I wrote this piece when I was making a transition from loss to a new beginning. You may be experiencing a similar time in your life.
“. . . but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
I’m tired – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Grieving is harder than I could have imagined. Is there some magic formula that will make this journey easier?
I’m tired of wandering the dark canyons and dry deserts of my soul.
I’m tired of wondering when I will be able to leave.
There are days when the journey seems endless, and I struggle to find my way into a new life.
How do I preserve what I had while letting go of what was?
The memory of our love is still fresh in my mind, and I do not want to let go of what we shared.
Many times, I have watched eagles from my deck, their powerful outstretched wings riding the thermal air currents, soaring upward until they were mere specks in the sky. How incredible it would be to be an eagle – serenely floating above my world and circumstances. But I can’t soar if I hang on to what I had. I can’t soar unless I let go.
Let go and soar.
They say eagles mate for life; so did my husband and I. Like the pairs of eagles around my home, we worked and played together. Now, I need to fly alone. To get through this sorrow, I need to believe my grief will end.
“In order to fly you have to let go of your fear and freefall, spreading your arms to catch the wind.”
It was something I had written in my journals months earlier as I was coming to terms with death, hoping for a reprieve.
Hope seemed like a two-edged sword cutting me to pieces. Yet without hope there is no purpose – no reason to believe in a future.
“In order to fly, you must have hope. Hope can energize. Hope is the wings that will let me fly.”
I re-claim those words today.
I close my eyes and become an eagle.
As I let go of the branches of past security and comfort, I feel my wings spreading, catching the invisible air currents of God’s thermals. Rising higher and higher, I feel the ache in my heart and spirit melt away.
My mind focuses on the promises of God, confident that He will never leave me as I am shown a way beyond this and all situations.
When I need to fly, He will strengthen my wings.
When I need to think, He will sharpen my mind and eyesight to see new possibilities.
And He will always provide the thermal updrafts enabling me to soar high above any circumstance. I can let go and soar with the wings of an eagle, catching God’s thermals on the way up.
I allow myself to float on the security of God’s trust.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
The fears that prevent us from taking that first step out of our comfort zone are usually connected to feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy.
We don’t want to appear stupid or foolish.
We don’t want to be rejected.
We need people. We need to feel we belong. But we often sacrifice our ability to connect, achieve and overcome when fear takes center stage. We retreat rather than stepping out.
Each of us has a multitude of talents and abilities.
You may be good at one thing but not good with other things. For example, someone who excels in math may have difficulty working with people.
Another may enjoy or take great pleasure in working with people but struggle with the complexities of math or technology.
Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and accept both. Draw from your strengths to adapt or work with things that are not easy or unpleasant.
Focusing only on what we are good at or what we are not good at keeps us from expanding our capabilities.
There is so much we can accomplish.
We are more than just a carefully constructed career or role. My husband was an educator and musician. Yet, together, we planned and built two houses. After his death, I built one by myself.
Don’t limit yourself; you have skills and aptitudes that remain untapped or unidentified until you purposefully look for them.
Build on your passions.
What makes you excited?
What could you work with for hours on end and not get tired?
What endeavors make you feel whole and complete?
Now, ask yourself, what is keeping me from exploring those possibilities, dreams or passions?
Identify the fears that keep you from trying. We can learn from our past and the choices we have made – both the good and the bad.
Failure is not a weakness. It is a learning tool.
Fears are not to be dismissed lightly.
They tell us to be careful. They can keep us from unnecessary disasters. At the same time, if you keep saying to yourself, I can’t, without exploring why you are fearful, you lose opportunities that are immeasurable.
If the fear teaches you to explore and be cautious it is a good thing. If fear keeps saying, yes, but what if I fail or make a fool of myself or . . . we need to explore further.
Face your fears head-on.
Some are rational and others irrational. Rational fear recognizes, prepares, and avoids unnecessary danger. Irrational fears keep us from trying, from stepping out into unknown territory.
Sit down and have a conversation with your fears. What are they telling you?
Consider and accept your weaknesses.
