There’s something that I’m going to ask you to do for the New Year. Let’s call it a New Years Resolution, but it’s probably unlike any resolution you’ve ever made, in that it doesn’t take a great deal of effort, and will only take you a few hours to complete. And as with everything that I’ve asked of you to date, this is for your benefit, not mine.
If you’ll do this with an open mind, and a contrite heart, I suspect that it may be one of the most liberating and soul-cleansing experiences of your life. It certainly was for me two years ago.
Here’s what I’d like for you to do:
You’ll need to be alone (that’s a tall order for some of us), in a quiet environment. Grab a pen and paper, and if you have a favorite chair, at your desk, your kitchen table, or in your den, head for it and get comfortable. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, clearing your mind of as much clutter as possible.
I want you to imagine a large wooden crate, complete with a lid and lock. The crate sits open and empty, upon a table top, waiting to be filled.
Next I want you to visualize a set of shelves that is lined with several jars, much like a large spice rack. Each of these jars has been labeled, and I want you to scan the shelves looking for a list of ingredients. You’ll spot some of the ingredients rather quickly; others may take a bit of searching. There’s no hurry; take your time. As you take each item off of the shelf, place it in the empty crate. This is what you’re looking for:
Pride. Ego. Envy. Jealousy. Anger. Hatred. Revenge. Resentment. Prejudice. Greed.
Take each of these jars off the shelf, and place them in the crate. Go ahead, put them all in there. Now close the lid and fasten the lock! Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to lock these up forever; at least not yet. Just put them away, will you?
Now take a look at what remains on your shelves:
Love. Compassion. Humility. Gratitude. Sharing. Peace. Forgiveness.
Pick up your pen, and, holding these qualities in your mind’s eye and in your heart, I want you to make a list of every person that you feel has hurt you in any way, be it in thought, word, or deed. Start with your earliest memory as a child and move forward through the years. Remember that this list isn’t based on the seriousness of the offense, but on the offense itself, large or small. Don’t let guilt, shame, or any other emotion deter you from adding a name to the list (I was a bit shocked when I wrote the names of my parents on mine). This list is for no one’s eyes other than your own. Take your time composing your “honor role”, being as thorough as possible in your recollection of those who have caused you to hurt in any way.
When you’ve scoured even the darkest recesses of your mind, put the pen down, turn the paper over, and take a moment to gather your thoughts and to recover from “uncovering” old wounds.
Now get a fresh sheet of paper, pick up your pen, and once again, holding those good “ingredients” in your mind, I want you to make a list of every person that you may have hurt, using the same recollection and selection process that you used before; if you feel that you hurt someone in thought, word, or deed, in any way, at any time, add the name to your list (my parents were on that list too). Again, this list is for no eyes other than your own. And again, take your time; in this case it is better to be thorough than to be swift.
As before, when you’re finished, put down the pen, turn the paper over, close your eyes, and gather your thoughts.
Now go back to the first list; the list of people that have offended you in any way. Look at the first name, picture that person’s face in your mind, and forgive that person for what he or she did to you. Make it personal, and make it sincere. I’ll share a couple of mine with you: “Phyllis, I forgive you for saying that my ears looked like Dumbo’s when we were in grade school.” Or “Cheryl, I forgive you for stripping me of what little self-esteem I had when I was in my 20’s.” Let it out. Let it hurt. Let it go. Each person. Skip none. Say it from your heart. Release them.
Go back to the second list; those that you may have hurt. Once again, look at the name and see the face. This time, ask for forgiveness. “Dad, I’m sorry that I cursed at you.” “Brian. Christian. I’m sorry if I ever let you down in any way.” “Jackie, I’m sorry about the short fuse.” Swallow your pride. Admit that you wronged someone. Ask for their forgiveness; from your heart. Ask to be released.
That’s it. You’re through. Finished. This exercise is over. Feel any better? Maybe a little, but not that much? That’s okay.
Wait until tomorrow morning, when you wake up to start a new day, and you realize that something has changed. You’re not quite sure what it is, but you know that, deep down inside, something is different. What is it?
I’ll tell you what it is:
What you are feeling is a heart that, for the first time in years, perhaps ever, is no longer burdened by the pain of being hurt, or the guilt of causing pain. And here’s the really good part: It only gets better! With each passing day that hurt and guilt becomes less and less significant, until one day, they’re just gone. It’s healing. It’s cleansing. It’s liberating. It’s awesome. It’s a blessing.
One last thought:
When I sat down to make my list, I suspect that I was as skeptical about its effectiveness as you may be right now. Trust me on this one. Being able to walk through life with an unburdened heart has been such a gift. Releasing the hurts from the past helped to pave the way for joyously moving forward in the future. If you take the time to make your list, and I sincerely hope that you do, I pray that peace will fill your heart and your mind.
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