When the caterpillar-turned-butterfly is ready to leave the cocoon, the struggle to break free gives it the strength to fly. Without the struggle the wings do not develop, and the butterfly cannot become all that it’s meant to be. Sometimes spiritual/religious trials give us strength to break free and fly. We are meant to leave the past behind so we may spread our wings and soar.
The best purpose we can assign to guilt is to remind us to do better next time. Yes, we make mistakes, mishaps, and blunders, but feeling guilty over and over isn’t productive. Recognizing we might have done things differently, and forgiving ourselves for what we felt was less than our best, allows us to learn and move forward.
As we open to our feelings and refuse to suppress our emotions, we might notice the presence of more tears in our lives. Not just tears of sadness, but also tears of joy. Tears are a window into the soul, and they spill out of a heart opens to love. Whether we experience a single tear or a stream of tears, the emotion behind the moisture is telling us we are in touch with our heart. This is being authentic, being in the moment, and being in touch with our spark of Divinity.
When the student is ready the teacher will appear. A closing we like to use in Religious Recovery ends by concluding that the only person we can change is ourselves. Instead of running around looking for students — people we can change — what we might want to do instead is change ourselves so we no longer need to look for students, because our light will shine so brightly they will come to us.
My shirt of many patterns — created from three different shirts — blends in a way that appeals to me, and I do not see any conflict among the patterns where one appears to be better than the other. When religions learn to blend together and combine their strengths instead of focusing on their differences, peace will be achieved.
My wife bought me a shirt that was designed to look like sections pieced together from three different shirts. It reminds me that something interesting, creative, and different can be created from the scraps of leftover material. In fact, it was intentional, and it is a popular shirt from a fashion designer. It’s interesting how we can create something by combining the best of the best. If only we could remember this when it comes to religion.
Forgiveness is so vital for our spiritual health that it seems we can’t stress this fact enough. Forgiving isn’t a contest, but if I were to set a standard for myself and others, it would be this: Let our forgiveness be immediate, complete, unconditional, and withheld from no one, including ourselves.
Some of the darkest times in my life were times when I felt as if the Light had abandoned me. Recently I listened as a friend told of how his faith supported him during times when everyone had seemed to have forsaken him. Yet, I know him well enough to know that it was not the “faith” of the religion he left that allowed him to get beyond those dark days and nights.
The faith he spoke of wasn’t in religion, or in a religious person. The religion he left — left him. He was abandoned, shunned, made to feel shame and guilt. The faith he speaks of is his faith that there had to be something beyond religion — something so personal and deeply spiritual that even though he had been abandoned by the people he loved, he knew some Higher Power had never abandoned him, and would never abandon him.
This wasn’t an instant awakening for my friend. He lost himself in many ways and explored many things he had been denied. Still, he knew he wasn’t alone. In time, when the lure of partying lost its appeal, he looked for and found his spiritual path. The only way he knew to connect was through organized religion, and he was fortunate. He found the help he desired.
For me, and many others, faith is trust in a Higher Power. Wisdom and common sense tell me that churches, synagogues, and temples don’t have a monopoly on finding The Divine, or our spiritual path to Home. Light comes from darkness because there is something in the dark watching over us.
One way that we show love to others is by helping them. Most religions hold this concept as part of their belief system, although some of the more toxic religions seem to want to only help their members, and if someone is not a part of their “flock” then there is little need to show lovingkindness. Perhaps the main reasons we are on this planet is to learn how to love, to help one another, and to get along.
There are times when we become discouraged or disheartened. One of the best ways to retain these feelings is to ignore them and try to bury them. These moods usually play to our ego, our sense of lack, or the feeling of being inadequate. But if we acknowledge these moods and allow ourselves to feel them without giving them a lot of concern — because we know they will pass — then we are more than likely to get beyond them sooner than we have in the past.
It is important to accept everyone we meet regardless of any label that has been assigned to them by us or by another. It is equally important for us to accept ourselves regardless of the labels we have placed on ourselves. We are perfectly imperfect, and by accepting our “flaws,” we can be strong and confident knowing we are as The Divine created us.
Sometimes we receive what we expect to receive, be it love, joy, and happiness, or grief, heartache, and disappointment. When we expect the worst but get something good, we run the risk of misinterpreting the gift and still feel disappointment or dread because we know it won’t last. When we expect the best and receive something dreadful or depressing, we might misinterpret the gift and still feel excited about the possibilities that might arise out of the experience. I believe the latter decision will ultimately lead to a happier life.
I believe people often underestimate the power of religion and its ability to hurt them. I meet people who tell me they weren’t abused by religion, only to discover after chatting with them that there might be more to their story than what they are aware of. I don’t coerce them to share, and I don’t judge them. I remind myself that my thoughts and opinions are just that, and I could be wrong. So, I simply listen, and I love them.
Change begins after we accept where we are, what we’ve done, and where we want to be. Acceptance doesn’t mean we can’t hope for things to be better, but we must accept our present situation and see the reality, or unreality, that it presents. Moving forward is simply a matter of accepting this moment and opening to the next.