Everybody has them. We just think ours are so horrific and repulsive that if others find out, they will think less of us. When we accept them, we find others have no problem with them either. In fact, others are more willing to become real and authentic with you when they see you being authentic.
Acceptance of our weaknesses becomes part of an inner strength as we work with them.
Life is a journey.
There are risks that need to be evaluated and acted upon. Open yourself up to exciting possibilities. Step out in confidence and from a position of strength. If you don’t succeed the first time, try again.
Would we fall apart, or would we finally recognize our need for help?
We saw the Ten Commandments as a gift from a loving Father trying to teach us how to live non-destructive lives.
Would we use more of them?
We really believed God cared about us more than any earthly being could.
Would we finally trust and believe?
We could actually say, “I’m a sinner, Lord, forgive me.”
Would we finally be able to set down that bag of garbage we’ve been carrying around all these years? Would we stop struggling and find rest and peace?
We gave our hearts to God instead of our good intentions and good works?
Would we be able to let go of our fake facades and be transformed?
We accepted God’s forgiveness.
Would we find peace?
We forgave ourselves.
Would we be more forgiving?
We actually loved ourselves because God loves us?
Would we be able to love others more?
We just came and sat with God every day: talking – listening – being still?
Would we hear His quiet-but-strong voice?
Instead of asking, “why, why, why – why did this happen, why did God allow this, why did I screw up again, why can’t I ever get anything right, why, why, why,” we simply said, “I don’t know why, and I don’t care. I just know God loves me – Period. He said it, I believe it.”
If He has the power to create this entire universe, this world, all the laws of science that maintain it, and you and me, do we really need to know all the whys?
We saw service as a joy instead of a duty.
Would those we serve see the love and compassion of a God who loves them too?
There was no God?
It would be the day I died, and life no longer would have meaning. The universe would no longer reflect light. The earth would stop rotating and on that day I would be joyless, lifeless. There would be no love – no laws – no protection – no joy – nothing! The earth would be full of nothing. It would consist only of facades, distorted mirrors, and with no way to get out of the endless cycle of lies, deceit, and greed. Everyone would be left with a life that has no meaning, rotating around and around on a merry-go-round that never stops, and we would experience hopelessness and despair.
“Smoke, nothing but smoke… There’s nothing to anything – it’s all smoke. What’s there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone? One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes – it’s business as usual for old planet earth.”
-Ecclesiastes 1 (The Message)
“Write! Write! You want me to write, Lord! But I’m not accomplished enough and have not learned enough. What if I write things that expose my vulnerabilities, my fears, my stupidity, or my ignorance?”
For with all my education and learning, I have become acutely aware of how little I know. Just when I think I know a subject well, I turn a page and discover I have just begun to learn.
As I pick up pen and paper, the boldness with which I have written in the past is now tempered with a deep humbling awareness of the present.
The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that striving after something is like smoke and mirrors – or like dust blowing in the wind.
Yet we live in a world that requires planning, designing, and working toward goals. We have a legitimate human need for accomplishment and to feel good about it. To survive, we are required to learn and study and make wise choices.
To achieve anything requires self-discipline and training.
But if we accumulate or accomplish simply for our own gratification or the need to feel important, we will wake up one morning disillusioned.
Ecclesiastes teaches us that the meaning for life can only occur in God, with God and through God.
To me, that means following Him as he works out the particulars of my life according to His will and design. Otherwise, the work I do would be pointless; the things I accomplished would be like so much dust blowing in the wind and my writing would only be tinsel and sparkle on paper that entertained for a moment but held no real value.
Writing, for me, has become more than just therapeutic journaling. It has become a directive.
Like any skill, writing is a discipline that requires time and effort and practice. But in the process, I have discovered more about myself and God’s great love and purpose than ever before.
Without the work involved in developing proper sentence structure, good grammar, and searching for words that illuminate the ideas I want to put down, my writing would simply be a jumble of words with no purpose or clarity.
