“I can never forgive myself for that.”
How many times have we heard someone utter those words with a genuine sense of sincerity, spoken them ourselves, or experienced that thought as a feeling? It’s a phrase that a great many of us are likely to have allowed to come out of our mouths or at the very least cross our minds at least once in our lives, at least it has for me, and I know it has for other sensitive people in my life. While it is most often a verbally externalized expression of our sincere regret over a lapse in good judgment we might have experienced, a time when we allowed fear to obscure our awareness of God and tripped up and acted in an unloving fashion towards another, or just screwed something up in general which led to a serious of numerous and continuing consequences and repercussions, at a deeper level, it can become deeply internalized and lead to greater complications.
Forgiveness in general to me is one of the greatest spiritual tools God Has Blessed us with in this live. There is not a fraction of doubt in my heart that practicing constant forgiveness of others as Jesus instructed us we should strive to do, “seventy times seven” times (which I interpret to mean as stating that there should never be any limits to our willingness to forgive) is the most spiritually fulfilling and enriching response to times when another of God’s Children has acted in an unloving manner towards us, regardless of whether they have done so carelessly or willfully.
I have been through, in my life, a great deal of soul searching in regards to the challenge which Jesus’ Teaching of the imperative that we practice unlimited forgiveness as a vital aspect of our spiritual discipline and developing a deeper relationship and awareness of God. I think of the instances in my own life where others have created painful results in my life as the effect of their actions towards me. At times, some hurt me out of carelessness, others selfishness, and others willfully, but I can reach the place where I am able to forgive them and let their transgressions against me go as I am able to go within and focus on the reality that however they hurt me, fear somehow was what influenced them to do so or caused them to do so. I have witnessed many others who have had to reach far deeper than has ever been required of me to do (the parents of a murdered child able to forgive the individual who would commit such an atrocity, someone who has been betrayed or hurt or stolen from by their own flesh and blood, or the person who was beaten within an inch of their lives forgiving the person who assaulted them to the point of being physically disabled in a drunken rage.)
Yet everyone who has elected to practice forgiveness rather than clinging to a sense of rage or vindictiveness or continuing to suffer the toxic consequences of electing not to forgive seems to always express the same sentiment – that in doing so, a dark cloud was lifted from their souls. While it did not do anything to immediately subtract from or negate the sense of loss and hurt they might have experienced, it did allow them to cease the negative energies by replacing feelings of anger with love and giving the situation to God as they were liberated from perpetuating more negative feelings and moving forward to a place of healing. And although the things which I have given others forgiveness for pale in comparison to the acts which some have found the courage to let go and grant another forgiveness for, I know firsthand the sense of liberation that forgiving others carries with it.
I know in my heart that we can honestly and sincerely commune with the Loving Spirit of God in prayer and meditation and acknowledge as well as receive a sense of forgiveness for any of the instances when we fall short of the highest ideal God desires for us to always treat others in the way we would wish to be treated, offer love and compassion and forgiveness to others, and allow God’s Love to flow unfiltered and uninhibited through us to others. I am fully aware that when I accept responsibility for any actions which fail to measure up with being exemplary with the measure of Love to others Christ calls us to represent that I am forgiven by God and free to move forward making the sincere effort to learn from my mistakes and constantly improve.
But count me among the many that deeply understand and recognize the value and importance to our own spiritual health, fitness and well-being of practicing forgiveness for wrongs others might have done to us (even when doing so seems to be one of the most seemingly difficult endeavors we have ever had to accomplish) and who knows full well that God will always forgive the times when I fail to be as loving and caring towards my neighbor as I desire to be, but who finds forgiving myself for my own errors one of those tasks which is much easier spoken of than done. I honestly believe that the most difficult person for me to grant forgiveness to can be myself.
I am not referring to asking or feeling a need for God to grant “forgiveness” for the things which so many might believe I should. There are still out there a great many who insinuate or directly state that I should be feeling guilty, apologize to God and ask forgiveness constantly merely for being who I am. As a bisexual man who is in a committed and honest relationship to both a woman and a man, and a Christian, many consider that to be at best a walking contradiction or at worst, an abomination unworthy of any of God’s Love or Blessings.
