It was my special day, and I was feeling joy-filled and grateful as I received a congratulatory call from a friend. Quickly, however, the tenor of the conversation became negative and critical. All the joy I had been feeling evaporated. Instead of feeling loved by my friend, I felt maligned and judged, and when we hung up I felt sad and empty. “My birthday is ruined!” I thought as I fixated on the meanness.
Then this angel message came: “Your birthday doesn’t have to be ruined. You may choose how you respond: mortal mind rumination or Christly forgiveness.”
I had been down the rumination path many times before, and I knew where it led—to unhappiness and futility. As a child, before I’d become a student of Christian Science, I had developed the habit of frequently feeling hurt by the words and actions of others. I had thought my well-being and value were a reflection of others’ opinions, so if someone expressed disapproval or unkindness, I felt hurt and angry. I blamed others for my unhappiness. I didn’t understand then that I am responsible for my thoughts and reactions. As the article “Taking Offense,” published in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, observes: “The mental arrow shot from another’s bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it” (pp. 223–224). Elsewhere in the same book, Mary Baker Eddy points out: “Mental darkness is senseless error, neither intelligence nor power, and its victim is responsible for its supposititious presence” (p. 355).
As I began the serious study of Christian Science in college, I discovered I didn’t need to be trapped in the limiting and limited thought patterns of the past. I found that the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s writings could help me chart a spiritual course for my life. Instead of always reacting to the words and actions of others, I could choose to follow Jesus’ example by having a Christly, healing response to negativity instead of an angry, hurt reaction. I realized that Jesus’ ability to forgive was an important part of the spirituality that enabled him to accomplish his resurrection. Jesus knew that hating his enemies would have separated him from feeling God’s love and direction.
I made a conscious decision not to allow anything to take away my joy, and I prayed for myself.
I also learned to replace the question, “How could they do this to me?” with “How can I respond in a more Christly manner?” I learned to stop focusing on the actions of others and how they affected me and instead focused on the quality of my own thinking. I realized I could uplift and heal negative situations instead of being drawn into and brought down by them. Over the years, I have found that reacting to error is like being a pinball ricocheting from post to post. On the other hand, turning to God for grace and direction enables us to peacefully glide through challenging situations like a graceful swan.
As I studied these ideas, I also discovered that I am approved of by God. I don’t need the approval of others to be happy or successful. I only need God’s love and direction, which are always available. I am God’s concept of me, not any mortal concept (mine or others’). If others aren’t seeing me as the child of God’s creating, they aren’t seeing the true me. I am worthy of God’s love and respect, and if I’m feeling contempt from the words or actions of others, all I have to do is open my thought to God’s comfort and guidance.
That is exactly what I did on my birthday. I made a conscious decision not to allow anything to take away my joy, and I prayed for myself.
My prayer revealed that I needed to really love myself. I quietly thought about the qualities such as intelligence, integrity, sincerity, honesty, purity, love, kindness, and forgiveness that constitute my true spiritual nature. I went to that pure place in thought where I feel God’s presence and love and where action emanating from God’s clear direction unfolds. As I identified each spiritual quality, I felt a deep appreciation and love for it. These qualities, not mortal concepts, define me. As Mrs. Eddy writes, “… conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can” (Message to The Mother Church for 1902, p. 17).
As God’s dear love washed over me, I began to pray for my friend, who I knew was experiencing a great deal of stress at the time. Instead of ruminating by listing and reacting to the meanness and negative qualities she had expressed, I turned away from what the material senses were telling me to focus on her true spiritual nature. I knew that instead of a stressed, insensitive mortal, she was actually God’s peaceful and loving spiritual idea. I changed my concept of her, bringing it into line with spiritual reality.
As I deeply forgave my friend by seeing her the way God does, my peace and joy returned. As a result, I had a wonderful birthday—and my relationship with my friend is steadily improving. I am so grateful I chose forgiveness! As Mrs. Eddy writes, “Love is the liberator” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 225).
Kathy Dunton is a Christian Science practitioner living in Wellesley, Massachusetts.