Longer: 2 times for 15 minutes
* Ask of the Holy Spirit, Who understands the meaning of forgiveness: "Let me perceive forgiveness as it is."
* Then choose a brother, under His direction.
* Now catalogue his "sins," one by one. Do not dwell on any one of them; realize you are merely using them to save the world from the belief in sin. After each one ask yourself: "Would I condemn myself for doing this?" For each time you condemn him, you do condemn yourself. Yet if you truly free him, you will free yourself. If you practice in willingness and honesty you will feel a lifting up, a deep relief, a lightening of weight on your chest.
* Spend the remainder experiencing the escape from the chains you tried to lay on your brother, but laid on yourself instead.
Shorter: in everything you do
Remember: "No one is crucified alone, and yet no one can enter Heaven by himself."
Response To Temptation: throughout the day
Whenever you forget that your brother's sins are illusions, say: "Let me perceive forgiveness as it is. Would I accuse myself of doing this? I will not lay this chain upon myself."
The main teaching of this lesson is that forgiveness, to be true, must be fully justified. It applies only to what is false. Sin, if real, cannot be forgiven (5:3-4). True forgiveness sees the nothingness of sins. "It looks on them with quiet eyes, and merely says to them, `My brother, what you think is not the truth'" (7:5).
Rather than try to expand on that main idea, which the lesson does very well, I want to focus on the results of forgiveness for ourselves, the relief it brings to us. Forgiveness is "a deep relief to those who offer it" (6:1). It wakens us from our own dreams. Even if you don't understand all the Course theory behind forgiveness, when you do forgive, when you let go of your grievances against someone and welcome them into the grace of God, you can experience the lifting of a tremendous burden from your own heart. You may not understand why that happens, but you can know that it is true. As the lesson puts it:
"...you will begin to sense a lifting up, a lightening of weight across your chest, a deep and certain feeling of relief" (16:3).
Forgiving is a very happy feeling. Why is that? Because, without realizing it, when we condemn someone else for their sins we are secretly condemning ourselves. By condemning another, I am saying, "Sin is real and deserves to be punished." If I subscribe to that principle, then I must also believe that when I sin, I too deserve to be punished. My form of "sin" may not be the one I condemn in my brother; indeed, I may be accusing him, or her, of something I think I would never do, and I imagine that because I am free from that particular fault, somehow my condemnation of another will purchase my salvation. But I have supported the principle that sin is real and deserves punishment. Inevitably I know, deep within me, that I, too, have "sinned" in some way. And if I have, I have nothing to hope for but punishment. What I apply to my brother applies to me as well.
When we are tempted to condemn someone, the lesson advises us to ask ourselves, "Would I accuse myself of doing this?" (9:3) or "Would I condemn myself for doing this?" (15:3). The words "would I" are meant in the sense of "Do I want to?" The question is not, "If I did what this person has done, would I judge myself for it?" Because if I am judging the other for it, I definitely would judge myself if I did the same thing. We usually reserve our sternest judgment for things we think we would never do, precisely because we would condemn ourselves for doing them. When we read this question, for instance, and think of a child molester, if we understand the question incorrectly we may answer, "I certainly would condemn myself if I did that!"
What the question is really asking is, "Do I want to make sin real and insist it must be punished? Because if I do, I am condemning myself to punishment also." We are laying chains of imprisonment on ourselves when we lay them on anyone (17:5; 16:4).
This is why releasing my brother from his chains brings relief to me. I am liberating myself from the principle that "sin is real and must be punished" when I liberate this other. And what a relief it is! The one who forgives, and offers escape to this other, now sees that escape is possible for himself as well:
"He does not have to fight to save himself. He does not have to kill the dragons which he thought pursued him. Nor need he erect the heavy walls of stone and iron doors he thought would make him safe. He can remove the ponderous and useless armor made to chain his mind to fear and misery. His step is light, and as he lifts his foot to stride ahead a star is left behind, to point the way to those who follow him." (12:1-5)
Forgiveness is a deep relief.
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