But thankfully, Praise God, I have long since let go of believing that. I know that there is nothing abnormal, sick or unnatural about my sexuality, even it differs from that of others. I know that just as God Created some to be totally heterosexual and others to be totally homosexual, and others to be transgender, God Created me as a bisexual who feels the need for intimacy with both a woman and a man. And I know that there is nothing wrong or aberrant with my having an honest and caring relationship with both a female and male partner. I know that there is nothing which I should feel compelled to be ask forgiveness for among any of the above. I know in my heart there is no need for me to ask forgiveness for the fact that I don’t subscribe to the Bible as the “literal” word of God or a literal book of infallible exact instructions, but rather as a compass we can utilize to find our own way to God by letting the timeless spiritual wisdom shared within and finding ourselves in the experience those who scribed it had of God. I know at my core, regardless of the lies generated out of their own fears which others might have told me that I need never request forgiveness merely for being who I am, and who it is God Created me to be. Nor do I subscribe to what I feel to be the psychologically toxic concept of “original sin,” which to me is nothing more than a recipe for low self-esteem, which in my experience, never leads to anything worthwhile, good, or productive.
However, there is still, in my opinion, a multitude of things that I always feel compelled to ask forgiveness for when I pray. I ask myself, are there situations where I could have shown more compassion than I may have at the moment? Are there times when I have become too concerned over trivial matters than what truly matters? Are there instances where I allowed stress to consume me to the point where I allowed my awareness of God’s Love to be obscured, and acted in an irresponsible way or an unloving way towards another? Are there moments when I allowed doubt or fear to get the best of me, and prevent me from being as considerate or loving towards another as I would hope to be, based on my understanding of what Christ instructed us to do in order to feel a closer walk with and awareness of God in our treating others with love and respect, regardless of what kind of day we might be having and what trials, tribulations, or more often, consequences of our own lack of good judgment we might be experiencing at the time?
And I do; I do ask forgiveness for all of these things. It is the first part of my daily time of prayer, a time when I evaluate the events of the day I am experiencing or the day prior. Most times, it will be for times when I have wasted time on something pointless rather than purposeful and meaningful for others or my own goals and dreams, times when I have let fear get the best of me, times when I might have acted irresponsibly or recklessly, putting off those phone calls to people who I need to have difficult conversations with (read: explaining why I have not been more accessible to them when they attempted to contact me or atoning for negative conversations we might have had in the past, and so forth), not being more giving, and most of all the times when I might have acted in an unloving way or uncaring way – be it in a moment or fear or not allowing myself to be fully aware of their side of the situation, or for whatever reason.
While I know God forgives me for these transgressions and encourages and inspires me to move forward with a clean slate, and I know this in my heart, I still do have a difficult time letting go of how inferior I allow myself to feel when I “miss the mark” at practicing the teaching of Jesus of always treating others with the same measure of love which I would want to be treated.
An example of what I mean, from a day in my own not too distant past: I was having a fantastic day that day. Had just arisen from a sound and restful night of sleep, had my coffee and hit the gym for a fantastic workout and was feeling on top of the world, feeling a genuine sense of gratitude to God for another wonderful day full of promise. I had spent time in cheerful conversation with others, and was excited about taking on whatever challenges the blank canvas of the rest of the day would present.
Then I started working for the day, for a client whose demands had in the past had the tendency to increase in a manner which was not commensurate for the compensation received. A project I had toiled on in the midst of all matter of personal issues for days was shot down and sent back to me not only with a rather unprofessional note stating their previously unvoiced displeasure with the layout, their insistence that I drop everything I was doing and reconstruct it from scratch, and a few other threats and unkind words, all prefaced with the phrase that I had “failed miserably.” Five minutes following this, two more clients contacted me at the exact same time, one via telephone and one via e-mail, with impossible last minute deadlines.
Once those fires had been partially extinguished (which was akin to using an eyedropper to conquer a raging forest fire by comparison) I decided I needed to step on the patio for a smoke. As I pushed away from the desk while taking a deep breath and attempting to maintain my composure, I stood up and emptied a liter bottle of Diet Pepsi precariously perched on the edge of my desk all over the floor. Five minutes following that, I got a call from someone I had promised a ride somewhere pouring out a generous ration of grief over being five minutes late, while my Pc simultaneously decided it needed a rest and crashed before I saved the document I had spent two hours editing, and it was at that moment when I felt the rope of tension building strain past its allotted limit of tension, felt each little strand give and fray and then snap in two with a thunderous crescendo.
