Big questions. Is God reliable? Is life reliable? It makes me think of when I was 21 and had a stroke. How can God be trusted when something goes wrong in life: an illness, a failure, a betrayal. How do we recover from these situations? Does God really love us?
God created the human heart to be like a large box vast enough to hold God himself. When we hate ourselves for what we’ve done or who we think we are, our hearts become smaller and smaller until our spirits have no more room to breathe. Sometimes we don’t think we can bring our shame into the open before God. Perhaps you believe that God won’t forgive you. You hide from God just as you hide from others when you are afraid to reveal your true self. At the root of this unhealthy behavior is the reality that you have rejected yourself. Do you love yourself in all your vulnerability and imperfection? When we refuse to allow ourselves to be held by God in the midst of our struggles, we deprive ourselves of God’s tenderness toward us.
To see who we really are is to see ourselves as God sees us. We need to expose ourselves to the messages, the Voice, the Words of God to know ourselves and others in truth.
When I lead people through the journey you have been experiencing in this book, I often find that at a certain moment—a sacred moment—something wells up deep within a soul: repentance. Your regrets may be a mixture of things you have done, sins you have committed and things that have happened to you. But all of us have done things we look back on with regret. In this journey of life, we experience regret around things we could have done differently, ways we have hurt others, words or actions we can never take back, and relationships that have ended. As you explore your regrets, do not feel surprised if you begin to feel the bubbling waters of a cleansing sorrow that are as different from burning shame as day is from night. This sorrow is pure gift, but we can ask God for this spiritual sensitivity.
Repentance is a step into the mystery of our salvation. It does not always feel good but it ultimately leads us to wholeness and healing. Our human nature is frail and we know from experience that we are dust, weak, and prone to sinful passions and desires, even when we know better. But God himself took up our struggle as his own. Christ came, as Healer and Savior, to heal the sickness of our human nature. When Christ was conceived in Mary’s womb, he received from her his human nature. God became incarnate. In Christ the Word, his human nature was united to the divine nature in the unity of the second Person of the Trinity. Because he is divine, Jesus exalts our human nature and transforms it. Jesus became man, journeyed to Calvary, and rose from the dead so that we might become partakers of his divinity through faith and baptism (see 2 Peter 1:4). By dying on the cross, Jesus took our sins upon himself and by his resurrection he clothes us anew in the garments of his glory.
Many of us excel at putting up a facade to protect ourselves. We embrace our pretenses, defenses, games, ploys, or idealized self-images as though they were real. We convince others and even ourselves that they are real. But if we look closely at the masks we wear, we discover that they often project the opposite of the secret we are seeking to cover up. For instance, if my secret is that I am unable to accept my own hostility to others, I might create a mask that is sweet and kind. I may fool others for a while, I may even fool myself, but eventually the deception ends up bankrupting me. In time, my bitterness and hostility will come out in public, in a way I can’t hide.
If my secret is that I regret having missed opportunities for advancement, I might cover my anger with a passive meekness. But beneath my humble words, a raging inner victim resents that others have what I don’t. Or perhaps my secret is that I have seriously injured a relationship by something I did—maybe I had an affair, stole from someone, or lied. I may cover my guilt by denying that I did anything wrong or had any part in injuring another. I blame someone else. But once I have the courage of truth, I stop denying that what I did was truly wrong. I accept my part in the situation, and admit my fault. I accept that something needs to be confessed.
Secrets can distort our entire lives without our being completely aware of it. Often a part of our psyche tries to hide the truth, but secrets can cause emotional and physical illness until they are faced, admitted, and, when necessary, repented. So take the courageous step to admit and repent your secrets. Only an interest in the truth that is stronger than your interest in feeling good about yourself will unbind your heart and free you. Commitment to the truth enables you to show absolute respect to the present moment in all its joy or pain, trusting it to unfold in God’s timing, not your own. The more open you are to your experiences as they come, and the more time and space you give yourself to live through what is happening without being pushed, hurried, or judged, the more you will discover the truth about yourself.
Have you ever awoken in the night with terrible thoughts about things you’ve done in the past, even when you were a child? Thoughts can go around and around like a hamster in the wheel. The Evil One can instigate over and over again our returning to memories of past weakness and faults, so that we never entirely move on. Thoughts can keep us intent upon looking at ourselves. God asks us to look at what he is doing, what he is saying, what he is desiring. God says, “Look at my wounds. Look at my love for you.” That is what is true. That is what is real. We explore the thought of Elder Thaddeus on how our life depends on the kinds of thoughts we nurture.
The woman bent double who was healed by Jesus is our guide today. What was she thinking all of those years, about herself, about life, about others as she waited all those years for a miracle. She teaches us who may feel the same way, that we are not alone. Our lives are woven into this huge tapestry of love and mercy and compassion. In some place we are also like looking for healing. We may have an illness, a disappointment, a failure, a secret we haven’t told anyone, family expectations. Our discussion looks at how we can move beyond the point of accepting that nothing can change, that this is all there is. It is easy to do, but it costs so much. It is the face of Jesus, the call of Jesus, even today, that heals…. It is from Jesus that we learn who we really are. We learn to stop writing our own stories we feel comfortable living with. Jesus shows us how to emerge from the stories we are telling ourselves about our lives, our past and disappointments, our future.
St Peter guides us in our own journey of finding peace in our lives, even after our own regrets. We discuss the power of our own self-image and failure. Peter shows us how to be courageous in following Jesus no matter what devastating losses and disappointments we have lived in our own lives. Peter shows us that failure is a part of our journey to finding Jesus and his tremendous love. Regrets are devastating on many levels, but they are in some way our history in learning our own place in relationship to Jesus and our own place in salvation history. Nothing is ever lost.