Southern PInes, Pinehurst -- the towns here are are aptly named. Pine cones litter the front gardens of houses and the edge of the golf course --enormous, prehistoric-looking pinecones, pine cones the size of footballs. I lust after them: the church back home has a Christmas Fair, with several wonderful wreath-makers already hard at work, and we don't have pine cones like these up north. I may go out this afternoon and collect a box of them. Mail it to myself.
Trees are in bloom here in North Carolina. There are already daffodils. The air is as soft as the accents.
The retreat topic was forgiveness. It's my most-requested retreat: there aren't many of us who don't have a forgiveness knot to untie, either an inability to forgive another or an inability to forgive ourselves. Or God. Or to obtain forgiveness of one we have wronged. The fog of grudge and misunderstanding hangs heavy over just about everybody, at one time or another during the course of a life.
People are usually surprised by how forgiving God is. They find it difficult to accept. They come into a retreat thinking that they'll have to work very hard to obtain pardon, and the truth is that God stands and waits at the door for us to return, arms open wide to receive us and help us learn to receive others again.
"I've tried and tried and tried to forgive him," a woman says.
"Stop trying," I say. "We can't really forgive on our own. It's not our nature. Just give up, and ask God for the gift of forgiveness. Then wait and trust that it will come. It's a gift, not a job. Like everything else in the spiritual life.
God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The prayer that ends every 12-step meeting, the prayer that's just about the only prayer you really need. Don't work hard at tasks you cannot accomplish. Give up. Let God be God. Forget whoever told you that it's always wrong to quit. Sometimes it's exactly right.
Little by little, the one who was like an allergen to you begins to look like a human being again. Understanding dawns or, at least, acceptance, which is not at all the same thing as approval. To accept the things and people we cannot change is not to approve them; our approval is not sought. Only our clear vision. And our calm. Two things we need not struggle to summon. Over time, God will give them to us if we ask. And then wait for the gift.