A number of years ago, I made a colossal mistake that nearly did me in emotionally.
To make a long story short, I got into a relationship I should have known to stay out of. In fact, I did know - I just didn't pay attention.
There were lots of warning signs along the way, but for reasons - excuses, really - too numerous to mention, I ignored them and plowed ahead. In the end, the warnings won out and I turned back, but not in time to spare myself considerable suffering.
In the wake of all the upheaval, I battled guilt, anger, and low self-esteem. I couldn't believe I'd been so willful. And as much as I hated to, I had to admit that I'd been dishonest, too - with myself and the other person. I wished I could somehow rewrite history, erasing the experience from my life altogether.
Instead, I had to move forward. So I worked hard to tease out where and why and how I'd gone wrong in an effort to learn large enough lessons to outweigh my guilt.
To some extent this worked. I realized, for example, that all along I'd received spiritual intuitions, or messages, from God. Sometimes, they were clear as a bell, as if God were saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Isa. 30:21). I could have kicked myself for not paying attention, but at least it was comforting to know that God, good, had been urging me in the right direction.
I also learned that being a good person isn't enough to keep me out of trouble. I need God's help. It was egotistical of me to think I could rely solely on myself to know and do what was right. Instead, I needed to turn humbly to God for direction - and then to follow His lead, whether I wanted to or not.
These are key lessons, and I'm grateful for them. But teasing out truth from my mistakes didn't teach me the most important lesson of all. That came from noticing time after time that good things - big and little - kept happening to me.
Though I felt like the last person on the planet who deserved to have good come her way, God hurled blessings at me. People went out of their way to be helpful, things I'd lost turned up, my needs were met when I was short of money. I was even cured of physical problems when I had the courage to turn to God for healing.
Once I began to tally these blessings, the count soon grew so high that I had to admit God was with me - in spite of how disobedient I'd been.
That's when it dawned on me that although I'd strayed off course, I wasn't beyond God's grasp. No mistake - and no amount of suffering resulting from it - could carry me outside Love's orbit.
Then one night in a Christian Science church, I heard someone read aloud from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," written by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper. One line in particular caught my attention: "This patriarch [Abraham] illustrated the purpose of Love to create trust in good, and showed the life-preserving power of spiritual understanding" (p. 579).
Suddenly it occurred to me that the reason good continued to come my way didn't have anything to do with me personally. Divine Love was simply fulfilling its purpose - "to create trust in good." And it was working. God's unconditional love, seen in showers of blessings, was winning out over regret, self-loathing, and shame. Day by day, I found I was more able to forgive myself and more willing to follow God's lead.
I still make mistakes - though hopefully less colossal ones - and I still learn from them. More important, though, I continue to tally evidences of God's goodness in my own and others' lives. As the count increases, so does my trust in God - and my ability to put that trust into action.