You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
I think this poem by Mary Oliver says a lot about forgiveness.
“You do not have to be good.”
How many hours have I wasted in existential agony, beating myself up because I’ve failed to meet a bar set too high, sometimes by my own hand? I can ask for forgiveness from God, and I can extend forgiveness to others, but can I accept forgiveness? And isn’t that a kind of sin itself, wallowing in my inadequacies, failures, shortcomings? “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Colossians 3:14
“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”
Hoarding our shames to ourselves allows them to grow. Can we take a courageous breath and share our shortcomings with another? And isn’t that a kind of grace, to give someone else the gift of our weakness, so that they can trust us enough to give us theirs? “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2
“... announcing your place in the family of things”
We are made in the image of God, called to community with the whole of creation, called to community with our neighbors, called to community with our family, called to community with our Creator. “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” Psalm 139:9-10
Instead of falling into the same old cycles of regret, despair, and self-flagellation, let me breathe these truths:
I am a child of God. A creature of the Creator, known and cherished.
Forgiven of my debts.
Rescued from the power of darkness.
Reconciled through Jesus.
More than my worst mistake.
About the Author
Sarah is the author of Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith (Zondervan, 2016) and Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really, They’re Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology (Cascade Books, 2016). She spends her days working for Evangelicals for Social Action and CreatureKind, helping Christians put their faith into action. She lives in Eugene with her husband, son, and animal companions and enjoys action movies, black coffee, the daily crossword, and dreaming of her next international journey.