Tag Archives: meaning-making

The Power of Forgiveness

LoveWarmsHeartThere’s very few of us who have not thought a lot about some of the ways we’ve been hurt or disappointed. In fact, Mira Kirshenbaum, Everything Happens for a Reason, reveals that anger, guilt, envy, and not feeling safe are all signs that we carry a heavy burden of not being able to forgive—ourselves or others. But forgiveness does not always come easily or quickly because of two key reasons: shame and guilt. And both are the result of a basic need to point an accusing finger at ourselves or someone else.

Kirshenbaum sees our need to blame someone or something as part of our natural perspective in life. She writes: “Part of what can make it so hard for us to forgive is the automatic way we orient ourselves in life through blame. If anything goes wrong anywhere, the first thing anyone thinks about is who to blame… Blame is a very deep instinct because it makes us feel safe.” (p. 111) and, no one wants to feel as if they are constantly living under personal attack.

As I thought about Kirshenbaum’s examples she gives for Reason #4: To bring you to the place where you can feel forgiveness–or, perhaps said differently, to bring us to a place where we can accept the “…possibility there’s something else besides blame…” I found myself asking: What is there besides hate, fear, blame, and the inability to forgive? Are there legitimate reasons to forgive the cruelty of something or someone?

Mira Kirshenbaum offers her readers a spectrum of reasons for putting away finger pointing and accusations. She asks us to consider forgiveness when:

  1. The other person’s cruelty was because “he or she was sick, damaged, or limited somehow”;
  2. We see that the other person has “suffered enough…even if they haven’t suffered as much as we have”;
  3. We realize “we are safe now”;
  4. We recognize that “we don’t want to be the kind of person who doesn’t forgive”;
  5. We find that the other person makes up for what was done;
  6. We understand that “if we don’t forgive, we’re the ones who are hurt the most.”

Life is not perfect and neither am I.  There have been many things and people in my life that were incredibly cruel. There have been many times that my Christian values stood in conflict with my feelings.  As I remain open to God’s  leading, however, I’ve found that His amazing grace helps me to substitute finger pointing with the power to forgive. But forgiveness does not come cheap; it takes great inner strength and commitment. I’m reminded of what Gandhi said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”


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Life Without Fear

LifeDistress or anxiety that “…hijacks a life taking it in a direction we don’t want to go,” writes Mira Kirshenbaum, is not a life worth living. Some fears are “perfectly reasonable” but some are “terribly damaging” to the point of freezing us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And so she explains (reason #3 of 10) that things happen in order to show us that we can let go of fear and live life wholeheartedly.

There was something in Kirshenbaum’s third reason that caught my attention. With all directness, she exposed the relationship between life and fear. Her writing suggested that we don’t always live and walk in the fullness of the life given to us; and it is fear that causes us to miss out.

Her writing brought back memories from many years ago, my community college days and my budding interest in photography. I had become hooked with black and white imaging and scrapped together the $25.00 for a new Pentax K-1000 camera body. Over a stretch of two years, I won almost every student photographic award and had my images published. Those were the days! However, as my work life and advanced studies demanded more of my time, the sound of my Pentax’s shutter release button slowed and then quietly faded away–until just last year.

I was invited to join a local photography club which met once-a-month. Oddly enough, I found myself making up excuses for why I shouldn’t go—too far away, night driving, cost of gas, and so on. But was it really the distance? Or time of day? I even found myself wrinkling my nose at the thought of getting out the new digital camera that had supplanted my old Pentax.

As the meeting time came–and with some emotional feet dragging, I set out to travel the 30 miles. The meeting went better, however, than what I had expected. The small group of members greeted me with genuine warmth. And, perhaps just as important, I found a group of individuals who held a similar fascination with the power of images to speak.

