Category Archives: Masterpiece: A Love Story

Santa's workshop

12 Step Christmas (Pt. 2)

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – catch up with Part I)

In Part I, the burden of grudges, resentments and petty hatreds, the burden of unforgiveness, was likened to a Christmas shopper weighed down and unbalanced by too many bags of purchases. Shoulders, arms and hands, backpack, all pulled to earth by what is owned.

The burden is not light

So burdened, we can’t skip along, or stride purposefully. We aren’t even walking, really. Because of the mass we choose to carry, we’re trudging, perhaps even plodding, or slogging. It’s no easy way to travel. Why choose it as a lifestyle by refusing to forgive?

Is it any wonder we speak of personal baggage when describing this? Baggage is something we carry. It has our “stuff” in it. When we travel on an airliner, the size and weight of what we can carry is limited. Too much, and the plane would burst at the seams, or not be airworthy. An apt metaphor for us as we journey through life with this junk!

So here we are, resolutely and stolidly toting all our baggage, refusing to relinquish it. What’s inside? Remember, in the shopping metaphor, we spent an entire day spending good money as it were to invest in these things. If they were a good investment, they will increase in value. But how can a grudge increase in value?

It can’t. It has no value in the first place. And anything times zero equals zero.

This begs this question: at what point do we cut our losses and divest? Why is divestment beneficial? And what are the risks, if any?

A frightening prospect. Is it worth it?

Here’s the upside: divestiture makes our lives, and our hearts, lighter. Without carrying baggage, we can pay more attention to what’s in front of us. We can enjoy the moment for what it is, instead of being on a fearful hunt for obstacles. When we carry so much weight, the risk of a drop or a stumble is so great, there’s no opportunity to stop being on the defensive.

Our feet become so occupied they are useless for anything but preventing a fall to earth. Our hands are so occupied they are useless for any good work. Our minds and hearts are so occupied by concentrating on the burden, we can perceive nothing else.

Our internal world consists of what we consider, and the things we refuse to forgive can eventually grow into the only things we consider, trudging along in that state.

Over time, without forgiveness, life then becomes a balancing act, full of deliberate steps not toward anything joyful, but away from or around anything which could possibly be harmful or painful. Our lives become filled with lack, not abundance.

The trap is this: until we lay down our burdens, we can’t feel free and easy, not ever, not for one moment. We can pretend they’re not there, but the pretence itself only becomes more mass in the sack. And on it goes.

Caution: divestiture also hurts. Holding something tightly for too long makes it painful to unclench the muscles. The path of least resistance is to leave it alone. It also hurts to emotionally unclench, because it means admitting failure. The ego resists that.

From capture to release

I started my journey toward forgiveness with self-talk like this: “If you only knew what he did to me…” “What happened was unforgivable…” “She has to pay for this…” “I can never forgive.”

The things I tell myself over and over become the elephant in the room. Living with an elephant in the room is messy and smelly and claustrophobic, but I got used to it. Worse – I became blinded to its presence, just as I become so used to the unhealthy ‘weight’ I carried, I couldn’t imagine living without it.

But if the elephant disappears, how do we clean up its mess and use all the space that leaves? The beauty of true forgiveness is that the space immediately becomes empty and clean, the mess being removed by the act itself.

Christmas should be a season of forgiveness, and the miracle of my AA Christmas was that this freedom was very near. It was right on the other side of one simple act. Forgiving myself.

Jesus says if I have a heavy burden, I should go to Him and get rest. I take off the painfully heavy yoke of my unforgiveness and put on His yoke, which He says ‘is easy,’, adding, ‘My burden is light.’ *

Once I realized I could give this weight to God, I could accept that He forgave me. And I could then forgive others. Everything tumbled into place. I am light, and free, and I refuse to go back.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

* Matthew 12:29-30

Image: Public Domain, Jenny Nystrom via Wikimedia Commons

Christmas presents

12-Step Christmas

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

(A four-minute read – read part II here)

Collecting garbage

By my early 40s, the world of weed was just too spooky. Maintaining a respectable image while simultaneously patronizing drug dealers became difficult. The dread of being busted was balanced uncomfortably with the fear of running out of weed. I carried an intense level of denial. Eventually, the pot did run out and booze took over. It was legal, easy, cheaper.

Where marijuana was a spirit guide, alcohol was a balm, a saviour, and finally, my master: the only thing I truly cared about. Even my sense of self-preservation was subservient to the need to drink. I lived to drink, and ultimately, drank to live.

Within ten years, I crashed onto the floor of a seedy motel room and began the return to life. I had to unlearn lies before accepting truths, undo evil consequences before accepting fresh ones and unburden myself of baggage before packing a new kit.

Doing the work presented by the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous was like getting through a busy Christmas shopping season. For many of us Christmas is jolly and joyful, but it can also be full of rush, pressure, expectation, a need to perform, and an undercurrent that something is not quite right somehow, as though Santa is about to drop the other boot.

