This morning while I was showering, I found myself thinking about one of my neighbors. She is a kind woman, and a good mom (and by "good" I mean...she’s kind to her kids, with that edge of firmness that means she also doesn’t let them get away with much); she projects a sort of confidence and light that I think comes from following Christ’s example.
I can’t picture her ever doing something really, really wrong.
In the shower, I was thinking about something she has that I wish I had been able to have too, when I was her age (a young mom), so that I could have the outcome of that desire even now. It’s not a possession but a situation, or a set of circumstances, and my heart aches for not having had what she has. I suppose I could label this feeling "envy," except it isn’t malicious. I’m happy for her that she has these circumstances. But, of course, I thought, she didn’t make the choices I made. She didn’t grow up hard, and angry, and rebellious. She’s never done anything really, really wrong so of course she deserves it.
(Even though I don’t know anything about her past.)
Then I thought about a much-needed conversation I had with my sister on Sunday evening. I sat on my back patio in the gathering summer-night darkness and poured out some of my current troubles to her. It is so good for me to have someone who has already been through what I’m experiencing, so that I know I’m not alone in this and because I needed, desperately, her advice. Which was something that I didn’t expect. Not a suggestion for how to fix things, but this idea:
"I think to see things more clearly, and to understand what your role in this situation is, you need to forgive yourself."
I sat there, on my lawn chair in the dark, just thinking about what she said. About how many times (all the time) when something goes wrong I think but of course this is happening because remember all those bad choices I made? even though it’s completely ridiculous to think that. In my brain I know that isn’t how the atonement works. Bad things happen, and good things, but the bad things aren’t always punishments and the good things aren’t always rewards. God isn’t Santa Claus.
My brain knows this.
But my heart, in an effort to make sense of the world, says no. This bad thing is what you deserve because of your imperfections. This belief makes it harder for me to want to change the hard things, because if I am never to be free of the consequences of my past, then any change I make will lead only to a different form of sadness. It keeps me in darkness. It remains a burden.
My sister is right: I do need to forgive myself. How is entirely another thing, but for now it is enough, this light to go by, this thought. And life, as it turned out, reinforced this for me tonight, when I found out that my sweet, good, kind neighbor had lost, just this morning, part of what I envy her for having.
And, you know: among my pity and sorrow for her, I never found a thought like this must’ve happened because of some wrong choice she made. (Who would think that about her? Or about anyone who has suffered a loss?) Even though if I had lost what she lost, that is what I would’ve thought about myself.
I had a little glimmer: if I can feel compassion for my neighbor, then why can’t I feel it for myself? Isn’t that part of what the atonement is about—it happened so we can be forgiven for our mistakes. And I don’t quite believe, deep down, that it really applies to me. But maybe this knowledge that I gained from my neighbor’s sorrow might be a first step to figuring out how to believe. How to forgive myself.