[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]
I am a hospice volunteer, and to help me in my work I’m reading a wonderful book called The Needs of the Dying by David Kessler, an associate of the late Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. In it there is a beautiful story that illustrates the teaching of A Course in Miracles that every situation, no matter how difficult or painful it may seem, provides us with a precious gift: the opportunity to forgive.
This is the story of Ronald and Shirley, a couple whose pleasant retirement was shaken by the news that Ronald had coronary artery disease and would need triple bypass surgery. This was awful news, to be sure; there was a real chance that Ronald would not survive. But Shirley says that within this devastating turn of events was a “little gift”:
It’s gotten us to look back on life, talk about some things we never talked about before, and forgive each other for things we did. We’ve been able to forgive ourselves, accept life just as it is, and be grateful for all that has happened. Ron said that he realized that his life could end anytime and he wanted to get rid of all the grudges he was carrying. He wanted to forgive people. (p. 96)
Facing the real possibility of impending death, Ron “wanted to get his house in order. He wanted to enjoy life and be at peace inside.”
As it turned out, Ronald got through his triple bypass surgery just fine and was soon living an active life again. Over the next several years, he and Shirley enjoyed their time in retirement together, traveling, taking walks, and doing volunteer work for their church. They also continued their forgiveness work: Shirley says, “We wanted to get rid of our anger and resentment.” Their life was wonderful.
But then, tragedy struck: One evening, Ronald went to the kitchen while he and Shirley were having dinner. He suffered a massive heart attack and died on the spot. Shirley went into the kitchen a few minutes later and discovered him dead on the floor. But even in this dark moment, Shirley found solace in the fact that in his final years, Ronald’s forgiveness work had brought him a large measure of peace:
I called 911, then I lay down on the floor next to him. I felt his soul in my heart. I felt that he was okay and at peace. I lay there with tears coming out of my eyes, telling him how excited I felt when we first met. I caressed his face and said how grateful I was to have met him. Even now, when I think of Ronald dying in the kitchen, it comforts me to know that he’d examined his life and found peace for the most part. And that’s where he died, in peace. (p. 97)
This whole story reminds me so much of Workbook Lesson 193, “All things are lessons God would have me learn.” Now, normally when we hear that line, we think of the conventional idea that all the painful events that happen to us are “lessons” sent to us by God or “the universe” to facilitate our growth. In this view, each different event presents a different lesson, so our task is to figure out what the lesson is. Eventually, we may come up with something like “My divorce taught me to take care of myself first” or “My triple bypass taught me how important it is to eat right and exercise.”
But Lesson 193 has a completely different take on the “lessons” idea. Painful events are never sent by God; they are products of our identification with the ego. And the usual “lessons” we try to glean from them are actually the ego’s lessons, for they are lessons that reinforce the apparent reality of the ego’s world. How, then, are all things lessons God would have us learn? According to Lesson 193, within the painful events the ego has brought to teach us its many lessons, the Holy Spirit has embedded His one single lesson. “These are the words the Holy Spirit speaks in all your tribulations, all your pain, all suffering regardless of its form”:
Forgive, and you will see this differently. (W-pI.193.5:2,1)
All of our pain is really caused by unforgiveness, so in the Holy Spirit’s eyes, the lesson our pain really gives us the opportunity to learn is forgiveness. This is how all things are lessons God would have us learn.
It seems to me that this was the main lesson Ronald and Shirley learned from facing Ronald’s triple bypass surgery. Now, since they are not Course students, I doubt very much that they concluded that all of their pain was caused by unforgiveness. But facing this distressing event got them to reflect on their lives and realize that they were carrying a lot of grudges, anger, and resentment. They realized that they really wanted peace instead of this. And they realized that the way to peace was to forgive other people and themselves, to let go of the baggage they were carrying. The “little gift” they found in Ronald’s triple bypass was the gift of forgiveness. They devoted the rest of their lives to opening this priceless gift. And by the time Ronald died, it seems that both of them had, to a significant degree, found the peace they sought.
Lesson 193 tells us, “This is the lesson God would have you learn: There is a way to look on everything that lets it be to you another step to Him, and to salvation of the world” (W-pI.193.13:1). That way is forgiveness, and that way is what Ronald and Shirley found. What about you? As you look upon the painful events in your life, can you see in them another step to God and to salvation of the world? Can you see in them the gift of forgiveness?
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