I am not an experienced backpacker. The number of my ventures into nature carrying everything necessary to sustain life on my back can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Consequently, each time I embark on such a venture I pay close attention to what those with more experience have to say. If I were to summarize their advice in one sound-byte it would sound like this: “When backpacking, every ounce, counts.”
They are serious and not over-stating their position.Every single ounce, counts. The more weight one carries, the more energy gets consumed, resulting in more effort required and less joy on the journey.
The secret of backpacking lies in learning what to leave behind.
It’s actually not a bad approach to all life. More than a few recent conversations have centered on the reality that most of us are very adept at picking up baggage along the road of life. We experience failure at one intersection, fall short of a goal at the next, disappoint a loved one a block later and mess up badly just a few curves down the path.
We pick up all this baggage and put it safely in our backpack but never take the opportunity to off-load any of it. The result is that as our journey through life progresses the load gets heavier and heavier.
Forgiveness is a massive topic and self-forgiveness is one of the most complex of all its dimensions. Guilt exists like a raging monster hiding in the shadows of most of our lives. We simply do not know how to move on from the messes we make.
Considerable reflection has led me to suspect that one reason many find it easier to forgive others than themselves has something to do with the actual “act of forgiving.”
If my neighbour hosts a loud party that disrupts the sleep of the neighbourhood, most often there will be act or ritual to resolve it. He will come to me and say, “I realize I did something that hurt you, I’m sorry.” He may even offer a token of his confession, such as a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
As he steps forward to claim ownership for his fault, I am moved to say, “Hey, that’s okay. I forgive you.”
Forgiveness can take place without him coming forward but experience shows it’s much more readily accomplished when he does. There’s something about the exchange of apology and declaration of forgiveness that is an important part of the equation.
Similarly, in my relationship with God, there are acts of forgiveness that are critical to the process. In some religious traditions, the process is aided by confessing to a priest. Many less-structured groups have encouraged confession to a close confidant or a small group of close friends who have one’s best interest in mind.
Many churches include a time of confession and forgiveness as an element of Holy Communion. There is something about recognizing fault, accepting ownership for it and hearing words of forgiveness spoken that is both helpful and healthy.
Yet, when it comes to forgiving oneself few people have ever established a process of self-forgiveness similar to that experienced with our neighbor or our God. We tell ourselves internally that we should “get over it” or “learn from it” but we rarely go through any action of confession and release.
I suggest if you are having difficulty getting past the guilt of a personal mess up to, first, fully face the wrongness of what you’ve done. Don’t rationalize it, cover it up or attempt to escape it. Face it and admit it.
Next, make whatever amends need to be made. Attempting to forgive yourself without making things right is only self-deception.
Third, ensure you are right with God. A contrite heart before God and an acceptance of His forgiveness is an essential step.
Finally, openly and officially engage in some act focused on forgiving yourself. Be creative and do something that’s meaningful to you, but do something.
You may just find that a conscious act of emptying the backpack of guilt will put a new spring in your step.
Tim Schroeder is a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna. This is a regular column in Okanagan Weekend.