My writing began with purposeful journaling. I resisted the impulse on gloomy mornings to turn on the TV in order to cover my pain with noise or push it away with lots of activities. Instead, I chose to sit down with pen, paper, and my Bible. Through conversations with God, I began to work out my pain. In the process, I was healing, and my soul was being fed with words God gave me to write.
When we lose a loved one, the way back to a normal new life often feels as though we are climbing a perpetual mountain with steep trails and unmarked paths full of uncertainties. We are required not only to mourn our loss but create a new meaningful beginning. This piece epitomizes such a journey.
Learning new skills requires perseverance, dedication, and hard work. It seems at times we are pushing that proverbial stone that doesn’t want to move. And then, one morning, we wake up and find ourselves sitting on top of it! We haven’t moved it… we haven’t gone around it… we have climbed on top and are on our way over it!
That’s how I feel this morning. I have reached the top! I don’t know how I got here, but here I am. Every morning I have written about my struggle to believe, make sense of what happened, let go of the past and move forward. I was developing a new skill.
Now, as I sit on top of this mountain, my proverbial rock, I look back and see the black canyons, deep abysses and steep trails that challenged me. I see what I couldn’t see while climbing those treacherous paths: the guardrails God put up for my protection; the “angels” He sent to comfort me and the green pastures that were sweet resting places along the way. He put people in my life for assistance and support and to be there for me. He provided protection, love, and strength to endure.
Since death toppled me off my comfortable perch in life, I have been reconciling to a new reality. I asked myself some challenging questions. Mental, emotional, and physical resources were stretched to the max and at the end of the day I fell into bed, exhausted. The next morning, I rose from a pool of tears and started all over again.
At times, the trail seemed endless or too steep. How would I make it through another day? But standing still was not an option, and with steel resolve and determination, I moved forward.
Yet, I was never alone on this journey. Not only was God with me every step of the way, but He gave me new friends to comfort and support me. He enriched old friendships. Those who loved me walked with me. Others pulled away.
This morning, as I sit from this new vantage point, I am captivated by the view extending far into the distance, revealing the many options available to me. As I reflect on the dark, deep, and narrow canyons I traveled, I am reminded that along the way there had been patches of blue sky.
When I had looked up, those walls expanded, and I felt new life and a new surge of energy and hope. And when the way out of those dark canyons of grief and sorrow seemed to disappear, God gave me toeholds, branches to grab hold of and hang on to until the path became clear once more.
Within them, they hold the energy and power to make monumental changes, overcome the largest of obstacles, stay on course, and never give up. We can take time out to evaluate and make appropriate corrections, but we don’t give up. We continue with reflection, purpose, and intention.
I first discovered how powerful those three little words were years ago when my husband and I listened to doctors tell us that our ten-month old son was “A-mi-tonic quadriplegic,” a term I never heard before or since, but it basically told us that our son would have little to no control over his muscles. Oh, and they didn’t think he had much intellect, either.
For five days the doctors had performed intensive tests, trying to discover why our son couldn’t hold up his head. Phrases like “cerebral palsy,” and “little to no intelligence,” were spoken as casually as if they were a weather forecast. My husband and I struggled with the enormity of it as we left the hospital and tried to think of ways we could share this news with our other two children. How would we meet the needs of our family?
Growing up in a Christian home, I believed in God and the power of prayer. While I had always said prayers, I rarely said them on my knees. I learned a lesson in humility that day. At home, alone in my bedroom, I sank to my knees in prayer. I knew I couldn’t simply ask God to make everything return to normal – my son obviously had a serious muscular and structural problem, even if I could not agree about the lack of intelligence. He was unable to hold up his head, after all.
So, my prayer was for strength, courage, and wisdom to raise our son and to find ways to make his life as normal as possible. As soon as the words were spoken, I was flooded with an incredible sense of peace and confidence, and I rose from my knees energized, hopeful, knowing we could do this.
We were not only given strength and courage that day, but many other blessings as well. Several days later, we were told by an intervening doctor that Don did not have cerebral palsy, nor was he mentally challenged, and he was not a quadriplegic. But he had been born with missing and weak muscles in his neck along with other muscle weaknesses in his body. Although the diagnosis was less severe, his life was going to be a challenge for him and for us as parents.
