Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Confessions and personal integrity

Two weeks ago I was walking by our New Books shelves and a title caught my eye. It's a thin book, small in stature with a mock-coffee cup stain on the least that's what I see. I've been involved in a lot of self-review, introspection if you will, for more than the last twelve months. Paul Wilkes captured my eye with his new book, the art of confession: renewing yourself through the practice of honesty.

I've returned to a semi-regular practice of confession. I carried some guilt of failure and anger in the past year. I can tell you that I wanted nothing to do with the burden, and I was able to find a light peace with myself. As an adult convert to Catholicism, I am never sure of my self when I enter the room to share my thoughts, my sins, and my failings with our priest. My examination of conscience is deeply pure and sometimes heart-wrenching, and when I speak the words, the lightness is unbelievable. In the introduction to his book, Wilkes describes the conscience as, "a mysterious force within that urges us toward good actions and away from the bad." He further explains our part, "Having a free will means we can choose to listen to this voice or not."

I hear the words form in my conscience every day, and I hear echoes of transgressions that I can't seem to let go, or that I choose to address by not listening to that voice that rings clear. In conversations with my confessor, we have talked about whether forgiveness, and thus confession to another, needs to happen face to face, or if it can happen through forgiving self and changing our response to the multitude of decisions we make freely each day between right and wrong. Of course, not all circumstances will benefit from the facing the individual we have wronged, and it is enough to encounter what is needed to make an inner change that will express itself externally. Confession should not be confused with apology. Certainly both recognize our regret, our sorrow, but confession, whether to self for the individual harmed, is an acknowledgement of what we have done wrong, and how we intend to change (pp.4-5).

At times, the wrong we do, the wrongs I have done, come from 'seeming' instead of 'being' who I am. Wilkes quotes philosopher Martin Buber in explaining the difference. While reading this book, I was watching the same expression through the character of Don Draper on the AMC series Mad Men. Draper is a man conflicted. His life is spent being Don Draper, Madison Avenue advertising agent. Without want to spoil things too much if you haven't seen the show, underneath the perfect exterior Draper seems to be, he is really happiest being someone else, someone he was born to be. The show through the fourth season has been a process of discovery of who he is, and learning to take the mask off. Confession allows us to do this, regardless of our faith or religious practice. We all seek and need confession.

Wilkes concludes that confession in any culture is comprised of Three Rs: Risk, Relief and Renewal (p. 97). Risk is the most difficult of the three; Relief and Renewal come easily after initiating the Risk of speaking the truth. It is much easier to continue to be who we seem we are. Why would we want to risk judgement of others, or worse, exposure to all. If we return to the difference between confession and apology, we can see that confession involves more of healing ourselves, and accepting what has been done by us, and planning for how we will go forward and 'sin no more.'

I've devoted a lot of time to examining my own conscience, and I admit I am not perfect. I used to strive for perfection and now I work to be who I am. Perfection focuses on seeming more than being. Being helps me to set a context for understand that others do not deserve my judgement and condemnation for their own being or seeming--only they know which is which. I have a much deeper awareness of what I do in response to my perceptions of others. I had an experience earlier this week and in retrospect I am happy with my response to the information I received. I've read two books on forgiveness in the past year. One by Reinhard Hirtler, and the other by Joyce Meyer. Both helped me to see the importance of forgiving the self before forgiving others. Both narrated the same point: Hurting people hurt people. I've always known that you don't understand others until you've walked a mile in their shoes. Until I worked my way through my own hurts in the past year (and believe me some hurts are still there as huge scars), I don't think I really conceived of the meaning of the shoe analogy. I no longer feel the need to walk in others shoes: I know what the pebbles do in my own to have a respect for the pain others feel with their own stones.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Not in a position to be angry

A few days ago I drafted the title of this post. I know I had something in mind, something on my heart, something I wanted to share with others. I think it was from a book I have been reading: Do yourself a favor and forgive. I have mentioned that I have been studying forgiveness, and I know my heart has changed greatly and my patience has increased. I no longer condemn others for perceived shortcomings--although I border on chiding them for being so hard on themselves and over-apologizing. :) Yeah, that wasn't me even a decade ago.

I remember getting the oil changed in my first car. My husband was along for the experience, and as my best friend, he was also responsible for serving as my mirror that day. Thankfully, I don't remember the particulars anymore (that's another post for another day), I do however remember my husband telling me as the service agent walked away that I was being unreasonable. I think I was demanding services I thought I was entitled and had not received. I embarrassed and shamed the service agent into providing them at low or no cost. The service point is long out of business. I remember the anger, the rage, the impetuous girl who wasn't getting her way. I remember being told by my mirror that it wasn't an appropriate way to behave. I was selfish.

Slowly, but surely, I began to change. I remember as a child the joy one or the other of my parents felt by getting a buy-one, get one discount--but it wasn't advertised. The clerk had only charged for one of the stacked items--she hadn't noticed there were two in our basket. It happened another time with a laundry basket. I thought, by example, that this was the greatest thing ever. It carried into my early adulthood.

A year or two ago I was shopping at our local discount store with my parents. I found a great bargain and purchased two beautiful Dhurri rag rugs that day (these are not the same rugs in the link, but an example), but ask the clerk told me my total, I was sure it couldn't be right--I had a few other small items, but the rugs were nearly $10 each. My bill was well under $20.00. I stopped and asked the clerk if she had charged me for both rugs as I had rolled them together to make it easier to carry them. She had not, thanked me for noticing and added the second rug to my bill. I gladly paid and left. My parents were somewhat surprised by this. One indicated that I had passed up a deal by correcting the mistake. And yet inside, I knew what I had done. It wasn't the first time I had caught and corrected a mistake like this one since that day at the oil change place, but I had indeed changed. I was happy to catch and correct the error, even though I paid more cash in the end. I was happy to have ensured that things were done the right way in the transaction. Maybe it's because I've been responsible for budgets and accounting. Maybe because I have kept sales inventory during a brief stint as a direct seller that I knew someone would pay for the mistake had I not pointed it out. I would have carried that with me and been reminded of the wrong every time I looked at the rugs in my kitchen.

This has been a long way of talking about forgiveness and anger. I believe that anger comes from unforgiveness. I believe that we are so much more prone to upset, insult and injury when we carry anger with us. I heard on the radio this morning a point that hit home: Forgiveness was not created for those we forgive--it was created by God for us, so that we may let go of anger, frustration and disappointment. It is a process, and it involves forgiving others, our perceived transgressions, and forgiving ourselves for giving safe harbor to anger and resentment.