I lost it. I am normally the most quiet, soft spoken individual in my dealings with others, but I could not help it at that moment and lost my temper. I told them in a colorful assortment of speech, most of it blue, that I would be there as soon as I possibly could if that was acceptable to them, and added in some biting sarcasm-something else I normally do not engage in-for good measure before terminating the call abruptly.
The call was reinstated by the person who had called me about two minutes later with a question: “Feeling better now?” To which I sincerely and honestly responded, “No. Much worse.” At that point I apologized profusely, cleaned up the mess, and proceeded to go and assist them. I gave them their ride, and fortunately, they arrived at their destination on time. The entire time I apologized, and even took some additional time out of my afternoon to run them on some errands they needed to take care of, all the while explaining the way my day had seemingly taken a screaming turn down the road to oblivion, and while that was no excuse for my losing my temper, I needed to express that my anger had not been directed at them. They seemed to understand, given their knowledge of my usual pacifist tendencies, and forgive me.
Driving home, and later that evening in daily prayer, I asked God to forgive me for my lack of exercising good coping skills in the midst of stress. It felt better, but I still felt a sense of remorse for my reaction earlier in the day. It wasn’t that I imagined I had somehow offended God with the behavior that was so anathema to how I usually am. It wasn’t that I felt that my friend would not or had not forgiven my outburst. It was the fact that I felt that after all that I have been through and how far I have come in my life and spiritual growth that I know I can do better, but I failed to. After all of the blessings God Has Given me, all of the joy which has accompanied my awareness of the freedom God Has Blessed me with, and after all of the joys I know in life itself, was snapping at someone who I value as a friend and who is a friend to me because of the kindness I have shown them in the past and who has shown kindness to me in return the best I was capable of when it came to dealing with a little bit of stress?
It gnawed at my conscience, consciousness and soul for several weeks to follow. I knew that God had forgiven me at the very moment I had accepted and acknowledged that I had let fear overtake my emotions and allowed myself to lose control and behave in a fashion contrary to who I know I am and the best that God desires for me. I knew that God never expected me nor any of us to be flawlessly kind and never make a mistake every moment and every time. Given that wonderful realization, what was the issue that was preventing me from fully accepting, feeling, and experiencing the sense of forgiveness I knew that I had from God? What was the cause of my clinging and holding on to the sense of guilt, of letting myself and God down in the very way so many do when they hold on to negative feelings concerning how another might have hurt them until they summon the strength within from God to forgive those who have hurt them and set them free? Why, even when the still small voice in my soul urged me to let it go and move forward was I so insistent upon dwelling in past mistakes and responding to the joy I should be feeling in life with “I’m not worthy!”?
In the weeks which followed this incident, I discovered some interesting revelations which provided an answer and a solution.
I have stated in the past and maintain that it is a healthy habit to every so often take a spiritual inventory and do what I refer to as a “spiritual attitude check” and I took this opportunity to do so. To facilitate this, I began keeping what I referred to as a “prayer journal.” The concept was akin to what I have done with a “gratitude journal” in the past, only elaborated upon.
Each day, I would take a few moments to write in this journal under four separate categories. The first was labeled “Things I could have done better and need to work on”, and this covered whatever I had done (or failed to do) that I felt I needed to seek a sense of forgiveness, absolution and atonement for. The second covered “Things I am grateful for,” where I would jot down things I felt especially good or that had brought joy to my day; sometimes it would cover little good and unexpected blessings, and at others, it would cover things I just feel grateful for in general. The other two sections represented others who I wanted to pray for – family, loved ones, friends, pets, strangers, or anyone I had encountered or spoken to who either asked me to pray for them, or those who just seemed to be in need of God, Love and Joy, and last of all were things in my own life I wanted to pray for guidance about or strength on.
The results were quite enlightening and revealing. I practiced this for a month or two, and then examined what I had written. In nearly every instance, the first category, the “Things I could have done better but need to work on” was overflowing with items, or, more appropriately, overflowing with a sense of guilt. It was a little disheartening, as if I had been keeping a book of “black marks,” a laundry list of items I felt badly about and felt I had to ask God’s forgiveness for. The smallest amount of items was always in the column of prayer focused on my own hopes, dreams and desires.