Everyone experiences hurts in their life. The principles we talk about in Religious Recovery apply to many areas of our lives, and those principles can be used to heal wounds. We’re not just talking about religious wounds. The next time we are quick to judge someone because of their behavior, it might help to remember people hurt, but some people hide it better than others.
The idea of the Religious Recovery program came as the seed of an idea. Initially the concept was Religion Anonymous which certainly has a clear idea of what we were about, namely, helping people heal from the addictive nature of religion. But, as the seed was watered, the idea transformed from Religion Anonymous to Religious Recovery. The growth came slow in the first year, but we believed in the seed. One tiny concept. One idea planted firmly in the soil of our hearts.
Some of the ideas presented in the program may be difficult for some to accept. That’s okay. We knew from the start we were treading on “holy” ground. We don’t expect everyone to accept without question the ideas presented by Religious Recovery. We do, however, want to plant some seeds and see if they grow.
We also encourage people to plant their own seeds. We’re convinced we’re not the only ones in the world who question religious beliefs and motives. We’ve met enough people who agree with our concepts to know we are not alone.
We also encourage people to look for seeds that come from within. That’s how we started, and how many great endeavors come into existence. Listen to the inner voice and fall in step with its cadence. Seeds will grow, and you’ll be amazed at the beautiful life that blossom.
The quality of our lives is not dependent upon what happens to us. Rather, the quality of our lives is dependent upon how we respond to what happens to us. We can let circumstances defeat us or empower us. The difference is our mindset and our freewill choice. If we determine that life will bless us and not curse us, then that is what we will receive — and that is also what we will give.
We tend to see miracles as supernatural events that boggle the mind. But, because we take life for granted, we often fail to see the everyday miracles that surround us. Perhaps nothing is more miraculous that birth, thinking, breathing, the sights and sounds of nature, and living a meaningful life. Miracles abound if we choose to see them.
By letting go of old beliefs and accepting new ones that align with our common sense and our heart, we enter a new phase of spirituality in which we are coming into our own. As we look around, we see those who remain firm in old beliefs we are shedding, and the temptation is to wonder who is right. As long as their path works for them, it’s right for them. Our spiritual journey is not a contest. We can both be right and still be on different paths.
Our religious beliefs are often some of our most intimate thoughts, and we guard them from people we think might criticize, ridicule, or laugh at us. Part of our timidity is a desire to fit in and get along. Oftentimes, we don’t question things that don’t seem to make sense or fit into what our hearts are telling us is wrong or right. But, if we would be true to ourselves and hope to make the world better, we must question.
The leaders of Religious Recovery need the strength of gentleness, because we have been exposed long enough to the harm that pressuring and bullying creates. Love whispers its gentle message, and forgiveness cannot be delivered with a jackhammer. Gentleness and genuineness work together to open the way for healing to occur naturally in the heart and mind.
Follow your path. Don’t allow yourself to follow a path simply because it is familiar. We should question the path we’re on to see if it works for us. Does it bring us joy, laughter, and peace, or does it bring us despair, depression, and discord? There are countless paths and a multitude of ways to live life, so why settle for one that doesn’t meet the needs of our hearts?
We are free to choose whether our life will be hard or soft. Everyone has challenges, troubles, and turmoil. A difficult or gentle life is not dependent upon the circumstances of life but on how we respond to those circumstances. We can live like rocks and feel every blow that comes our way, or we can live like the air or the water and flow with life and all that it brings.
The concept of unconditional forgiveness is new to some, yet it is so important that it deserves a deeper examination. In a world of crime and punishment, winners and losers, takers and givers, the concept that forgiveness is nearly as important as love is not acceptable to some. Here are some things to consider about forgiveness.
• If we refuse to forgive, we injure ourselves.
• Forgiveness and consequences are not the same.
• Forgiveness sets people free — others, yes, but also, and foremost, it sets us free.
• The Divine freely forgives and some believe The Divine has the ability to forget.
• There is no error, mistake, or even sin (if you prefer that term) which cannot be forgiven.
• Forgiveness is all or not at all. It is unconditional or it is incomplete.
• Forgiveness doesn’t depend on another person’s actions.
• Only we can decide to forgive, and we don’t have to withhold it until someone feels sorry or repentant.
• Forgiveness is a loving act — loving to others, but also to ourselves.
• Forgiving ourselves is just as important as forgiving others.
• When we judge another, we are also in need of forgiveness.
• Forgiveness and love go together. One leads to the other.
• Sometimes our feelings don’t match our choice to forgive. We forgive anyway and the feelings catch up in time.
A Course in Miracles says that “No one can become an advanced teacher of God until he fully understands that defenses are but foolish guardians of mad illusions.” By letting go of defenses we find more peace, joy, safety, and even more of a connection with The Divine. Those who believe in a cruel divine presence will struggle to comprehend the concept of defenselessness, but those who believe they are eternal beings understand there is nothing to defend. Death loses its power.
 Schucman, Dr. Helen (Scribe) (2008-08-01). A Course in Miracles (Kindle Locations 18397-18398). Foundation for Inner Peace. Kindle Edition.
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Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.