October 10, 2008

Twenty Something / Christina Capecchi

Forgiving yourself is hard to do

I bought a dress that didn’t fit in hopes it would on the day of my friend’s wedding.

It seemed, at the time, like a powerful incentive to shed a few pounds. But as the wedding approaches, I’m starting to wonder whether it will make its grand debut or if it will stay in the closet.

I’ve succeeded in exercising more, but the Halloween candy is doing me in, particularly those innocuous seeming, fun-sized candy bars.

They should carry a fine-print caution: You can eat one after another with ease and quickly consume a king-sized number of calories.

That happened to me the other night with Butterfingers. I went to bed with a stomachache and a stinging guilt. How would the dress fit now? How could I let myself go like that?

I’m generally pretty good at forgiving others. Forgiving myself is another story. I hold myself to high standards, and I’m bitterly disappointed when I don’t meet them.

St. Francis de Sales once instructed, “Deal gently and lovingly with your heart, raising it up when it falls and longing ardently for its perfection.”

What an important reminder for us high-reaching, goal-setting Americans, strivers who cancel social events and forgo hard-earned vacations days to achieve more because “losing is not an option.”

But losing is an option. And we’re rarely losing when we chose to rest or adjust an unreasonable expectation. We’re winning, gaining wisdom, maturing.

When our hearts fall, we must raise them up—a mission we have never been taught, a mandate no textbook can explain. We must develop our own devices, crafting customized formulas that lift spirits and nurture wounds.

It begins by being patient—with God and with self. We learn this from the infinitely patient French saint.

St. Francis waited years and years to pursue his religious vocation. When he attempted to convert the Calvinists back to Catholicism, he experienced defeat after defeat, door after door. Still, he pressed on. And the prolific correspondent never let a heap of unanswered letters unhinge him.

“I have more than 50 letters to answer,” St. Francis noted one day. “If I tried to hurry over it, I would be lost. So I intend neither to hurry nor to worry. This evening, I shall answer as many as I can. Tomorrow I shall do the same and so I shall go on until I have finished.”

I find that simple approach incredibly instructive in this era of high-speed Internet and multi-tasking. One by one. No sooner, no later. Inhale, exhale. Repeat.

Being gentle and loving with our hearts means acknowledging that sometimes we take on too much. We must give ourselves permission to occasionally miss the mark, to take a break, to cancel a meeting.

This is not an excuse for laziness or mediocrity. The second half of St. Francis’ advice urges that, when our hearts are high, we must long ardently for their “perfection.” But some of us need to be reminded about the first half, the gentle bit.

Right now, I’m sipping my second cup of chai tea, wrapped in a worn quilt. A cinnamon candle is burning, and I’m breathing easy. I’m not worrying about the Butterfingers or the uncrossed tasks on my to-do list. I’m focusing on the many tasks I have crossed off. I’ve accomplished a great deal.

God loves me unconditionally, readily forgiving me and bearing with me at all times. Out of deference to him, I ought to show myself a small measure of that goodness.

(Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She can be reached at christina@readchristina.com.)

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