Here is my confession: Through my life, in the different iterations of me–the wilder one, the irresponsible one, the uptight one, the good girl one, the anxious one, the depressed one; in each of these phases of my life, I did not always have a stellar reputation.
Quite honestly a lot of people who have crossed paths with me think (mostly rightly so) that I was a bitch, overly dramatic, overly rigid, a perfectionist, a drunk, inappropriate, irreverent, overwhelming, mean. And those are just a few.
No one wakes up wanting to be an asshole that day. I surely never meant to be those things for much of my life. But I was, because I was scared. I was scared to live wholly and truly in this world of judgments and comparisons and In Groups and Out Groups. So I cautiously, and guardedly, trudged through life expending lots of energy trying to be perfect, while casting judgments on others through sarcasm or snide remarks or humor. Careful to never let the world really see who I was. I trusted very few people with my true self.
And then one day I was just tired. I was so tired lugging around this manufactured shell of the being I thought people would like and approve of. I was so tired of doing this all alone. Because when you’re living in a place of shame or fear or judgments, you don’t let a lot of people in. So there’s not a lot of support in your times of need, in your times of fatigue, in your times of grief, in your times of joy, in your times of celebration. I thought I was strong, going it alone.
One day I realized it was one too many days of not living authentically and truly connected to others. I was never more lonely than in my marriage. I isolated myself so that I knew a lot of people, but they didn’t truly know who I was. I threw lots of parties, lots of people always came, but I didn’t know who I was. How could they know who I was? In the aftermath of my marriage ending, I came to learn that my strength was in learning to be vulnerable.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
So I chose to become vulnerable. It’s scary. It’s gotten easier, but sometimes it’s still scary. I chose to live authentically, truthfully. It can still be scary a lot of times too. It is in these moments of fear that I live now, these junctures that oftentimes lead to amazingly deep connections, that lead to Truth, that lead to being alive. I’ve become the kindest, gentlest iteration of me yet. You could say I’ve been redeemed.
But I have always cringed at the word “redemption.” Because I have an ambivalent relationship with religion. I’ve made my peace with God, but I still have an issue with organized religion. So when I hear the word “redemption,” I have a visceral reaction. Because the definition in Christianity is: “the act of saving people from sin and evil.”
So I don’t like that the baseline starts with sin. We are all flawed and we all make mistakes. But sinning is a whole other ballgame to me. There’s judgment and guilt associated with sinning–it’s reprehensible, for God’s sake. I’m not down with that. I accept that we all make mistakes. I believe we do the best we can given the resources, internal and external, we have at the time. But sinning to me implies a willful, bad act. I don’t believe we are bad or evil at the core. I don’t believe that we purposefully hurt people in general. Sometimes we do, but most times it’s inadvertent. And when we do so on purpose, it’s usually acting out in a defensive fashion to protect our egos–doing the best we can at that time.
But then I came to understand another definition of redemption as: “the act of making something better or more acceptable.” I’m more OK with this definition. Because we could all stand for some improvement.
So I’ve come up with my own understanding of redemption, which combines both definitions (and we already know I make up words, so why not definitions?). To me, it means receiving grace and forgiveness as we strive to do better. It’s about mercy. It’s about being kind to yourself. And in that process, you shine brighter and your love for yourself spills out into the world for others to soak up. It’s a lovefest. It’s not about saving people, it’s about people shining brighter.
So I am worthy of redemption. I deserve grace and mercy, and both make me a better person. An improved person who feels the loving kindness of grace and mercy then pays it forward with empathy and compassion and grace and mercy. I work on my redemption every day in those moments of fear. And it is in those moments I am notorious.