While I feel it is a good sound spiritual practice to keep inventory and strive to improve in the areas where we feel we fall short, many of these things were loaded with extraneous guilt I should not have continued to dwell upon: some of them were merely momentary flashes of anger towards situations I had felt were unjust; some were moments where I wished for a few moments of peace for myself rather than feeling as if I had to be everything for everyone. Perhaps worst of all were my asking forgiveness for times when I felt compelled to desire things with my own happiness and fulfillment in mind. I would also notice that if the list of items which I needed to ask forgiveness for and work on were not lengthy enough, I would look for additions to it, be they justified or not. It was as if I had some bizarre inner desire to create traits to feel guilt and shame about and require atonement for.
What I realized from this exercise was that rather than accepting myself as human and acknowledging that while placing the needs and feelings of others first was important but that my needs were important as well, I was perpetuating an overall feeling of inadequacy, being undeserving, and just beating myself up over everything in general. I was being hypercritical of myself for the smallest infractions and beating myself up over my own feelings when I was merely responding as a human being. Subconsciously, it appeared as if regardless of how certain I am that God Loves me as I am with an Unconditional Love and fully Knows that I struggle as do all of the rest of God’s Children with stress, anxiety, fear and not always being able to do the right thing every time, there was some inner barrier which was preventing me from allowing me to shrug off my own faults and move forward striving to do better.
As I pondered this, I reflected on all I had been hearing on the news of late. There had been political candidates accusing non-legalistic Christians as having counterfeit and insincere faith and doing all but outright bashing members of the LGBT Community in their commentary. I had witnessed a conversation between two fundamentalist Christians I had overheard at the gym talking about how gay and bisexual men who have AIDS “deserved what God gave them to deal with.” I had been seeing comments on a Facebook page talking about how “bisexuals were a threat to the gay community” and numerous posts condemning both gay and bisexual men added by conservative Christians.
I also considered over the years about all of the negative feelings I had once internalized and felt towards myself as a result of the persecution I had experienced from others. There were all of the ghosts of the negative spiritual ideations I had allowed others to indoctrinate me into at one time, about my faith being insincere and counterfeit because I do not see the Bible as an inerrant and infallible, one size fits all guidebook to the Divine. There was all of the once felt self-hatred I had experienced many years in the past, prior to the time when I learned to accept and embrace the fact that God Created me as a bisexual man. There was the persecution I received from other Christians when I embraced my sexuality and sexual orientation as a gift to be embraced rather than a sickness or an aberration or a curse which needed to be exorcised. There was the persecution I received from members of the LGBT Community who judged my bisexual orientation to be a threat and who elected to view me as a “fence sitter” rather than a “bridge builder.” There was the shame and persecution that even other bisexuals attempted to burden me with, when they were judgmental of the fact that for me bisexuality is not a case of “either/or” but rather “both/and,” and the way I experience my bisexuality means that I feel the need for intimate relationships with both a female and a male partner, something many stood in judgment of regardless of how caring, honest, ethical and committed those relationships are for me. And for certain, there was the overall persecution in general from the homophobic and biphobic who labeled me as “unnatural” in general at the least, and a “abomination to God” at the worst.
It hit me then what could have happened. I thought I had successfully tuned all of this rhetoric out, but perhaps I had let some of it slip into my subconscious. Perhaps, and that is always something that I strive to be conscious of and prevent, which I do by reminding myself on a daily basis that those are merely opinions of others from the past. But I thought there was something deeper than that, so I kept on seeking a cause for my lack of willingness to forgive myself for mistakes I had made, or felt that I had made.
I also noted that when I was praying, it was becoming more based in rhetoric and a list of requirements rather than honestly talking and communicating with the Loving God I know about what was on my mind (as if God Did not already Know that) and heavy on my heart and soul. What should have been a process of letting go of what was burdening my thoughts was becoming an activity which was a burden in and of itself. Had I sincerely asked forgiveness for any and every time I reacted to something in a fleeting moment of fear? Had I forgotten to express my gratitude for something God Had Done for me or Helped me to accomplish? Was I doing everything I could to be as giving as I could be all of the time? Was I investing enough time in daily prayer?
It struck me at that point that I was investing far too much effort and energy into a process which in my heart I feel should be as natural and effortless as breathing. I was allowing myself to be consumed with attempting to be perfect for God. In the process, I was allowing it to interfere with truly being as present as I needed to be in life, and being fully attentive to my own needs and responsibilities and those of the people around me. I was allowing pointless and vain repetition to prevent me from being fully present in living and fully acting with meaning, purpose and passion.
