“Contentment consists not in adding more fuel, but in taking away some fire.” -Thomas Fuller
For many years when my parents used to send me gifts, I tried to make light of the many ridiculous, worthless bargains that made their way to my door in the holiday season. It wasn’t the gift itself, but the reflection of how invisible I felt with them. Worse still, the holiday dinners where my ancestry and the emotional wreckage in our lineage was the first lens through which I was perceived, made the gifts problem silly. Without fail, some discord would erupt and there I was again, marinating in the frying pan of my past, searing commentary bubbling up around me and the familiar sensation of holding back the tears burning in my eyes. I couldn’t help myself, I would have to jump into the fire, even though as a child, I knew it would only be adding fuel to the dysfunction that I knew as my family. For a long time, it was the only way out.
Over the years, I have come to understand how emotional fire can be healing, too. It has taken time to learn the trick of using the fire of the past as fuel for my own personal transformation. There is a kind of alchemical magic, a unique transcendent form or self-love that occurs when we have the guts to embrace the heat of the moment and process it in our own inner fire, instead of being fodder for the searing blaze that keeps most families bound and estranged simultaneously.
The alchemy is ignited as we burn off the shameful residue that sticks to us long after the painful stories have ended. Shame strengthens our identity with our most harmful relationships because we believe we have something to hide and it is always what remains hidden that has the strongest hold over our lives. Burning off our shame internally forces the old stories and dysfunctional relationships into the light. What becomes clear when we stop feeling ashamed about where we came from is that we are worthy of forgiveness no matter how many times we made it worse by jumping into the flames of our burning families.
Believing in our own worthiness, to love, to be loved, and to be accepted as we are is the only gate that keeps most of us away from the healing urn of forgiveness. This is the space when the old truly dissolves into less than memory and becomes more like a building block to our truer self. The challenging thing about finding this space is that it isn’t something we can make happen. Rather, it is in the surrendering of our shame, the grasping of our worthiness and the faith that something else can happen for us that creates this most miraculous experience of life renewed.
For years I worked to try and find this place of forgiveness within my relationship to my father. It continually eluded me. I couldn’t be with him for long before one of his off-handed, cruel comments would send me back into the shame of where I had come from. Many a Christmas I would despair about my own inability to let go of the shame and worthlessness that would dominate how I saw myself in his presence.
Forgiveness enveloped me after his death in a way that I could never have anticipated. And yet, all of the efforts that I had made to release the past, surrender my shame and love myself somehow invisibly coalesced into a peaceful and loving relationship with his memory and an appreciation for all the gifts I couldn’t witness when he was alive.
What rebirth story are you going to give yourself this Christmas? It is waiting for you.