We created a home environment where he could maximize his talents and abilities. He was extremely creative and had incredible drawing skills.
While the muscle weakness affected parts of his back and shoulders, it did not affect his arms or hands. Don was fitted with a specifically designed brace so he could walk, and he started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil.
Later in life he had surgeries on the Achilles tendon in both legs and a back fusion when he became a teen. As an extremely gifted and talented artist, he went on to college and lived an independent life as a conceptual artist.
I share this personal life event because I learned two important things.
First, the importance of prayer.
And second, that if God gives us hope and strength, we need to put them into action.
And that is where “Yes I can” became a permanent part of our vocabulary.
Because without a “Yes I can” attitude, it would have been impossible to give our son the independence and freedom it took to live life to the fullest. It meant allowing him to fall, get hurt, and try again. It meant trusting God in the process and believing in our son.
Without a “Yes I can” mindset, Don would never have gained that inner strength and confidence to become a conceptual artist and independent contractor in one of the most difficult industries and cities in the U.S. – Los Angeles.
Throughout his life, Don believed in himself and his ability to do things. He did not let anything deter him from creating a successful career as an artist. Although it wasn’t easy, he never questioned his ability to make things happen. And he never looked at himself as handicapped. He was loved and respected by many and developed a large circle of friends who never saw him as disabled, either. Cancer took my beloved son in 2009.
“Yes, I can” is a mindset that takes whatever life has to offer and turns it into something positive and productive.
Surrendering to God in prayer is an understanding that we can’t do it all by ourselves. It frees up our energy to move forward with confidence in meeting whatever challenges we face. It allows us to be pro-active, resilient, flexible, and roll with the punches instead of becoming resentful and angry. God gave us peace and strength so we could turn that initial shock into a will to make life happy and normal.
“Yes, I can” sets us free from self-incriminating doubts, uncertainty, and on-going anxiety.
Yes, we will doubt. Yes, we will feel overwhelmed. Yes, we will have anxiety and fear. But we can turn all of these into something productive when we choose to focus instead on what we can do instead of what we can’t do. It gives us the will to look for solutions, and the energy to carry them out.
Try it – you might be surprised. We choose our thoughts, our mindsets, and attitudes. These influence our responses to whatever challenge life throws at us.
“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:7
Once again I gather my cup of coffee, Bible and journal and step out onto my deck brimming with potted plants. The orange and yellow nasturtiums along with green vines and shrubs create a privacy screen, a secret garden. This is my oasis, a place of solitude and quiet where I come to find renewal.
The sounds of the bubbling water fountain soothe my heart and bruised spirit. The questions about an uncertain future melt away like the early morning mists and I feel strength and confidence returning.
One moment my spirit is dejected and feeling despair, the next I am feeling calm and serene.
What has changed? It isn’t just the hodgepodge of plants and colorful flowers that are scattered around me. It is more; I feel the spirit of God meeting me here.
I am comforted through the timeless tranquility and harmony of creation, from random flowers sprouting where least expected to the massive mountains towering in the distance, forming a backdrop for the lush forests and valleys.
Within the covers of the Bible, I find reassurance that I am not alone. My distressed spirit is calmed when I find within its simple truths the working out of healing. I am reconciled to my troubles and my losses. Here the remaining remnants of grief are comforted and soothed.
As I step into my new reality, I continue to seek words, phrases and places that feed my spirit and soul. It is in that constancy, that never changing stability, where I find ongoing and deepening peace and contentment.
There are so many losses we experience throughout our lifetime, each having an impact of some kind on our lives. It isn’t just the death of a spouse or child. It comes through divorce or when kids leave home to start their own lives.
Our way of life is altered when best friends move away, or as we get older, and age isolates us. In some way, all losses require a reframing of our world, what we can expect and what is now gone. There is some element of sorrow and the need for reflection connected with all of them.
