I was four years old. There was a little piece of wallpaper beginning to peel off the wall in my families' dining room. It needed me to pick at it. So I did. I picked and picked, and pretty soon it wasn't a little piece of wallpaper coming off the wall. Unfortunately, my mom saw me just as I finished picking. And I got one of those, "We'll talk about this when your father gets home" lectures. I felt HORRIBLE. Caught in the act, I was guilty as charged. Nothing more really needed to be said. Lesson learned. But of course more was said, and done. I think that was the first time I encountered feelings of guilt. And I can still feel the sting.....of that, and so many other times when I have done or said or been something that was less than beautiful.
Like how I treated my friends in middle school....enough said. And like how, after I "discovered Jesus" in High School - I became a finger-pointing, moral-keeping terrorist. Oh how the list goes on.
Forgiving ourselves, allowing God's mercy to sink deep is the hardest part of grace. Compared to forgiving others, extending grace to ourselves is a herculean task. We might go through the motions as though we have forgotten and moved on. But so much of the time, we are plagued with guilt over things that others have long forgotten. That held-onto guilt becomes part of who we are and keeps us from being free.
It's interesting, when I think about it - the things that still conjure up those guilt feelings for me happened so very long ago. I think I remember them so well because they happened before I learned how to extend grace to myself.
It was a saint named Toni who taught me how to forgive myself. She found me one day - drowning in a pool of my own tears. She came into my space of self-pity and asked me, "What in the WORLD is WRONG?" I proceeded to dump on her all of the guilt, shame and hurt that was weighing so heavily on my heart. I thought Toni would shake her head and say something like, "Well, you'd better get right with God." But instead - she looked at me like I was some sort of stupid. And she said - and I quote - "So What! God forgave you a LONG time ago. Now let it go and forgive yourself!" Wow. It took some practice - but now when I feel guilt, I hear Toni's voice in my head - "SO WHAT!"
It's possible that Toni was really translating the words from the prophet Jeremiah, "I will remember their sin no more." Or maybe she had internalized the words from Psalm 103, "He has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west." Or perhaps she really believed the words in Romans 2: "For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God."
We all screw up. It's our human nature. Sometimes I can't tell the difference between when I screw up and when I get it right. And sometimes it still takes time to get there - but extending grace to myself has become for me the most important of all spiritual practices. When I can't extend grace to myself - I can't be authentically graceful to those around me. When I can lean into God's grace, I am free. Free to live and love as God intended. So thank you, Toni - for teaching me the incredible power of "So What!"