In my drinking days, I could never get enough of anything. I was a bottomless pit of needs and wants. I “deserved” comfort and forgiveness. I “deserved” love and joy delivered to me on a silver platter in return for all the love and generosity I supplied others. Cause isn’t that how life works? Tit for tat. I buy you dinner and next time you buy mine? I helped you with your work. Now you help me with mine. Never once was there a sincere, genuine gift made without any thought of reciprocity. No, everything had returned postage.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace.
That where there is hatred, I may bring love;
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
That where there is despair, I may bring hope;
That where there are shadows, I may bring light;
And that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather
To comfort, than to be comforted,
To understand, than to be understood,
To love, than to be loved;
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
It is in dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. (Twelve and Twelve Page 99).
Therefore, that the first time I read the St. Francis Prayer (known to AAs as the Eleventh Step Prayer), I was in shock. I practically I looked around for an imaginary audience in order to say, “Do you see this? Do people do that? Do people love without love in return?” I thought that while the St. Francis Prayer may be all very good in theory, no one actually lived that way.
Occasionally, I speak to my students about how we can have gaps in our educational progress. We can get through high school, lead full, productive lives without ever fully grasping how a semicolon functions or why you can’t take a square root of a negative number.
I missed how to forgive. Looking back, I am embarrassed by how little I understood any sort of spiritual life. I was raised well. I went to church. And yet, I became a full-fledged adult who had no capacity for the faults of humanity. Instead, I had some odd philosophical, faulty wiring that told me that if I forgive people who had clearly wronged me, that I would be acquiescing my morally superior ground. Some acts are just unforgivable and if I forgive you, I have somehow lessened your sin to the level of forgivable sins. I use to like that saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.” I used the spirit of self-preservation as a mean to justify hurtful behavior. But the truth is, it is easier not to talk to people than to talk to them. It is easier to be indignant than to be kind. It is easier to become hardened than it is to remain vulnerable. And it is easier to be angry than it is to forgive.
It has taken me a long time to fully understand the wisdom of St. Francis’ words. It did not come overnight. I learned from feeling others love me before I had any capacity to love in return. When I wanted so badly for someone to understand me, I learned first that I must take the time to understand someone else. It came from me making mistakes and watching others either take the path of forgiveness or non-forgiveness. And it took me asking myself which person I would rather be.
I believe in the spiritual experience of AA. I believe that God can enter a person’s heart and alter their spirit. But I also believe a person can just make the simple choice to be better. I think we can just practice at understanding. We can practice at forgiveness. And tomorrow, if I don’t get the love I feel I am deserved… well, I’ll still love ya anyways.