And like an imaginary light bulb clicking on in my consciousness, that was when I experienced a profound moment of clarity and became aware of what had been happening. Somewhere, buried in my subconscious were some of these lingering old fears, insidiously scampering around like unwanted insects, of a God of demands and requirements, watching every step, every thought and every move, eagerly awaiting for me to make one too many mistakes and ready to mete out justice. (I chuckled as I thought of the old Far Side cartoon of “God at His Computer,” depicting an old man with a beard looking at the screen with a picture of a man walking below a piano hanging from a rope, as God has His finger poised above a key marked “SMITE”.)
Granted, this was not a God Who Had any judgments about my sexuality, sexual orientation or who I am, but I still had this unhealthy mental image of a God that would just as soon smite me or allow me to suffer consequences if I failed to measure up to a specific ideal in some other way. It was all too similar to the way in which I had at one time when letting go of the idea of a God that would send anyone to an eternal Hell replaced it with the idea of a God that would abandon us in this life or whatever comes next should be mess up on too frequent an occasion; slightly better than a God that would make a soul suffer eternally, but a concept and visualization of God which was equally repugnant and negative in a different form.
In my constant self-berating mental tendencies, it was almost as if that negative voice in my subconscious which I had long silenced was speaking up and making the ugly and atrocious, however untrue accusation, “With who you are and God being willing to accept someone as flawed and impure as you are to begin with, you had better toe the line and do everything else towards being a decent person absolutely perfectly, God barely tolerates you as it is and you’re already trading thin ice.” What a terrible thought! I knew full well in my rational mind that God was not “tolerating” me but Loves me just as I am, period. And yes, my rational and healthy cognitive mind knows for a definite fact that the false idea that any part of who I am is unacceptable to God is not true: God Created me just as I am, sexuality, bisexuality and the way I experience it through non-traditional relationships, quirkiness and all, and whatever negativity about myself I had internalized was not born of or a product of the Loving God, but had originated out of the fearful opinions – merely opinions – of others that I internalized over time. Not only that, there was some barrier within which resisted the new, healthy spirituality I have grown to develop and insisted on a subconscious level that I cling to old and unhealthy ideas in at least some form.
The entire process taught me a valuable personal and spiritual lesson that I know many of my LGBT friends have also confided to me that they have learned as well. Regardless of how much we feel we have grown in our faith, our awareness of God, and our Peace with God, for some of us who are LGBT those old fears we might have about God, about ourselves, and worst of all, “what others think about us” are quite insidious and crafty, and have a way of concealing themselves and attempting to surface again when we least expect it.
A great many of us, despite how we may try to eschew negativity are exposed to all manner of influences which are not exactly conducive to building a solid foundation of self-worth or positive feelings about God and being a Christian. Even if we have come to avoid such triggers, if somewhere in our being remains the fear, however false it may be, that we are somehow “unacceptable” to God or the negativity we have permitted others to cause us to feel about ourselves, it can hide and internalize itself, like a ball of negative energy that desperately seeks an outlet. Most times, in my experience, those negative feelings turn inward and we can become our own worst enemies.
At times, internalized negative feelings manifest themselves in different ways. They can manifest as self-sabotaging and self-destructive behaviors, from alcohol and drug abuse, to overeating, to allowing ourselves to become ensnared in unhealthy relationships, because at some hidden place there is that lingering false belief that we “don’t deserve any better.” They can in a less drastic or dramatic form manifest themselves as a barrier to our allowing ourselves to truly feel and experience true joy less fully and profoundly than I believe God Desires for us, or cause us to become trapped in negative self-defeating thought patterns. Or, as has occurred to me in the past, they can allow us from fully embracing the sense of spiritual freedom God truly Desires that we have, that we might allow God’s Love to flow more freely through us into them lives of those around us.
After a bit of soul searching, I was able to discern precisely where I had developed this tendency and delusion to feel as if my prayers for forgiveness or my efforts to practice and embody the loving teachings of Jesus were somehow “insufficient” or “inadequate.” It actually had far less to do with any lingering sense of guilt regarding any aspect of my sexuality, being bisexual, or who I am, and more of a sense of self-inflicted guilt regarding my spirituality. I was able to determine the root cause by tracing back to the point in my life when I had after many years approached God after many years of living aimlessly in denial of the reality of God or fears which I had allowed others to instill in me about God.