It wasn’t until later, as I thought about the meeting and club members,  that I realized how my  anxious feelings had taken  hold of me. I discovered that my reasons for not doing something that I had so enjoyed during my college years were actually holding me hostage. And, I found that my excuses were rather the voice of fear—a fear that was attempting to hijack my life–leading me in a direction that I didn’t want to go!

I’m glad for Kirshenbaum’s third explanation and insight for why things happen, that is, to show us that we can let go of fear. And, perhaps most importantly, I’m glad for the freedom that I can now push the button of my digital Minolta, letting me pick up where my trusty Pentax had left me.

Living life’s way in 2014


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The Gift of Life’s Struggles

We are shaped by those people, places, and events around us.

We are shaped by those people, places, and events around us.

Have you ever walked into a room and felt out of place? You experience a feeling of discomfort, look for the nearest exit, and then make a bee-line toward it? According to Psychology Today, you are not alone. All of us desire to feel safe and secure or “at home” in familiar surroundings instead of apprehensive and fearful in unfamiliar places. So what should we do with all these painful or stressful events?

In Part 2 of her book, Mira Kirshenbaum asks us to look at difficult or fearful events and life-long struggles as a gift for many reasons. She believes that these events will prove themselves beneficial if we give it enough time. Among ten explanations, her Reason # 1 is: these events happen in order to help you feel at home in the world. She believes that when the life we are living, similar to a pair of ill-fitting boots, becomes uncomfortable and painful, it is for a reason. The painfulness we feel acts as an encouragement to look for a life that fits who we really are.

Kirshenbaum gives several examples of distressful life events. Among them she describes: a close artist friend (and restless soul) who writes a letter explaining how kidney failure helped her to savor her life despite the physical pain; an orphaned 13-year-old becomes emotionally pained and embittered when suddenly left to the care of an aging stern grandmother; and, a wealthy spoiled young woman who finds herself physically and emotionally imprisoned inside a women’s prison in Central America. In each case, the life ordeal turned each of the individuals into more confident and caring people.

With these examples, Kirshenbaum reinforces that pain and suffering as well as the awkwardness of feeling out-of-place as natural and necessary; it is part of how we learn about the true nature and meaning of life. She writes: If anything about nature is true at all, it’s that the natural world is a place of learning…Valuable lessons are always being learned and there are endless wonderful gifts waiting for us, especially as a result of tough breaks we have to deal with… and this learning gives meaning to our lives (p. 34).

Importantly, Kirshenbaum establishes a spiritual side to life’s classroom. She believes that God’s goodness and presence is ever-present in this learning environment. This belief situates us as living beings of great value and importance as we are called by God to be more, not less of our true selves. She argues that we have free will to choose and that God has “custom tailored” learning experiences as opportunities to choose. These learning experiences result in our being the very best we can be. For Kirshenbaum, Cosmic Kindergarten is a place where we find about our true spiritual nature and develop our abilities to handle such forces as: life, insight, knowledge, faith and love among many others.

I agree with Kirshenbaum’s call for a deeper understanding of life being more than just food, drink, shelter, or clothing. The human spirit is an incredible creation which requires training in recognizing what is good and what is bad. One very valuable way of training is through exercising not only our emotions but our physical senses.

Additionally, her writing made me think about who I am and my own identity. I learned some years ago in a class I took on social media that our identity can be categorized in many ways—spiritually, socially, economically, even psychologically. I discovered we are not out here by ourselves, each of us living in separate untouchable spaces. Rather, everything that happens to us shapes who we are and how we know and interact with each other—every experience, every action, every word, every thing.

My prayer? …that in response to life struggles, all the painful and stressful events… that my choices result in my good and the good of others.

Side note:
As I thought more about the concept of a living spirit in training, it led me to create a 12×12 digital artwork to express the force and shape of this “becoming” a full spirit being. It is entitled: Identity.

I invite you to think about who you are becoming through all of your life experiences, listen for the voice of God’s living spirit, and then celebrate the creative spirit you are becoming.

Living life’s way in 2014,

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