i might have finally learned how to quit you.

(With apologies to Brokeback Mountain.)

Josh Ritter says that every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied, and I think he means love, but maybe he’s just talking about what life and other people do to you. How do we survive that tight feeling in the chest when we are hurting? The one that makes it hard to breathe, difficult to cut ties even when you want to?

Ritter’s words resonate with me because I consider myself a tightly wound person. There different ways to talk about forgiveness, but these days I think of forgiveness as an unwinding. I close my eyes and see myself following the path of a labyrinth, letting my heart loosen as I find my way out. Step by step by step.

I bought into the lie that forgiveness is a one-time deal. Of course it’s not. Of course you can’t decide one day to forgive someone and be done with it, just as you can’t decide to love someone and never have to revisit the way you feel about them. If you manage to unwind even part of whatever is tied around your heart that is keeping you from forgiveness, you should be aware that it sometimes mysteriously manages to wrap itself back up. You haven’t done anything wrong when this happens. It’s just one of the hazards of life. In fact, I think it might be a good thing because it means things are not stagnant, that you are dealing with a different aspect of what hurt you. It’s a reminder that we can choose, again and again, the posture of forgiveness rather than thinking of it as something in the past.

Over the weekend, I read Sober Mercies by Heather Kopp, and while I am not an alcoholic, I related to many parts of the story. Heather had the idea that a magical genie god would swoop in and fix things for her, and when that didn’t happen, she felt shame because her faith didn’t save her from alcoholism. I recognized myself in the need to do things to numb the pain of everyday life, whether it’s reading too much or eating too much or drinking too much or spending too much time on the internet. Heather’s story is about about grace and taking things step by step and learning to need other people. When you choose to admit addiction, you are saying that it’s part of who you are, but you are also opening yourself up to let God work. My favorite line was when she said, “Maybe surrender has to happen more than once.”

In truth, I think it has to happen every day. Not only because putting practices in place helps us be more disciplined, but because it helps us to open up space for God to move, for us to see our deep need of something greater and to give God a chance to fill it. This is where the magic happens for me, when I know that I am part of something bigger than myself.

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I have given up diet soda a couple of times this year, and then started back when there wasn’t anything else available or it was a stressful day. But I have been on the wagon again the past few weeks, and part of that has been because of active planning. I bring a mug and a box of tea bags with me every day, and when I need extra caffeine in the afternoons, I turn to that instead. If God’s mercies are new every morning, then perhaps we should accept that other things are reset as well. We get a chance to start over, but we also have to fight some of our battles again.

In January I declared that this would be the year that I would focus on being soft-hearted, and also that I didn’t really know what that meant. Almost halfway through the year, I am starting to believe that it has something to do with not feeding the thing inside me that wants to numb my pain and to do everything on my own. There are some areas where my heart is tied up in knots. Whether it was my doing or someone else’s or just the way life works out would be difficult to say. I wish the pain was over, that I could just be over it, but the flip side is that I get more chances to untangle my heart and try again. Unforgiveness, Diet Dr Pepper, that person who completely misunderstood me: I might have finally learned how to quit you, if that means that I get to try again tomorrow.

Netgalley provided me with a review copy of Sober Mercies, but my opinions are my own. I recommend it for people who like faith memoirs that aren’t afraid of being a little messy.

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