As we retreat to a calm and welcoming space to gather our thoughts and calm our spirits, we recognize our need for God and for others. And in those moments of calming tranquility, we pray that that peace will remain when we step out of that space into the active world.
With a faith and belief that God will continue to uphold us, we can become confident as we take those tiny, sometimes faltering steps away from our past to a new beginning, where gradually what was lost is replaced with a new meaning and purpose.
As I step out of the sanctuary of my garden, I pray that the peace I was given will continue to go with me throughout the days and weeks that stretch before me. I pray that you too will find that tranquility in a sanctuary of your life.
Throughout this month, I have been sharing stories about the consequences of hanging onto anger and resentments.
When we have suffered injustices, especially in our personal relationships, it is hard to let go and forgive. We struggle with our desire to get retribution or justice versus letting go. Retribution or payback seems so necessary.
Therapists often hear about egregious events that people have endured. Some started early in their childhood. Unprocessed, they keep injecting themselves into our lives and color our attempts at happiness.
In this article, I share one more story from a therapy session that might help you understand the cost of hanging onto resentment.
“The lady arriving at my office had a pinched, hard face, even when she smiled. Her eyes were combative and her demeanor and stance defensive. Her vitriolic words were indicative of a long-held bitterness.
The toxicity of her resentment could no longer be covered up with expensive suits and immaculate dressing – her very physical being had been changed. She had been referred to therapy because she was experiencing more and more physical problems for which her doctors could find no organic cause.
“I don’t know why I am here,” she said. “I live a good life and do what I am supposed to do, which is more than I can say for those doctors I go to.
As I listened and gently probed her background, it soon became apparent that she held a lifetime of resentment against an older sister who hated her, stole her rightful inheritance, and tried to destroy her name and reputation. This resentment had played a major role in her health problems.
The resentment was legitimate. The grievance was deserved. Yet a lifetime spent as a self-righteous victim, rehearsing over and over how she had been wronged, was gradually destroying her – bit by bit.”
The cost of resentment had affected her entire life.
It made no difference what salary she was getting, how much power she held, whether she was the elite CEO of a major company or a secretary – everything she did was affected.
What she didn’t realize was that this long-held grievance was affecting every part of her being: physical, mental and psychological. It had become such a normal part of life that she no longer could see the correlation between these thoughts and her health.
She only looked for things that confirmed her anger and distrust. Everything that might have held a promise of happiness or joy was obstructed or blocked. She found ways to excuse herself from any wrongdoing, finding and focusing instead only on the faults of everyone else. She was a very unhappy lady.
Righteous indignation – anger turned to bitterness and hatred – will eventually destroy you.
Every part of your life becomes tainted by that hatred. Grievances worm their way into every fiber of our being.
Your Choice – Your Happiness
We select and maintain the memories that make our stories grow. When we tell it over and over again, whether to others or to ourselves, it keeps the hurt and injustice alive. We cling to a standard of rules that we cannot enforce, and automatically blame others for everything that goes wrong.
While there are many egregious wrongdoings, most offenses are committed without the intention of hurting someone personally. When they are intentional, the people committing these acts are usually ones who themselves have been mistreated and hurt.
Whether intentional or not, we can choose to continue the pain, or tell ourselves there is more to life than hanging onto offenses.
We convince ourselves that if we let go, then what happened wasn’t important. Instead, letting go is declaring that your life will not be defined and ruled by what has happened.
Forgiveness doesn’t say you were not wronged. It says, I don’t want my life to be ruled by what happened. I want to create a happy and purposeful life.
In the book of Genesis, we read the story of Joseph and his brothers. It is a classic example of favoritism, jealousy, and being wronged. Joseph was hated by his brothers and they tried to get rid of him. He was taken into slavery, thrown into prison but was released because he was able to foretell dreams.
The ruler of Egypt put him in a position of power. When the dream of an impending major drought came true, his brothers, along with others, came to Egypt to get a handout. They did not recognize Joseph, but he recognized them. And after a few transactions, he told them who he was, forgave them, and rejoiced that they were together again as a family.
Forgiveness opens the door for reconciliation.
