It’s Okay. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.

by Beverly Hutchinson McNeff

It has been over a decade since this incident occurred, but it has become such a touchstone to the truth for me that I often say the words in this title as a healing ointment for my mind. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me tell you the story from the beginning. It all started with a note…

“Jeffrey did not turn in his math assignment, so he missed a recess today.”

That’s what the note attached to my nine-year-old’s homework folder said. It suddenly dawned on my over-extended mind that I was the one who had forgotten to put his math assignment back into his folder after I had taken it out to tell the babysitter how to help him study for his upcoming math test. I felt terrible! It was totally my fault. I was the one who should have missed the recess – the one school activity my son absolutely LOVES!

As my guilt rose, I saw how quickly I began to project my guilty feelings outward. Why did that teacher take his recess away without checking all her facts? Why did I have to leave my son with the babysitter when I should have been home? Why am I pulled in so many directions that I need a babysitter?

Why, why, why? Oh, I didn’t leave one person or circumstance out, as I spewed my guilt and felt more and more alone in my self-made prison. I dragged my “wretched” self upstairs to tell my “poor” child how sorry I was and how unfair the world was to him (can I be more dramatic?). He listened to me and then quietly said, “It’s okay, Mom. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

His words, “It’s okay. Don’t be so hard on yourself,” stuck in my mind. It was almost as if they were spoken to me by God Himself.

In this world, things happen. We will never heal if we are attached to the outcome in the world. Our focus must be on how we handle the “things” that happen. Each situation presents us once again with an opportunity to heal or not, to remember the peace of God, or to fall into our endless pit of guilt. I saw how easily I could project my anger onto the world, but I also saw how easily my child washed it all away with his simple words.

I remember when our backyard neighbor decided to cut down the nine beautiful pine trees planted on his slope. He had just redone his backyard and didn’t want pine needles falling into his pool any longer. Some of the trees were nearly thirty years old! I was in tears. He killed an entire ecosystem! What kind of monster am I living next to? But then my son’s words echoed in my mind, “It’s okay. Don’t be so hard on him.” It was time for me to give the gift I had been given.

Dealing with the World

It seems as if the world presents us with countless opportunities to find injustice and insanity. We could so easily spend all our days in disgust over this situation or that person, but God is calling us to a different purpose. He is not asking us to deny the issues of our world but to handle them from a different perspective.

Einstein once said that we cannot solve our problems at the level of thinking we were at when we created them. In A Course in Miracles, we are asked to rise above the battleground. The ego thought system wants us to keep playing the game of blame and guilt because that is how the world of separation and suffering is maintained. And yet, heaven stands right here, as well, and heaven will be our awareness when we step back from the blame and ask for Help, ask for a miracle.

In A Course in Miracles, we read a very powerful thought. Jesus tells us,

“There is nothing about me that you cannot attain. I have nothing that does not come from God. The difference between us now is that I have nothing else. This leaves me in a state which is only potential in you.” (T-1.II.3)

Jesus is trying to help us see that what distracts us is costing us our power to create miracles, to heal the sick and to raise the dead. The Course tells us that when we choose to “worship” the gods of guilt, fear, judgment, and separation, we can’t hear God’s Voice calling to us. We have found our other gods much more interesting than God Himself.

We are reminded in the Course,

“You have ‘given’ your peace to the gods you made, but they are not there to take it from you, and you cannot give it to them. (T-10.IV.4-5)

So, even though God has not distanced himself from us, we have turned our backs on love’s presence. But because of God’s infinite Love for us, we can never lose our peace. We can reach the same awareness as Jesus – we have that potential within us at any moment. We must, however, stop worshipping at the altar of our guilty, unworthy thoughts about ourselves or others.

Escape Suffering

When we look at the world as the reason for our suffering, we focus on the effect of our thinking, not the cause. This makes as much sense as blaming a chair for being in our way when we stub our toe on it. We either need to move the chair or be more aware of its presence. But we are the cause, not the poor old chair. We wouldn’t give the chair more power than it deserves. It is the same with the world; it is an effect of our thinking. Let’s not give it more power than it deserves.

