Last Saturday night, I dreamed that my writing class was holding a retreat at my childhood home. We sat around the living room of a house that no longer belonged to my family. Yet the mustiness of Connecticut’s summer humidity scented the room along with lingering smells of long-ago fires that had burned in the woodstove—home.
I slept in my old bedroom, the one with pink and white flowered wallpaper in the wing we had built when I was a teenager. I made up a bed that was not mine with sheets that were not mine. I bathed in the “girls’ bathroom,” which I had shared with my sisters. I cooked a simple meal with vegetables from the field garden that was not ours in a kitchen that was not ours, and used dishes that were not ours.
I didn’t have a key to open the door to this house and worried that perhaps I’d broken in. Is burglary what happens when you write about the past, a place where you’re not supposed to be anymore?
I know where pieces for the dream’s setting came from. Ten days ago, my writing group met at a classmate’s house, though very different from my childhood home. We mentioned the possibility of getting together for a weekend retreat in a rural setting, perhaps like my childhood home. We shared a sumptuous lunch.
The morning after the dream, in the light of day, I told myself that writing about the past shouldn’t be like trespassing—it’s my past after all, right? Ah, but there’s the rub: it’s my past. And in order to own it, I have to own up to it. Then I’m back to my greatest challenge: Step Three, turning my will and life over to God.
Thy will be done. Trust.
Every Sunday at church, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. I try to attend to the recited words instead of wandering down some rabbit hole. I’m easily distracted, and my success rate is mixed. But yesterday morning, these words came into focus:
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Surrender.
I love Anne Lamott’s take on trust and surrender. “These two things are almost all I want,” she wrote in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, “but unfortunately, neither one is my strong suit. I am very strong on blame, and wish this were one of God’s values, but trust, surrender? Letting go, forgiveness? Maybe just after a period of prayer, but then when the mood passes and real life rears its ugly head again? Not so much. I hate this, the fact that life is usually Chutes and Ladders, with no guaranteed gains.”
Every time I read, “I am very strong on blame,” I laugh at the sliver in her eye and the log in mine. Do I really want to chute down the rabbit hole of blame instead of climbing the ladder of forgiveness? Really?
From now, as I meditate before writing about the past, I’m going to pray about trust, surrender, and forgiving trespasses. As Anne Lamott wrote, “I cannot will myself into having these qualities, so I have to pray for them more often… I have to create the habit, just as I had to with daily writing, and flossing.”
I have to pray for forgiveness even as I learn to forgive. Help. I have to pray for habitual focus on the key to God’s house. Thanks. I have to pray for the courage to open that door. Wow.
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