I had been instructed as a child, and during my thankfully brief foray into legalistic fundamentalist Christianity in the midst of a time of vulnerability during a point later in life of an “all or nothing” theology. The rhetoric which was constantly engraved upon me from others was of the mentality that “you either believe all of it-every single word of the Bible as literal truth – or none of it, there is no middle ground.” Either you believed it all in black and white verbatim, or you were unworthy of calling yourself a Christian.
But that faith never worked for me. Perhaps I convinced myself at the time that it did on a surface level, but it never made me feel better or closer to God, or having any genuine or tangible understanding of what it means to practice and exemplify the teachings of Jesus and applying them in my daily life and interactions with others. It only served to fill me with fear of a judgmental God and increased the fear, sense of anxiety and lack of peace I already had. I was uncomfortable with a faith which purported to possess all of the answers in a life and a reality which was filled with questions, or a faith which explained everything in black and white contrast when I knew for experience that God Had Made life far more diverse and colorful and interesting.
I let go of that, and in although there was a tremendous sense of spiritual liberation in doing so, I also was aware that I was letting go of what I had been trained to believe were concrete “answers” and entering a world of mystery and uncertainty which relied upon embracing the questions, operating from a place of faith and trust in God rather than absolutes. And somewhere, there was a sense of loss of structure which some fearful part of my psyche had clung to and refused to let go of. That fearful part, which was stuck in an insecure sense of security and a far less than comfortable “comfort zone” of a faith that attempted to spoon feed me set answers was used to a concept of God as “Cosmic Judge and Policeman” rather than the Source of all Love Who deemed me deserving and good enough of Unconditional Love and Guidance to be the best that I can be and make the best of my life.
Part of myself felt a sense of lingering remorse and regret for NOT having trusted in God for so much of my life, and yet another had internalized the false concept that in letting go of those old and negative ways of thinking about God, and embracing the metamorphosis from my old faith to a new one that I was letting go of God altogether. Hence, even though I recognized and realized that there was nothing unnatural or unacceptable to God about my sexuality or sexual orientation, my subconscious was still hanging on some of the old legalistic ideas about God and religious ritual, and it was compensating by deceiving me into thinking that my prayers were not sufficient, that no matter how well I tried to be the best I could that it would never please God, and that I was unworthy of God’s Love, Grace and Guidance in my life. It was fooling me into thinking that in embracing new ideas about God that I was somehow “letting down” or abandoning God.
I knew I had to locate that part of myself, and begin to make my most sincere effort to forgive that part of myself which still felt inadequate, as clinging to old grudges against myself was just as unhealthy as not moving forward, forgiving and letting go others which might have hurt me in the past. That was when it struck me how I might be able to accomplish what I had felt might be an impossible task.
When I know I need to forgive someone who has wronged me in some way, be it carelessly or intentionally, I am always able to do so by taking into consideration what I feel the true origin of their actions might be. I sincerely believe that anyone who transgresses against another has one motivating factor: fear. Fear to me is the cause of any hurt which anyone might have caused me. When I can view things in the perspective that they were only giving into their fear and that caused them to hurt me, forgiveness comes far easier.
With that in mind, I can look within myself and recognize that the cause of any negative feelings I might have allowed to fester in my subconscious are not of God, they are not due to a lack of faith or laziness on my part, and they are not by any means something I should fault myself for. They came about because I was afraid, I was frightened, even though everything I now know about God is the antithesis of fear. With the negativity regarding God I was exposed to in the past, and some which others still attempt to perpetuate, I can feel certain that there is no reason for me to beat myself up or feel any guilt or shame about succumbing to that fear and even more certain that there is no reason to let it cause me to feel unworthy, undeserving or “unforgiven” ever again.
So now, each day, at some point I always reflect on the thought and ask God to remind me that there is not only no reason for me to allow any fear I might feel or have felt to interfere with my striving to be as caring, giving and loving as I can towards all others, but to constantly keep me aware that there is no reason for me to allow any fear to interfere with my allowing myself to feel good as well. I know in my heart that God Wants us to feel joy, so that we might better give joy to the rest of God’s Children, which is everyone.