When I forgot to put Jeffrey’s homework in his folder, it was my mistake. This mistake started a cascade of effects, but I was the cause. Knowing this gave me the power to take responsibility and stop the projection of blame and guilt, but I needed a little help.

“The Kingdom cannot be found alone, and you who are the Kingdom cannot find yourself alone.” (T-8.III.6)

Over and over again, we are told in the Course that we need each other and that we are inextricably connected. If we are to find the “Kingdom” (the peace and happiness we are seeking), we must find it in every encounter — every holy encounter. Jeffrey’s words woke me from my sleep of separation and reminded me that my guilt (or my need to make others guilty) was not necessary.

The title of this magazine, The Holy Encounter, comes from a passage in the Course that counsels us that every encounter with another is an opportunity to find ourselves or lose ourselves. Therefore, it is essential that we understand that the way we see, treat, or even think of others is the experience we will encounter. The choice for us now becomes imprisonment or release, peace or conflict, a miracle of healing or a world of separation and death. What will our choice be today?

Breaking the Cycle

Jeffrey’s willingness to forgive me gave me the power to stop the cycle of attack and reminded me, once again, how exhausting and valueless attack is. Wasn’t that the example of Jesus some two thousand years ago? His message was not one of justified attack but forgiveness in the face of all worldly justification to the contrary. No matter how justified your attack may seem, it is costing you the awareness of the “Kingdom” because it is costing you the awareness of your brother’s worth, which is your own.

“Ask not to be forgiven, for this has already been accomplished. Ask, rather, to learn how to forgive, and to restore what always was to your unforgiving mind.” (T-14.IV.3)

The heart of the Course is forgiveness. But it is not the traditional approach to forgiveness that we have come to know. The Course does not ask us to focus on the “sins” and then offer forgiveness, but to instead focus on the love that is our reality and allow the mistakes to fall away gently. Here is how the Course expresses the idea of forgiveness:

“Forgiveness takes away what stands between your brother and yourself. It is the wish that you be joined with him, and not apart.” (T-26.VII.9)

“To forgive is merely to remember only the loving thoughts you gave in the past, and those that were given you. All the rest must be forgotten. Forgiveness is a selective remembering, based not on your selection.” (T-17.III.1)

“Would it be possible for you to hate your brother if you were like him? Could you attack him if you realized you journey with him, to a goal that is the same? Would you not help him reach it in every way you could, if his attainment of it were perceived as yours?” (T-24.I.6)

It is quite clear then that forgiveness is an act of love that, in the end, is really given to ourselves. If we are to feel the joy and peace we are all seeking in our lives, we must forgive.

A Guideline to Forgiveness

With this in mind, the following section in the Course seems to offer the most clear-cut guidelines for forgiveness. It tells us that whenever we are not joyous or peaceful, it is because we have thought wrongly about another. Then it counsels us:

“Think honestly what you have thought that God would not have thought, and what you have not thought that God would have you think. Search sincerely for what you have done and left undone accordingly, and then change your mind to think with God’s. This may seem hard do, but it is much easier than trying to think against it. Your mind is one with God’s. Denying this and thinking otherwise has held your ego together, but has literally split your mind.” (T-4.IV.2)

I don’t think God would be “kicking” me or judging my brother for making a mistake, so why should I? I do think God would be loving me and all my brothers who walk this world with me, so, perhaps, I should as well.

Again, this does not mean God is asking us to condone ego actions in the world. Quite the contrary, God does not know those actions and only knows the love which is our and our brothers’ essence. If there is something that needs to be done in the world, allow God’s Answer through the Holy Spirit to be your Guide. He will direct you in such a way that peace and healing will prevail for all concerned. Perhaps it’s time we take everyone off the hook of judgment (including ourselves) and see the miracles of healing that can and will occur.

“It’s okay. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Simple words from a child or wisdom beyond years? Either way, I am a bit more aware because of it, and for that, I am grateful.

“Awake and be glad, for all your sins have been forgiven you. This is the only message that any two should ever give each other.” (P-3.II.4)

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