Last week I wrote a story for my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) group about “The Day My Heart Was Broken” about the day my first girlfriend broke up with me. When I wrote that story, I was very unkind about the things I did that I thought made her do it. I listed out the decisions I’d made that I thought were poor, and my overall tone toward the person who did those things was very judgmental.
But that the person I hated – the person I used to be – isn’t just the person I used to be.
That person is a part of me. That person is a part of who I am today.
So when I read that story in group, I felt physically ill. My eyes started twitching. But I read it. I read every goddamn word. And I felt worse when it was done. As one does when one is particularly unkind to oneself.
This week, the story is about my most pivotal relationship.
I wrote about my relationship with Kristen, who is now my wife. I have evidence from my journal that even though I didn’t make the same foolish decisions that time, my decisions weren’t the brightest then, either.
But while I was typing up the story, I was smiling. Yes, me before I married Kristen was a little goofy, a little whack, but I liked him. I was an idiot, but I was my idiot – the kind where you muss their hair and shake your head at them, but you still like them.
The me from my first relationship and before… he was somebody I would debate and devalue online. The head-shaking is still there, but it’s hostile head-shaking. He’s somebody I might try to fix.
I’ve heard that we don’t just tell our stories; our stories tell us. I think that’s true, because I wrote a story based on the life of the prodigal son shortly after that break-up, and my character avatar was the runaway.
And while I was writing the part where, in the words of the King James Version, “he wasted his substance with riotous living,” I hated him. Like a lot. I knew while I was writing the story that I didn’t like him.
What I didn’t know was that it meant that I didn’t like me.
The (Christian) band Reliant K wrote a song a while back called “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been” and it’s a quintessential Christian song that aligns with the sort of general Christianish narrative of “I was bad –> I met Jesus –> now I’m good.”
I’ve lived by that narrative for a long time now – I think over ten years – since my spiritual awakening when I started making value judgments about my decisions.
I also started accepting value judgments that others put on my decisions and actions.
Not only were they bad decisions and actions, but they were decisions and actions that made me bad.
So last night as I lay in bed, I revisited that person I wrote about in the story of the day my heart broke. I stopped at every bad decision he made and I found a way to be kind to him. Not necessarily to affirm his bad choices, but to say “I still love you anyway,” and “It’s not your fault, or if it is, you made the best decision you could’ve with the information you had.”
I forgave myself, but it was more than forgiveness. It was forgiveness with an attitude of kindness.
I imagine it will take time to overcome a decade of unkindness, but I’m working on it. And I’m trying not to be unkind to the me that was unkind, because that wouldn’t help anything.
Romans 5:8: But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
God did not wait for us to shape up before God loved us.
God did not wait until we were sufficiently sorry or felt sufficiently guilty to get busy loving us.
God loved us as we were on our worst days, on the days we most wish we could take back or get a do-over for.
And I think that means we have permission to love ourselves on those days, in case we weren’t sure.
Scripture teaches us to love our neighbors like we love ourselves, and if I’ve been loving some of my neighbors the way I loved my past self, I’d hate to be them, because I said lots of unkind things about my past self.
I wasn’t patient or kind with myself; I was pretty boastful and arrogant and more than a little rude. I insisted on my own way, and was irritable and resentful. I didn’t bear well what I thought were the consequences of what I had done; I didn’t believe that I had good intentions, or at least not malicious ones; and I didn’t hope or endure very well either.
So now I’m trying to love myself, and take those skills and love others, too.
This morning, I found that I am already better able to look people in the face, and my smile comes a little easier.
Side effect of grace.