And the entire experience also illuminated and refined how I think about the concept of prayer and what it is. While I still have my set aside “daily time of prayer and meditation,” there are not any set “rules” with it. I let go of the idea that I only communicate with God during some daily “time of prayer” (although as I said, there is a set aside daily time of quiet reflection, prayer, and meditation) and began to embrace the concept of being in a sense of constant connection and awareness of God all of the time (which I believe to be what it truly meaning to “pray without ceasing.”) While I feel it is a good sound spiritual practice to keep inventory and strive to improve in the areas where we feel we fall short, I have ceased making lists of things I need to work on and instead now understand at the very moment I acknowledge that I could have responded or acted in a more loving way than I may have at the moment and focus on God giving me the strength to improve on myself as well as making a commitment to do better, I am already forgiven, and should forgive myself, let go and move forward confidently.
Rather than itemize a gratitude journal all of the time, I reflect on the concept that perhaps the highest expression of gratitude we can ever display to God is through sharing the Love and Joy God Brings into our lives with those around us however possible. While I do pray for others in need, I also focus on what I can actually do to help them myself, and while I do pray for guidance, I have moved past praying about it more than once; I pray on it, let it go and do my part, and amazingly, so many of those prayers are answered when I am not even thinking about it. It always amazes me how that seems to work out.
Most of all, I made a commitment to constantly affirm that if I let go of all of the old fears, the old negative ways of thinking about God, or any of the negativity or regret I might feel over past mistakes, I am not letting go of God or my faith in the process – I am holding on to God.
For a great many of us who are both LGBT and Christian, and especially those of us who have endured or are possibly still struggling with the process of recovery from being indoctrinated in a frightening, fear based understanding of what Christianity is, it goes without saying that Revelations is felt by many to be a pretty scary and problematic book of the Bible that can trigger old fears. I know that at one time, for me, that it most assuredly was, compounded by the complication of the “End Timers” I was surrounded with in my life, who were obsessively focused upon the concept of translating every current event from natural disasters to political races to align in perfect symmetry with a literal understanding of Scriptures, and offering “proof” that what the “ancient prophecies” had predicted were coming to pass. I did find it a bit perplexing that their doing so paid no heed to that little disclaimer issued by Christ Himself in Matthew 24:36 that, “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of Heaven, not the Child, but God only,” and in doing so seemingly invalidated their insistent claim that the Bible was to be taken literally.
At the time, I had allowed fear to ensnare me into reading into that rhetoric, and it would not be until many years later that I would learn to understand the book of Revelations – one which there was much debate on whether or not to even canonize – for what I honestly feel that it was meant to be by those who wrote it. Yes, it was a political commentary for the time, but more importantly what I feel it was intended to me to be and how it could remain relevant to each of us today is a metaphor of God taking care of us and faith getting us through difficult, tumultuous, and unsure times (something I feel that anyone could benefit from in any day and age.)
I have spoken before of what I personally interpret and understand the book of Revelations to mean on a spiritual and metaphorical rather than a literal level, but in a nutshell it goes something like this: When things are frightening and confusing and seem to be collapsing around us, and our world literally seems to be coming to an end, if we allow ourselves to be “caught up in the Spirit” and trust in God’s Unconditional Love for all of us no matter how awful and disastrous things might seem around us, we can effectively weather that storm and embrace whatever rainbows await upon its clearing. Whatever doors may seem to be closing will be replaced with opportunities for a new beginning, and there will be a “new Heaven and Earth” (read: a greater and deeper awareness of God and a fresh new beginning in our surroundings). In fact, Revelations 21:5 states what I feel the core message of relief at the end of the frightening story is intended to be: “Behold, I am making all things new.” A clean start, a new beginning, the opportunity to embrace the joyous promise of a new day, restored purpose, a new and refreshed outlook on life.
Viewed this way, at least for me, Revelations transformed from a book which at one time filled me with terror to one which enriched and inspired me with hope (talk about “making all things new!”). I saw my own process of reconciling my spirituality and sexuality, of letting go of a God of fear and terror and legalism and embracing the God of Unconditional Love I found in the teachings of Jesus and of coming to accept myself as a bisexual and come to the understanding that there was nothing wrong or sinful about who I am and nothing to be ashamed of as my own storm where I had to trust in Spirit and hold on tight to arrive at the new understandings and the sense of peace with God and sense of spiritual health which awaited on the other side. I could let go of the past, the old ways of thinking of God.
But as I later discovered, there was still that hidden and dark space buried deep in my subconscious which resisted the “new” out of fear. The new, even though it was far better for me and conducive to the foundations of my faith in God, was scary to the part of me which remained fearful. God Had made all things new and given me a fresh new start, a clean heart and a new outlook, and was only waiting for me to let go and reach out and take that first step out of my old “comfort zone” which was anything but comfortable. It was I who allowed myself to keep one apprehensive foot in the past.
