When we find ourselves overwhelmed with regret over something we’ve done, either intentionally or unwittingly, what can we do? I’ve learned through my study of Christian Science that a flawed human history, including past mistakes, can be put off, because healing and transformation through Christ bring newness and wholeness. No matter how difficult our situation may look, we can find redemption and solutions by turning to God.
This idea was sweetly and modestly illustrated to me several years ago, during a winter of heavy snowstorms and freezing temperatures, when my daughter and I rescued a bird stuck in the crevice between a roof-high pile of snow and our sliding glass door. The bird, a robin, was upside down and looked as if he was frozen.
Turning away from the spectacle briefly, I had a simple thought: “That bird’s life is not in his body, not in his feathers or tail or wings, not in matter at all.”
In my study of the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, I had been gaining an understanding of being, made clear in the first of the two contrasting creation accounts in Genesis, which declares that God made all there is. This led me to affirm that life and movement have their source in divine Spirit and are never limited or defined by matter.
After thinking about this for a bit, I heard scratching. The robin was indeed alive. We opened the glass door and let him slip into a box, away from the packed ice and snow.
After about two hours in a crate, where he ate raisins we gave him from our cupboard, he let us know with a lot of racket that he did not belong in the crate. He was lively, and in spite of the cold, we opened the crate outside. He shook himself, flew to the garage roof, briefly looked back, and flew off.
That robin came to himself with a new sense of freedom. He did not belong in the crate any more than he had belonged stuck upside down between the door and the snowbank. He needed to be flying off to do what robins do. He had a new lease on his robin-life in Spirit, not in matter.
This experience showed me that it was quite simple to shake off the bird’s earlier, mortal history. Accepting the creature’s God-given health and freedom was a logical conclusion based on the understanding of every creature’s true, spiritual origin. It was clear how important it is to keep the truth of being foremost in thought so the chains of mortal belief cannot bind, but must fall away.
This idea is illustrated significantly and much more vividly in the story of Paul in the Bible. Paul’s human history as the zealous Pharisee Saul of Tarsus had included rounding up Christians to be executed. On his way to Damascus to commit more persecution, Saul was struck blind and heard Christ Jesus speaking to him. Jesus gave him a new mission—to shepherd the developing Christian Church. Paul (as he was later known) never questioned this command, and he never looked back (see Acts 9:1–22).
Quite a while after his conversion, Paul was on the island of Melita after a shipwreck. As he put a bundle of sticks on the fire, a viper sprang out of the heat and fastened on his hand. Perhaps knowing Paul had been a prisoner on the ship, the island people suspected he was a murderer who was now being punished by God with a venomous snakebite.
Past mistakes can be put off, because healing and transformation through Christ bring newness and wholeness.
Paul might have been tempted to believe that his past history justified the suspicion of the people, and that their superstition about the viper fastening onto a murderer’s hand might have had some truth to it. But that’s not what happened. Paul’s conversion to Christianity had been so complete that he’d lost any sense of himself as associated with murder. Just as the picture of the robin upside down and frozen had nothing to do with how God created the bird as His idea, so Paul’s previous history had nothing to do with his true, spiritual identity as God created him. He was so sure of this spiritual identity, eternally inseparable from God, that his human history no longer had any negative hold on him.
Having accepted Christ’s calling, and having turned obediently in the direction of God and the goodness God maintains in His children, Paul acted from the standpoint of life in and of Spirit, knowing that nothing could separate him from the love of God (see Romans 8:38, 39). There was no bondage of lingering guilt, nothing from his past to which an erroneous belief could cling. “And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm” (Acts 28:5).
This story assures us that we can break free from mortal history because “the old man,” as Paul put it (see Ephesians 4:22), the one identified with a mistaken view of what one should be or do, was never real and cannot remain to evoke guilt for wrong thinking and doing that has been forsaken. With a growing awareness of one’s spiritual identity, there can be no fear of backlash or recurrence of problems triggered through memory or personal association.
Many years ago, some mistakes I’d made seemed irreversible. Through legal complications I was not aware of, I became involved in a loan that was due on a very large property. There were no prospects for selling the property, so this meant that everything we owned was in jeopardy. We would have to file for bankruptcy in three days.
I felt shame and guilt for being so naive and unaware that my name was on the loan. Facing bankruptcy and the stigma attached to it seemed more than I could bear. For three days I struggled, trying to pray but always feeling that this was a mark on my character I would never be able to erase. By the third day, I was so exhausted with self-condemnation, anger, and fear that I felt like giving up.
But then this thought came to me: “Even if you have to go through bankruptcy, you still have God.” Contemplating the truth of this statement, I felt a huge weight drop away. Knowing that nothing could separate me from God brought such a lightness and brightness that I could hardly believe I had struggled so long. What a turning point!
Minutes later the phone rang. Quite unexpectedly someone was offering to buy the property, and he was prepared to close in thirty days. The bankruptcy was averted. But the most remarkable part of the experience was that quieting realization of God’s ever-presence.
Gratitude for what I’d learned was great, yet still lurking was the suggestion that I had been prey to deceit and financial difficulty, and that I was still vulnerable. That’s where Paul’s story of shaking off the viper brought a new sense of freedom. The experience of knowing God was with me did not fit with a recurring fear that something bad would happen. The sense of God’s presence could only grow, and with that growing understanding, no claim of evil or discord could cling. There could be no compulsion to believe that an earlier fault would come back to bite me.
In the textbook on Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, we have this assurance: “In Christian Science there is never a retrograde step, never a return to positions outgrown” (p. 74). This helped me see that the growth I had gained from this experience was real, that I had grown out of the false sense of what I was or had done. The only thing that remains and continues is the wonderful lesson that God is ever present and is maintaining my spiritual identity as the reflection of His goodness.
Other vipers that may seem to cling or come back to bite us might appear in the form of personality traits, addictive tendencies, or symptoms of some ailment remembered. The viper that clung to Paul’s hand had mass superstition supporting its claim. Similarly, public thought or aggressive advertisements may support fears that we know are actually false. But regardless of what the material senses are claiming, the realization that we are inseparable from God, protected and governed by Him, enables us to shake off the vipers of false belief.
A new sense of life, aligned with divine Life, lifts us out of the false history of self, of sickness or sin, out of the frustrated mentality that says, “That’s just the way I am.” No threat of a backward step comes from God. Forward steps are founded on Truth, not error. Every healing experience teaches us to trust God more and to follow Christ.
Just as it was natural for the robin to fly to freedom, it is natural for us in practicing Christian Science to have a lively and clear sense of what is true and real and to soar free from images of injury or burdens of guilt, anger, or sickness. No matter what the human circumstance, it is possible to yield all to God, shake off mortal sense, and follow Christ unimpeded.
Where the motive to do right exists, and
the majority of one’s acts are right, we should avoid referring to past mistakes.
—Mary Baker Eddy
Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 130
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