforgiveness make you feel about yourself? What is the “taste” in your mouth, so to speak, when you remember the situation? Picture it again and just notice.

Can you be present to what you are experiencing without commenting on it? Can you let the thoughts and emotions appear and then casually drop them, as if they were of little interest or consequence, without judging yourself because of them?

This practice can, or probably should, increase a certain level of anxiety at first. We are so used to dissipating the uncomfortableness of the naked gaze into the immediate reality by creating stories, analyzing, figuring, planning, rehearsing, blaming, judging. Our monkey mind distracts us from what is true and what is real. What is true is simple. It is one. It is one moment at a time, one thing at a time, one feeling at a time, one thought at a time.

A giant step toward forgiving ourselves can be taken by simply embracing each moment, as it is, with love, a moment given by God who sustains us in existence, bends over our nothingness, requires nothing of us but this repeated obedient surrender to what in his providence he allows to be. We may not like what we feel or what we see in ourselves. We usually have in the back of our minds a concept of what we would rather or should rather be. God doesn’t love our imaginary “us.” He loves the “us” he has created, as she or he is. Right now that includes the discomfort of what we feel about ourselves. Staying present to this discomfort will in time be the key to maturing in self-acceptance and one day finding it within ourselves to forgive ourselves.