Recently I had the opportunity to attend a local postpartum support group with some new friends. It was one of those serendipitous things that just sort of happen on their own, because I’d never thought I was in need of such a group. My younger child is, after all, almost two, and I’m not going through anything traumatic at the moment. Luckily, I went, anyway, because it was a fantastic gathering of strong and beautiful women who were so loving and so free of judgment, and from the moment the “check-in” started, with each woman getting a turn, there was so much vulnerability and truth sharing happening! I love vulnerability and truth sharing!
The check-in prompt included how each woman was showing herself compassion, or how she was committing to show herself compassion if that was a current struggle. I had to think about that for a minute as people began to share, because it’s not something I think most of us ponder in those concrete terms. What I came to, though, was that this year has been a giant self-compassion year, because I have almost completely freed myself from guilt and shame. I don’t hold onto a fraction of the guilt I used to, and very rarely do I find myself beating myself up for something that really isn’t mine. When I make mistakes (you know, several times an hour), I generally don’t sweat it anymore. I recognize that I’m trying and that, yeah, that happened, but I can do my best to fix it and then move on. It feels very compassionate toward myself.
When that’s what I shared, the immediate question was, “Well, how did you do THAT??” Humans, and perhaps particularly womanhumans, are excellent at guilt and shame. We are so good at beating ourselves up. Unfortunately, in that moment, I didn’t have an answer. I just knew something had shifted for me, and it wasn’t nearly as hard for me own my stuff and let other people own theirs.
After mulling that one over for the next couple hours, I realized what had shifted to allow this change, and that was my relationship with God. Like I’ve said, God and I have been on pretty good terms (on my end, ha) for a very long time, but this year has been different. I’ve finally opened myself up to the possibility that I’m much more useful to God when I’m not spending all my energy hating on myself for the bad stuff I do. I’ve started to see that God doesn’t want me to feel less than, because I’m not--and if I can’t see that I’m glorious because I’m his creation, I can’t see that in anybody else, and if I don’t believe it about myself, other people won’t believe me when I tell them they are, too. If I value the human part of myself more than the God part by giving it a greater share of my attention, I am paradoxically participating in idol worship, and my idol is myself and my image of perfection that is entirely impossible without my God.
The biggest contributor to my shift has been the considerable time I have laid aside each morning to be still and know God through yoga, meditation, prayer, and scripture study. My morning ritual has become incredibly sacred to me, because it has given me the experience of God on a very regular basis. It has changed my brain and my heart.
I’m not saying these are the only ways to come to know God experientially. I’m saying that we need to know God experientially instead of just intellectually if it’s going to mean anything at all, and it doesn’t matter how that happens--just that it happens. There are so many ways to do this, but from what I’ve observed and experienced, one common factor for all of them is time. We have to be willing to sacrifice and dedicate real valuable time, and it is so worth it.
But that’s not the material point of this post. Back to guilt and shame. I’d heard before that all forgiveness is forgiveness of the self, and I didn’t really buy it. When I’m mad at somebody, it’s because I perceive them as harming me in some way, which implies that I’m in the right and the offender is in the wrong. Obviously.
Then I spent a weekend at my teacher’s house this summer as part of our training, and during that weekend, we did a short and sweet meditation focusing on the breath. As we breathed in a certain pattern, we were supposed to think of whatever load we were carrying and to ask what we should do to get rid of it. I struggled to think of a load, because that was smack in the middle of my yogi-life high most people go through at the dawn of positive commitments, but of course it came eventually, and it was my anger toward my kids. [Sidenote: having a family is the single best way I know of to discover all the ways that you are not, in fact, as nice and calm of a person as you always thought you were back when you mostly dealt with strangers and coworkers and friends, amirite?]
So yeah, I struggle with being patient, most especially with my toddlers. They are perfectly designed to trigger every button I possess. As I acknowledged that anger and asked God to free me from it, the answer was simple: Free yourself! This was a continuation of a previous conversation, so it made me laugh, but my next question was what was the first step I should take in order to do that, because obviously I was having a problem with it. I was expecting something along the lines of forgiving my kids for being kids and letting go of my need to control them, but what came instead was a major breakthrough for me.
The simple answer was that I needed to forgive myself, not just for being angry, but for parenting so imperfectly. I needed to forgive myself for doing things that legitimately screw my kids up, because it is inevitably going to keep happening for the rest of our lives. I realized that my anger toward my kids came from anger toward myself for modeling imperfect patterns that were now being reflected back at me, for failing to teach them how to deal with life appropriately, and for not loving them enough to hold all of that without breaking. And God told me to forgive myself for all of it, because loving them perfectly isn’t my job--it is God’s. I will love and parent imperfectly, and it’s okay, because God loves and parents perfectly, and that’s enough to cover everything. It’s not my job to create perfect humans, and I should stop trying to do God’s jobs.
It’s true. All forgiveness is forgiveness of the self. Once we are completely devoid of shame, we will have nothing yucky left to react to in anyone else, because we will have crystal clear vision of how God sees each of us. Won’t that be an absolutely amazing day? We can start working toward it right this instant by cultivating that relationship with God that shows us how beloved we are and forgiving ourselves for being the very creatures we were created to be, having this wonderful learning experience of humanness.
I happened upon this scripture again yesterday, and I love it so much: “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Romans 5:3-5
Hope maketh not ashamed.
Exploring the spiritual side of things. Brevity is not my forte.