This is a long piece because it is a working-through-a-question effort. If you choose to read the post, you will probably want to do a lot of skimming! I’m including the piece in case any of the issues resonate with you. The change in point of view comes when I consider what wiser voices than mine would tell me.
Just now, as I glanced through sheer curtains to the sunny morning and waving shadblow outside, I felt for a dreamlike moment the veiled scene was our backyard in Wilmington. When I have a difficult spell, I sometimes say aloud, “I want to go home; I want to go home.” “Home” is the little white house my parents and I shared, the home I pray they have found again in heaven. I am not asking to join my dear ones in heaven yet—when my time does come, I beg to be with them for all eternity. Instead, I am longing for us to return to our earthly little white house, for us to relive the joys and for me to be a better daughter.
What can I do to make up for the mistakes I have made that hurt those I love and others? Can I revise, even now, the times I might have offered encouragement and loving understanding but, instead, turned away in hurt, anger, or frustration—not even understanding myself? Can I in any way rectify the unkind things I have done? Even though I can’t recall hurting another ever to have been my goal, it has too often been the sad result of my deficiencies.
Dear guides and loved ones in the Light, how can I make up for the unkind things I have done?
You wish with all your heart, with all your soul, you could take back the hurts you have inflicted, from your teenage years when you dreaded school and cried for loneliness to a few days ago, when you sought the cause for your not writing in external conditions instead of within yourself. Before giving three responsibilities in “making up for” regrets, we’d like to offer a small but important and perhaps unexpected perspective on what some call “sin” but we prefer to call “mistakes” since the behavior grows out of a mistaken sense of oneself. We would like to ask: have you not learned from the mistakes of others, from the times they hurt you through their own deficiencies?
Others’ growth from your mistakes is, of course, deeply insufficient reason for spreading sadness and dismay, but it is an outcome of which to be aware. It is a small bloom accompanying the understanding you must seek of why you responded as you did to the confluence of facts and forces—some objective, many misread—leading to your being other than you wish to be, for the sake of others and for your own peace of mind and growth. We mention the tiny flower of wisdom purveyed through mistakes to give you a measure of serenity as we begin our lesson.
When you are unkind—whether this unkindness is inadvertent or emerges out of your own sadness, whether you are missing an opportunity to encourage, or whether you are otherwise nourishing hurt where you might nourish love—you have three responsibilities. The first is to figure out why you acted as you did and to grow so that you do not repeat your mistake. Meeting this responsibility is a lifelong journey. Our mistakes tend to sprout from the same deep roots within us. Replacing these roots with healthy plants and tending them so their leaves and flowers thrive takes great reflection and wisdom and is gardening for a lifetime. God gives us our lives in part in order for us to nurture and tend our souls through living, through surmounting our own mistakes and the mistakes of others. When we acknowledge our weaknesses in a spirit of hope and then find our way to doing better, no matter the byways and detours, we are following a part of God’s plan for us.
Speaking to you individually: you have had a recent reminder of your need for the courage to mention small discomforts or concerns as they arise. You fail to speak up because you think you may be wrong or unjustified, worry that your comments will ruffle the otherwise tranquil surface of a relationship, or, above all, fear you will be rejected or thought less of in some way. But you know through repeated experience the answer to this question: Is it better to mention small issues calmly as they arise or to wait until a time of vulnerability and frustration blows the top off the mountain?
The fact that you have suffered (and caused suffering) all your life from your desire to please, to be perceived as each valued other would have you be, is not sufficient reason to let this problem continue to taint your days and your relationships. Once a problem is clearly identified and understood, excuses for changing fall away, no matter how frightening the leap into change may feel. Jump off the high dive into the beckoning, life-giving waters of growth. Your diving may be awkward at first, and you may occasionally balk at the plunge, but to turn away is to fail to make your mistakes meaningful instead of purely cause for recurring regret and remorse.
For you another deep need for change has been within your creative life and your quest for a sense of purpose and meaning. We will cover that challenge as part of the second responsibility we have in working with our mistakes.
That second responsibility is toward those we’ve harmed. No matter what the hurt, we can show through both words and actions that we love and care for the other or others, sincerely and profoundly regret our hurtfulness, and have learned from it. Words, no matter how sincerely spoken, are a beginning but are not enough. We most honor those we have hurt, as well as ourselves, by changing the patterns that caused the unhappiness.