It allows the possibility of a new relationship. It is not condoning inappropriate or hurtful behavior or even forgetting a painful past. It is choosing to let go of the hurt and pain.
Forgiveness does not change the past, but changes the present. You are choosing not to allow the past to continue to hurt you, allowing you to heal and put in place new boundaries.
Forgiveness is for you – not the offender.
It enables you to re-claim your personal power. Forgiveness does not mean you condone, deny, or minimize inappropriate and hurtful behavior or that you will automatically reconcile with your offender.
It does not mean you give up feeling, become a passive doormat or give up claims for justice or compensation.
It does mean you can become a hero by choosing not to allow your stories to be as important as you once thought they were.
When asked by his disciples if seven times was enough to forgive another, Jesus’ reply was to forgive seventy times seven. How often do we take this as a harsh command or a duty impossible to do? Yet if we flipped forgiveness on its head, we would see it as the blessing it is.
It is not easy to let go of wrongdoing.
But if you want to live a productive and happy life, resentments and bitterness will only get in the way. It might be the greatest gift you ever gave yourself.
“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun.
Top lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in more ways it is a feast fit for a king.
The chief drawback is what youare wolfing down is yourself.
The skeleton at the feast is you.”
-Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC
Jesus said, “Forgive seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). We take it as a moral imperative.
But it isn’t just Jesus who tells us how important forgiveness is; science confirms it as well. In fact, not to forgive is putting a slow death sentence on ourselves,as the theologian Frederick Buechner so aptly describes.
Most of us deal with the sins and transgressions of others in the moment. We get mad, pull away, and then make up and go on. When we are the transgressors, we do the same. With minor goofs and slip-ups, we feel bad in the moment, apologize, and then continue with life.
When we personalize indiscretions or offenses of others, however, we are setting ourselves up for the creation of a “grievance story” as detailed by Dr. Fred Luskin, in his book, Forgive for Good.
When we hang on to resentment, it becomes more toxic over time.
The suggestions offered by Dr. Luskin can help us better understand how and why we are so quickly offended and what we can do to change such a trajectory.
7 ways to make forgiveness a gift, rather than an obligation
1. Don’t make “unenforceable” rules.
Unenforceable rules are expectations and assumptions that everyone must follow, or we will be personally insulted and offended. Associated with such rules are the words, should, must, have to and ought.
When you hear yourself saying these words, ask what you are demanding from either yourself or another. How are you eliminating personal choice?
2. Own your feelings.
We blame others for how we feel. People can’t make us feel a certain way unless we allow it. We can choose other ways to respond that doesn’t involve escalating anger, ill will or hatred.
3. An injury does not create a “grievance story” – we do.
We can reframe our situations, become less critical and balance troubled times with humor.
4. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.
Forgiving prepares the way for reconciliation; it doesn’t automatically say it will happen. Forgiveness is letting go of trying to get retribution. Forgiveness of self says, I can admit when I am wrong, apologize and ask for forgiveness and stop beating myself up.
5. Forgiveness does not mean condoning unkindness, inconsiderate or selfish behavior or excusing bad behavior.
It does not deny or minimize the hurt, pain or injury done to us. It just refuses to make it into an ongoing resentment story that becomes toxic over time. We are the ones hurt by not forgiving.
6. Coming to terms with unpleasantness in life helps us understand we are not perfect or flawless.
We will make mistakes and need grace and forgiveness. Although people will hurt us, they are often unaware that they have offended us.
7. Forgiveness is a choice.
We make the conscious decision to let go of the hurts and wrongs. Forgiveness requires that we first define our grievance. When we can articulate the details of the hurtful event, we will know exactly what we are forgiving.
Acknowledge, accept your feelings, and then make that conscious choice to forgive and let go. Forgiving helps us from getting hurt in the future.
Forgiveness allows me to let go of the pain and experience peace. I choose to forgive. How about you?
Once upon a time, a package was delivered to a young woman. When she opened it, her eyes blazed, and she became very angry.
