"When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God's light shines upon you."
Just last night, I was watching Into the Wild while painting a picture of Glacier National Park for some friends of mine who are expecting a baby. They are an adventurous couple, always heading to new places and exploring the wilderness, and their recent trip to the national park inspired me to paint something for their soon-to-be little one.
As I explore my own creativity, I see patterns emerge in my life that I believe I may have certainly missed before in my former state of not-so-clear heartedness. There is a side to forgiveness, a more abstract, little-talked about reality: we always think we have been wronged, we have suffered, but we never ever imagine that even if we have done the true and difficult work of forgiving others, we also have to forgive ourselves.
But for what?, we might say. I find it interesting that in the heart of every human being is this paradox: we feel bad about things we've done, we feel guilt and shame- so many people carry it their entire lives, and it keeps them closed to true love- things that, had someone else directed them towards us, we would say, 'if anything that person needs my forgiveness. They wronged me.'
But do we ever see what we've wronged? Do we ever see that the guilt and shame we carry and can't put down is in there for a reason? What if we not only acknowledged the places where we didn't 'have it all together,' but we forgave ourselves- and so could love ourselves- for it too?
How radically different life would be. We'd be beyond the concept of trying to think ourselves into a love or even peace-filled state of mind, state of existence, and we would accept the brilliance of who we really are- broken, whole; lost, found- at all times, because it would be part of our characters (not dependent on mood, personal accomplishment, earnings, offerings, etc.) to do so.
And then, we would do that for others too.
"Forgiveness is not something that anyone can do. When there is enough light, it emerges." -Gabor Mate
I adore the radical suggestion of the above quote: forgiveness is not something that anyone can do. As I connect more and more pieces in my life, I see that forgiveness, in it's most radically real state, is a work of art beyond man: we can forgive when we see we are forgiven. We are already loved.
To accept it is difficult. To be aware of it will change the course, depth, and beauty of your entire life forever. When you are able to forgive as deeply as is humanly possible, God is there. You don't try, you allow light.
If my life has been a metaphor for anything, it's that whatever we carry in light we carry equally in darkness. In fact, I think this is probably the happiest and lightest I have ever been in my entire 27 year old life. But the depth of the darkness I've known previously is still deeper than the depth of the light I know now. Which, when you understand forgiveness, and you understand the way God works in those who welcome Him to work, means that the depth of any suffering, shame, and guilt, will be directly related to the height of any light, glory, and love.
I know that. So I let Him work.
While I watched Into the Wild, I was reminded again of the power with which this line hit me when I first heard it: "some people feel like they don't deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past." This is part of my own story (though it bruises the ego to admit it), and it is part of man's eternal quest for place in a vast universe: the past, our personal pasts- all that has happened to us, and hurt us- drives us away from the idea that we deserve love. We've been hurt, unloved, left; abandoned, abused, taken for granted. We think we are so strong, we think we can overcome these pains without a grace and a love and a forgiveness so, so, so much more radical and authentic than the kind we can manufacture ourselves.
Whether we can all articulate it or not, it is, at the root, what we are doing: we are looking. We are looking for love, for purpose, for place, for adventure, and for home. And that home part, that is only found in Love.
"You are wrong if you think joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living."
So here is another part of the great shift, a good pointer to something that I have been only slowly gaining the right words and expression for over the past few months, as it happens to me in my life. Joy (to its most fearless depth and ultimate expression) is extended through human relationships, but is not achieved principally from them. Humans are great: I love them and the ones I have in my life are uncharacteristically incredible.
But none of them can give me home to the bottomless depth to which my soul craves it; none can give me love with the endlessness that I desire it; none inspire me quite like the brilliance of my Creator (although seeing others in His light does make me see a great deal of beauty in them that inspires me very much). And I cannot give people home, love, or inspiration quite like I know He does. So I don't try. I follow.
As I watched the movie and painted this last night, I also spoke to a friend on the phone about some of these very same issues. And when we got off the phone, she said, 'thank you for listening, and sorry I'm not that easy to listen to right now.'
And I stopped her and told her: wait a minute. No. Did I not just tell you that your worth and your value does not change based on how happy you are, or how sad; how 'together' you feel, or how 'broken;' how lost or how found; how much you think you have to give or how little you think you have to give? My character is no longer based on my judgement of people's deservedness: this too is an incredibly humbling shift from ego to freedom.
In the eyes of God, we're equal. That's it. 'I don't have time to listen,' or 'this is stressing me out,' or 'I need control over this situation' goes away. There's no other way to live, love, serve, forgive, or grow.
When we learn to love others, and love ourselves, we give: we know we have nothing to lose, because it's all been done for us already. Forgiveness and pardon, grace and the willingness to go to people who are hurting and are lost, not to say, 'whatever, I have no use for this.' Love finds its use in healing the hearts of people who need it and in asking for absolutely no credit whatsoever.
When a person truly loves, they forgive. They let go. They harbor nothing.
"Make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservation, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.
The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty."
I'm not sure why people think that God will give them a sense of external security. It hasn't been my experience that this is true. Internally, I have found the unwavering peace I have been searching for and trying to manufacture on my own, but externally, any life of security, reassurance, and comfort has been entirely lost, and I'm not bent on trying to get it back. The idea of a secure, controlled future, I don't actually like too much anymore: it's at odds with creativity. It's too rigid, too cautious.
To move spiritually means that life becomes the adventure, because you see from where it comes; that while most of the world rises and falls to the sunrise every day and misses the inherent beauty that life is here for them on this planet, you stay busy living it, trying to make it as beautiful as you can- as was done for you. Nothing quite opens us to the beauty, light, and adventure within us like God.
I've only been to Glacier once; I was just passing through on a train on my way to Washington state two years ago. I saved my money and quit my job and did some traveling before I went to South America, and at the time, I'll be honest, I was scared. I doubted myself a lot, for leaving what I could clearly see before me was a secure life. There was something wonderful about it, of course, but there was something scary, and there was still guilt, shame, fear inside of me. I also didn't know God, and, in hindsight, I didn't really know myself. I knew what I had been. But it's not the same thing, I now see. I have become something new.
I have had to learn a lot over the past few years about what it means to forgive. What if I did that? What if anything that caused me shame, pain, guilt, sadness, lostness, was released? Then what? Then what vision would I have, what would I be able to see? What could life be like if I were free?
There are words in the picture which will emerge more clearly: you are fearfully and wonderfully made. It is a line from the book of Psalms, and I thought it would be perfect for a new baby.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are so inherently important. You haven't even done a single thing with your life and mommy and daddy love you so much with a love from which you can never, ever be separated, no matter what you ever do. What if you remember that love from the cradle to the grave, and you have the courage to remind others?
What if that's the purpose of your life, and that's enough.