I sat down to write a post about making wrong turns in life and feeling grief for the good consequences lost because of the path we chose instead. Grief—over the loss of a relationship, an opportunity, a job, another’s trust in you, your trust in another, years gone by, money spent foolishly, pleasures given up, and, of course, death—is real. A reader’s comment to a previous post changed my course, though. She expressed hope, not grief, in examining what could have been.
“Through my years, I have let my pain and memories cripple me more than grow, but now, as my journey with God has allowed me, I am using it to learn about me as a person, seeing my own potential as I should have been. I guess I visualize things as, ‘they could be worse’ and as ‘they could be better.’ The growth that I have experienced is amazing and the peace is wonderful.”
How is it that this reader finds peace instead of grief? One thing that strikes me is her gratitude. She balances her perspective on her life’s difficulties with an appreciation of the difficulties others face. “I always tell myself, that no matter how much things are bad for me, there is someone else who has it much worse,” she said.
Another quality I admire is her acceptance of herself. All the variants of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief model end with acceptance. An accepting recollection of a painful reality might bring thoughts like this: “That episode was very painful to several people for a long time. I wish I had been strong enough to have chosen different actions, but I wasn’t and I didn’t. God uses the crumbs of my failure and gives them some meaning. He alone can extract the slag of my sin to bring about some goodness, and in my weakness his strength is made perfect.” Accepting a painful reality can be tough.
Accepting ourselves where we have fallen short can be tougher still. Seeing ourselves as God sees us—as dearly loved and desperately wanted children—can start melting self-condemnation.
The most admirable thing to me is the hopefulness she finds in her potential. “I should have been” implies “I could have been,” and it signals an inherent goodness that can be drawn upon. Instead of beating up on herself for what she didn’t do, she recognizes her potential as a sign of hope. The reader shows that the crucial element transforming a self-critical impulse into a hopeful impulse is trust in God. “Learning to lean on God is one of the hardest things for me, as I am giving Him total control of me, but, it has been the most helpful and wonderful life altering experience.”
To borrow Henri Nouwen’s words, inviting God into the action of examining past missteps transforms them from a cause of despair into a sign of hope.
Join the conversation. What do you feel when you reflect on the wrong turns you have taken?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.