Something has been off between me and a person I love.
I don’t know that the feeling is mutual. It could be all me. But sometimes I feel my heart hardening, and I don’t know why.
The other day, I sat down to spend some time in quiet. Unease toward this loved one surfaced. “What is this about?” I wondered. I couldn’t figure it out, and I didn’t want to think about it really. So I started reading. Almost immediately, I found these words:
Change the rhythm of seeing each other. Maybe that is what needs to happen. But how?
As I sat with that quote, words surfaced from somewhere in my memory. Words spoken by this loved one. Words that made me feel (both in the present and the past) angry, hurt, defensive, disappointed, and misunderstood.
I didn’t realize that I was still carrying these words around. They are almost a decade old. I don’t think about them every day or very often. But remembering those words made my chest tighten and my jaw clench.
Forgiveness was still on the agenda.
Words are hard to erase from your memory, especially the words that hurt. But hurtful words spoken by some random 10th-grade boy at the end of German class don’t take up much space. Because, really, who cares what he thought? The words are in my memory: “Why are you so ugly?” But there is not much emotion in my heart when I remember those words. They don’t have power over me.
These words are different. The words from this loved one are words that I can’t quite scrape away no matter how hard I try.
How do we forgive such sticky words? “Just do it” doesn’t seem to work. You can’t will words away from your memory. Bringing the words back to their speaker would just hurt the relationship. It’s been so long.
Earlier this summer, I read about a few prayer practices that involve recognizing and acknowledging the feelings that you don’t want to feel and then handing those feelings over to God. I remembered this as I sat uncomfortably in this quiet space.
I acknowledged the disappointment, hurt, and resentment that surfaced with the memory of these words. I noticed the hardness that crept into my heart and the frown that pulled down the corners of my mouth. I realized that I am not going to will away these feelings. I opened up my hands and prayed: “God, please help me. Help me to see beyond these words with compassion and love. Please unstick these words from my heart. The words are what they are, but don’t let them stick to me.”
I sighed, wishing that I remembered how those prayers were supposed to go and wondering why we aren’t ever really taught how to practice forgiveness. I left my room determined to find one of the prayers so I could do it properly. As I walked down the stairs, I knew that I needed to find “The Welcoming Prayer.”
Richard Rohr included The Welcoming Prayer in one of his daily meditations this summer. It’s a prayer of letting go and forgiveness. The steps are similar to what I practiced already, but better. More complete. I printed out the prayer, planning to practice it later.
That afternoon, I studied the steps of the Welcoming Prayer and slipped into my hammock to give it a try.
I thought about those words one more time. But this time my heart felt completely neutral. I couldn’t conjure any feelings of anger or hurt. I was almost disappointed that I didn’t get to practice the proper Welcoming Prayer. The next morning, I tried again. Still nothing.
It’s been a few days. My heart feels softer and more open toward this loved one. The words, when I remember them, are just words and appear to have lost their hold on my heart. Wow, God works fast sometimes.
Richard Rohr writes: “I can’t promise the pain will leave easily or quickly. To forgive is not to forget. But letting go frees up a great amount of soul-energy that liberates a level of life you didn’t know existed. It leads you to your True Self.”
Perhaps it also leads us to that new rhythm of seeing each other.
Here is a link to Richard Rohr’s Welcoming Prayer. I plan on using it the next time an old hurt sneaks up on me.