Words can express the content of the heart and spirit and can presage and reflect change. About your recent emotional outburst to your dear friend over your writing, you might say to your friend (and yourself), “I have been greatly frustrated by my inability to work on my writing in any consistent way. As you know, I place meaningful writing on a high pedestal and judge my life as severely defective if I am not able to leap high enough to reach it. Throughout the years, I’ve sought the reasons for my not writing consistently, trying out one reason and then another, begging for insight and a way forward. At the time of my recent outburst, my ongoing frustration with my writing linked with fatigue and an episode I felt confirmed the meaninglessness and unacceptableness of my writing efforts. Still looking for reasons for my intense, fifty-years-in-building distress, I landed on my old standbys: inferiority in the eyes of others and failure to feel whole.
“As I emoted, you were intensely kind to me—in spite of the onslaught, in spite of my flinging out complaints. Your kindness has given a gift of serenity, serenity enough for me also to recognize your wisdom: I’ve been trying too hard and so destroying the peace I require to write. Others have said the same to me, but I have never, until now, been able to accept alternatives to striving, begging for insight, and praying in desperation for inspiration.
“The epiphany came last night: Write for the pure joy of writing, for the pleasure of arranging words and expressing thoughts, for the bliss of exercising a God-given skill, no matter its scope. Write because, as you, my friend, wisely said, good thoughts flying out into the world—even those unheard or unread—help to create a better world. We are literally all connected; consciousness is one; how can the thoughts and words of one soul not affect all others? And through being written down, thoughts gain clarity and strength. Writing matters to the world even when the words live only between the covers of a journal.
“After searching all my adult life, I have stopped seeking the writing route to finding my place and purpose. And writing for the joy of writing brings with it time to write. Before the long-sought epiphany you helped to gift to me, my ‘time to write’ meant all the details of my life were perfectly aligned and I was buoyed by ideal energy, inspiration, and the assured attention of others. Of course, it is surprising that ‘time to write’ ever came at all. When I’m not trying too hard, times to write become rampant.
“While I understand now why my fifty years of building frustration erupted in one more lava flow, as you witnessed, I ask your forgiveness for the distress I gave to you and all I said that felt unkind. With all my heart I wish I could remove the pain I gave to you. What I can do, must do, and will do is, with gratitude to you and to God and our loved ones in the Light, remember and practice what you have helped me, finally, to see.”
You can share these words with your treasured friend face to face. In much the same way, you can share newfound understanding with your parents and those others in heaven whom you pray to heal from your hurtfulness, from the hurt or hollowness within you that erupted to scald them or fail to bolster their courage and joy, honor their wonderful strengths, and help fill their own hollow places. By your words written and spoken to those who have gone to the Light, you can share your insight growing out of experience. They hear you. And above all, they see your growth.
And what of those in this life with whom we have lost touch or severed ties? We can speak or write to them, too, even when we know they will not directly hear or read our words. As you and we have said, healing words and thoughts put out into the world, through prayer or through any sincere expression of meaning and emotion, touch every other soul because all of us—on Earth and on the other side—are linked through the unified consciousness pulsing through God’s creation.
Our third responsibility in the face of hurtful mistakes is to deny ourselves the right to wallow in remorse. While we are actively mourning our past behavior, we are holding back our ability to change in the present. The goal is not to forget the regretted past; the requirement is to understand it, release (as best we can) the regret we feel into the river of life, and renew our place in Ongoing Conversion, as the Franciscans describe the God-given river of life’s ever-flowing, ever-nourishing offer of learning and growth.
Finally, we would like to mention a difference between Earth time and God’s time. We on Earth view time as linear, with an unchangeable past and a relentlessly approaching future. In God’s time, in which our loved ones in the Light share, the whole is visible: all you are; all you can be; your hurts and your hurting of others; the vast love, joy, and kindness you give, have given, and will give; the lessons you have learned; the ways you are continuing to struggle; the glorious soul you are; and the unwavering brilliance of your spirit even as you feel your light has dimmed.
So go on with optimism, courage, and peace of mind. Even on the other side your spirit will continue to evolve. Along with releasing the reasons for failing sometimes to make the world a better place for you and others, release the remorse you feel for your lapses, even the most distressing. Never cease to learn, never blame others for your not growing, and strive never again to be unkind or unloving. But let the pain you feel dissolve in God’s endless river of life—helping to guide your journey but not becoming boulders and rapids hindering your way.