I knew that it was imperative that I move forward and learn the value of forgiving myself, letting go of any old and toxic thoughts of “original sin” and feel good about myself and knowing that was not only “okay,” but one of the greatest blessings I would ever embrace. It took a lot of inner work, trust and faith to take that step, all strengthened by the tiniest mustard seed of faith to energize me in the moments when it was a challenge. But in doing so I find these days that instead of continuing to let fear get the better of me (which still sometimes can, and does happen, and when it does I can move past it), I am more able to let it go, forgive myself, and strive for better next time. Not only that, I find that I am more apt to cease making the same mistakes twice, as I no longer mire myself in negative feelings, but work towards creating more positive ones. And not only has it enriched my spiritual health, it has assisted in enriching the lives of those around me; another win-win situation, as I know they all are with God.
If you might be having a difficult time forgiving yourself, or experience a sense of internalized guilt, shame or fear, what is it that you may still cling to? Is it a sentimental attachment to old beliefs that unfortunately carry with them old, bad unworthy feelings? Is it allowing the opinions or fears of others to internalize and create a false sense of unworthiness of God’s Grace and Love, or negativity directed inward? Is it the fear that in learning to love who we are that we are somehow being selfish? Or is it just the bizarre penchant we as human beings – or spiritual beings having a human experience – to simultaneously play the role of our own worst critic, judge or even enemy?
Whatever the reason may be, the wonderful reality is that God is so much more above human frailty than that. There is no reason to allow others to project their fears and misunderstandings they might have about you and allow you to internalize bad feelings as a result. There is absolutely no reason to apologize to God or to anyone else for your sexual orientation or sexuality, who you love or how or how you might differ from any cultural norm, nor is there a need to “justify” it, it just is. There is nothing selfish, or wrong or “sinful” about learning to love and embrace and accept the person who God Made you to be, so long as it never prevents you from being loving and respectful of others as you live your own truth. And although we do have this odd tendency to be our own worst critic, I am convinced that with faith and focusing on the positive, that too can pass. If you have made mistakes – either through acting carelessly or irresponsibly towards yourself or others – as long as you recognize it, and are always striving for better, then you are forgiven and should forgive yourself as well.
And should you be afraid that in letting go of old or negative ways of thinking of God that you would somehow be “letting go” of God, consider this: Just as holding on to angry and hurt feelings and resentment towards others is toxic, so is desperately clinging to all of these old fears – God and the Loving Message and Spirit of Christ are not going anywhere and will NEVER pass away, but it is long past time for us to let all of these old and toxic fears and ideas about God which had tarnished our faith and prevented and restricted us from being fully awake and alive of God’s Love for us to be laid to rest and dissolve and dissipate in the cleansing force and power of God’s Unconditional Love and Grace. In doing so, we can only strengthen our connection to God and better embody God’s Love to others and strive for better practicing the Golden Rule of Jesus.
While I have learned so many times to let go of the need for always having and answer and learned to love the questions and God to me is still a wonderful yet mysterious Reality, there is one thing I feel certain of: God is Love, Unconditional Love and does not ever Desire for me, you or any of us to feel bad about feeling good about how we are Created or who we are. God Wants us to be able to “make all things new,” be it a new and stronger sense of faith, a sense of full acceptance and joy in who God Created us to be and our place and purpose in this life, or a new beginning where we are sincerely able to learn from our past mistakes and stride forward confidently with a greater sense of God Guiding us than ever before.
For the more we are able to let go of old mistakes, old negative ideas, and accept ourselves with the same type of Unconditional Love God Has for all of us, the more purpose and meaning our lives will develop, the better served and prepared we will be to become conduits for God’s Love to flow unrestricted through us to others, and the closer we are to God. We can truly feel as if all things have been made new, and every day and every moment can be a fresh opportunity to boldly put our best foot forward and embrace the joy God Desires for us all.
Wherever you are in your faith journey – don’t be afraid to give yourself a break for things you may have been or are being down on yourself for, take a deep breath and realize that God forgives you for whatever you might feel is unforgiveable and embrace the joy that comes with knowing that each new moment carries with it a new beginning. May you realize and grow deeper in awareness of the joy the Inescapable and ever Present God desires for you every moment, of every day.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.