12-Step Christmas

The softening of my heart was a 12-Step Christmas. It was messy and demanding, even while liberating. It centered on the greatest gift I could have given myself, the gift of forgiveness. The more time I spent drunk, the more the perceived wrongs done to me piled up.

When I got sober, I could finally smell the stink of them. They had to go.

I resisted the idea that I could only get rid of them by getting even. There’s no value in getting even, only in getting free. It’s a simple act; not always easy, but it changed my life.

Forgiveness of others can be a difficult, demanding and painful thing. I know. Some of the grudges and resentments I found myself with I’d borne for years. I needed to unburden myself.

Let’s consider them as a ‘burden’ because that so well illustrates what the unforgiving soul packs around. Unforgiveness itself is literally that: a burden, a drag, a friction. It keeps me weighted to an unhealthy past instead of releasing me for a better future.

An uncomfortable picture

To illustrate, imagine yourself walking along having just finished all your Christmas shopping in one go.

On your left shoulder is a very large bag, the long strap of which is over your head to keep it from slipping away. Your arm hangs out over its bulk in an uncomfortable arc. The hand of that arm grips another shopping bag, this one hanging low and heavy, outboard of your knee.

These stuffed satchels would have you tipping hard left if it weren’t for the oversized weighty sack you desperately clutch with your right hand as a counterbalance. Meanwhile, you’re kept from being hunched over by the giant rucksack resting heavily on your back.

That one appears to keep you above the center of balance, but it’s an illusion. In reality, it weighs you down even more, creating additional pressure.

This is the picture we need to see when we choose to bear a grudge or carry a resentment. Grudges are heavy things, and they get heavier over time; their inertia grows. It’s as though gravity increases where they are present. They are truly weighty matters.

This is an expanded version of material originally prepared for my memoir Masterpiece (A Love Story).

Read part II here

a brewing storm

The Question

(A five-minute read)

This post is material excised from the second edition of my memoir Masterpiece, A Love Story, about my recovery from childhood sexual abuse. I’ll post The Answer next week.

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 1

That was Jesus’ question on the cross, when God the Father turned His face away from God the Son. This was also my question about twenty years ago, when the pain of sexual abuse became overwhelming, and the holes I dug for myself to erase abusive memories grew too deep to crawl out of.

God the Father did not answer Jesus’ question from the cross. But Jesus’ mission on the earth was to answer mine.

Jesus was perfect in life, and took that perfection to His crucifixion. We might say Jesus was killed unjustly for crimes He didn’t commit. God sees it differently. In His eyes, Jesus sacrificed Himself for the crimes we committed, to pay our collective debt.

It takes a lot of love to do that, pay off someone else’s debt. Perfect, unconditional love, you might say. And that love is the only explanation for why God would allow you and me to be saved from our own deserved damnation.

Jesus stepped in for us, was crucified and died. Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy would definitely have announced, ‘He’s dead, Jim!’

If that were the end of the story, the entire effort would have been for nothing. Fortunately, that’s not the end. Jesus’ death wasn’t merely a death, it was a payment on behalf of everyone who deserved death for their imperfection. It was the eternal Get Out of Hell Free card for all of us, even those like me who didn’t even ask for it.

Then, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father raised Jesus up from the dead. Jesus is alive.

With His resurrection back to life, the victory over sin and death – over the works and lies of the devil – was complete. You and I have had restored to us the ability to fight against satanic power and win. And, by God’s strength, we always win. And we will keep winning until Jesus returns to judge us all.

When Jesus cried out to the Father, He was quoting Psalm 22, which begins like this:

‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are You so far from delivering me, and from my roaring words of distress?’2

I claimed at the beginning of this reflection that I had asked the same question. I didn’t really, because none of us can actually ask that question. Why? Because God doesn’t forsake us until we give Him no choice – until we are dead and choice is no longer an option.

God pursued me relentlessly for more than thirty years, despite all the things I did, thought and felt that made me His enemy. He didn’t forsake me; I forsook Him, turning away from Him to run after my own pleasures and my own ideas.

Only Jesus gets to ask that question of the Father, because He is the only one the Father ever actually turned away from.

This is an eternal irony: God the Father, being perfect, turned His back on the only perfect human, God the Son, so that we imperfect ones wouldn’t have to be rejected for missing the mark.

Jesus’ self-sacrificial death was a temporal act with eternal implications. Because your soul also lives forever, your temporal act to believe – or not believe – also has eternal implications. I encourage you to reflect on the wisdom of the Psalmist in this, because Psalm 22 is a prophecy about Jesus.

The Lord takes His eternal agonizing question from the psalm’s beginning. His resurrection brings the Psalm’s last couplet, which contains the truth we see because of Jesus’ work at Calvary:

‘Posterity will serve Him; it will be told to generations about the Lord; They will come and declare His righteousness to a people yet to be born, that He has acted.’ 3

1. Psalm 22:1
2. Psalm 22:1
3. Psalm 22:30-31

Now that you have read the Question, you can read The Answer.

Subscribe here to get free offers, exclusives, and learn about what I’m writing next. Or Subscribe below to be notified of future posts.