Today I've been thinking about something I do on a regular basis that I don't think I've shared here before. To give some background, a few years back I set the intention to stop taking my spiritual lessons just when they come and, instead, create situations that would push me past my comfort zone. I wanted to accelerate my growth.
Now, I think we can create all our situations, good and bad, with intention alone. I had specific goals—releasing my need for drama, improving my forgiveness muscles, learning to be more vulnerable and letting go of things more easily, among others. And in the stealth way the universe tends to work, I was presented with opportunities to address all those things.
So, while I didn't quite realize it at the time, this blog, for example, ended up destined to help me learn to be more vulnerable. While I still hold plenty of "secrets"...haha...I've really let down my guard over the 3 1/2 years I've been doing this. There are times it really scares me to hit "publish" when I release something I'm sensitive about. And, invariably, those posts are met with thanks and affirmation from you guys. I'm so proud of—and grateful to—the community of people who read this blog, because you have been nothing but supportive.
And so here comes the thing I haven't shared. Another one of those things that pushes me past my comfort zone sometimes is a post I make every Friday on my Facebook page called Friday Night Confessions. Now, first off, I confess that it's partly a tongue-in-cheek poke at fundamentalist fears about sin and the Devil. I also confess it's partly for some Friday night fun with friends. But from the very first day I made it clear that this thread was sacred and anyone with something to lift off their shoulders was welcome to contact me publicly or privately for "forgiveness" (by the authority of my mail order reverendship that, while I joke about it sometimes, I also take seriously.)
A good 95% of the posts on the Friday Night Confessions thread are along the order of "I confess to being gluttonous with chocolate," "I confess I lost my temper" or even "I confess I love my husband." All of those things are easy to forgive and, when I can, I affirm that they're not alone. I, too, like chocolate. :D
But then there are the 5% of posts that are serious confessions. A couple of them are things that have been really hard for me to forgive, but of course I have. And I don't just say the words "you're forgiven". I do a gut check and push past any boundaries I might have to forgiveness. I also try to talk to the person some to make sure they're OK in that moment and know they are OK and loved in the world...that they are not defined by whatever it is that they've asked forgiveness for. And, of course, I encourage them to seek professional help when that seems to be needed. And, while I do wonder about what progress they're making as to their confession, I never ask because confession should free you from guilt, rather than remind you of it.
I am not, of course, a priest. I do now understand some of what they hold on their shoulders. They get way more serious stuff confessed to them, so their forgiveness practice is well honed. And they learn, I'm sure, to lift it up to God because its not theirs to carry. That insight has taken some of the tongue out of the cheek of doing this and has made it something truly sacred to me, even in those many weeks when the confessions don't move past "I confess I stubbed my toe and it hurt".
To keep moving forward and growing and expanding, we have to push against our comfort zones. Of course, it doesn't require exposing yourself on a blog or taking peoples' confessions. You don't have to go looking for trouble when each day you're faced with a new opportunity to change your judgments about someone you work with, open your heart to a stranger, solve an old problem a new way, confront a bad habit or just take the higher road. None of us will do this perfectly or even fully consistently. I can forgive a stranger much easier than a disloyal friend, for example. But the more strangers I forgive, the easier it is to make peace with things closer to me.
So what opportunities might this week hold for you to push past your comfort zone and expand your love into the world? To begin with, you have to see the opportunities as opportunities, instead of annoyances or shocks or everyday weirdness. Then you have to take a beat and think about how you can exchange your usual response for something more loving. What you'll probably find is that something you think you're doing for "them" is something you've actually done for yourself. You'll feel lighter, walk prouder. And you will have just become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.