Although infuriated over receiving this parcel, she nonetheless took it with her wherever she went. Soon other packages arrived, and she had to get a larger bag to put them in so she could continue to carry them with her.
Every morning, she dutifully picked up her bag, which was growing heavier and heavier. She took it with her on the bus to work and when she met with the girls for coffee or a glass of wine.
It went with her to family gatherings and remained on her back as she fixed meals and adjusted her load to make the beds and do the laundry.
Every once in a while, she received another unwelcome and unwanted package, which she stuffed in the bag with the rest.
There were moments when she put her bag down and went for a walk in the woods or on the beach where waves gently lapped her ankles. At such times she felt free and alive. She enjoyed the sun and sweet smells of the forest and breathed deeply the fresh salt air.
She felt weightless and at peace and was tempted to leave the bag behind when she left these peaceful environs.
But it called to her, and she would pick up her load once more. The sweet moments she had just enjoyed became burning coals of sadness, regret, and despair.
One day as she walked down the path of life, an old man stopped her and said, “I have been watching you. Every day you carry that big bag. I can tell it is heavy by the way your body sags under the weight and the strain of effort that shows on your face. You must have something very valuable in that bag.”
The woman, who was aging more rapidly because of the constant strain, set the bag down for a minute and reflected before she replied. She had been carrying her load for so long it just seemed natural to do so.
“Sir, the packages in my bag are things I do not want, have never wanted, and I carry them with me so I never forget how much they have injured me. If I lay them down, I might forget. For you see, in this bag are all the betrayals, rejections, insults, lies and humiliations I have received – things that have cut and wounded my spirit and soul.”
The man responded with shock, “Why would you want to keep carrying them around with you? Why don’t you put them down and leave them behind?”
With tears in her eyes she replied, “Because I don’t want to forget what was done to me. I don’t want them to get away with what they did to me. I want them to remember the pain and suffering they inflicted on me.”
The old man looked around and slowly said, “But they don’t know you are carrying this bag of grievances and resentment. They are not around. Whatever was done to you, you continue to do to yourself. You are not exacting punishment on them, but on yourself. Others may have injured you, but you continue to inflict pain on yourself. “
Amazed, she said, “But if I put it down, won’t I be saying that what they did was okay? That they got away with it. As long as I carry this bag, I can be thinking of ways to get even.”
The man kindly and compassionately said, “Is it worth letting a lifetime of joy and happiness pass you by?”
She looked into his eyes full of wisdom and grace and realized for the first time that by carrying her bag full of resentment and grievances, she was unable to build a constructive and meaningful life. She was unable to see the beauty around her.
She thanked the man and went home. She put her bag down beside her and pondered the things he said. What could she do with all the packages she had been carrying around for so long?
She opened the bag and looked inside. She discovered the packages had turned to stone; not only all the injustices and wrongs she had endured, but her anger that had flamed into a deep simmering rage. As she sat there weeping, she realized she no longer wanted to carry them around with her. But what would she do with them?
As she looked out the window and gazed at her garden so ordinary and plain, she had a brilliant idea. Filled with an energy she hadn’t experienced in years, she began removing the stones, using them to create a new pleasing design for her garden.
She built a large mound of stones and dirt and planted beautiful flowers and plants in between. Other stones became low walls for beautiful ivy to tumble over. Some became the perimeter for a water pond that held the tears she shed, and others framed pathways that wound around the beautiful sculptures she created.
Her garden was no longer ordinary and mundane, but inviting and pleasurable. She invited friends and family to gather with her for lunches, teas or dinner parties. And when she wanted to enjoy the peace and comfort that fed her soul and spirit, she chose one of the benches to sit and rest.
It is so easy to accumulate the bundles of betrayals, rejections and lies we have received that become resentments and grievance stories. And like this woman, we carry them around without thinking of the cost.
When our focus remains on how badly we have been treated, we become a victim to our own story. Forgiveness allows us to put our heavy burden down. Forgiveness allows us to make peace with any bitterness in our past. It allows us to let go of the pain and experience peace.
Don’t you want to set your heavy load down, choose to forgive and be free?