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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Sleight of Hand

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression: one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. At face value this seems a very odd statement indeed. Aren't our hands both parts of the same person? How can we not know what our own hands are doing? I truly don’t know the answer to that riddle, but I do have something to say about the amazing sleight of hand trick we are capable of performing when we practice self-deception. At the risk of being drummed out of the magician's union let me reveal how this trick works. Typically, it begins with a bit of indirection designed to distract the audience, namely us. We are intent on doing something; something about which we have misgivings or perhaps know is just plain wrong. On some level, we know what we are about to do is likely to be hurtful to us or to others, but we just can’t seem to avoid it. The pull toward it is powerful and we are very cunning at disguising our true motives from ourselves. While we keep our conscience occupied with justifications and arguments, the real deception takes place. Once the deed is done, and we discover that we have managed to walk right around all the moral safeguards we thought we put in place, we know we will pay a steep price. We have let ourselves down, we have let down others, and the only one left to take responsibility is us. How does this happen? In relationships, those we have with others, with ourselves, and those we have with God, trust is the keystone on which everything rests. Take it out and the whole structure collapses in an instant. When it is in place it provides a foundational building block and towering structures of love, faith and courage can rest upon it defying any attack. That is true magic. When we practice self-deception we remove that keystone; we can no longer trust ourselves, and neither can anyone else. When our conscience realizes it has been duped, guilt follows; crippling, agonizing guilt, the kind that plunges us into despair, separates us from those we love, from everyone. We are quite literally ashamed to show our face, emotionally. We ask, is there any way to undo the damage--to restore what we have shattered? Filled with remorse we seek a way back into grace, but too often we see no way back. I want to tell you that yes, we can pick up the pieces and begin to rebuild. It is not easy but the good news is that we can restore trust if we are patient, however, it will require something we are not very good at doing to restore the shattered pieces. It will take forgiveness. Seeking and giving forgiveness is tricky business under the best of circumstances—and when we are wounded or have wounded others we are not at our best. We each need to find our own path but here are some lights to guide you on your journey. First, we must forgive ourselves. That's right, I said forgive ourselves. If we cannot do that, how can we ask forgiveness from anyone else?

When we have done that--and we may have to do it several times before we accept forgiveness, then and only then, can we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt. It may seem backwards, but the shortest path to some destinations is not always a straight line. We wear our pain and infirmities –carry them with us wherever we go. When we are so burdened we are bent over and cannot see the path ahead, we see only our own feet. We are so afraid of stumbling we cannot look up, cannot face what is ahead of us with courage and confidence.

No matter how long this path to forgiveness winds it will eventually loop back to God. If we do not put things to right with him we will never be at rest. But here is the thing, he has already forgiven us. Long ago, while we were off feeling sorry for ourselves, he forgave us. He knows us very well, so well in fact that he can read what is in our heart even before we know it.

He knows that what we did was wrong and he knows we have suffered for it. So has he. He suffered for us as he stood by and watched us hurt ourselves and his other children. And yet, he loves us so much that he has wiped it all away, he has forgiven us and wiped the slate clean. God does not keep score—only we do that. Unlike God who forgives us even before we have forgiven ourselves, when we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt we need to remember that they are human just like us. They may not have the ability to bestow grace on us as readily as God. That is where the need for patience comes in. It takes a while for the cement to work, for the keystone to come back together again- for trust to be restored. If we have been in a loving relationship, if we have a strong foundation, it may be easier going but it will still take time. Love is a powerful catalyst and in its presence trust will begin to fuse together with increasing strength. We need to give it time to achieve that renewal. I have used a lot of metaphors here to make what is in essence a simple point. If the analogies work for you I am glad, but if you need a more literal explanation here it is in simpler words. When we lie to ourselves and do things that are hurtful to us or others we break the covenant that is at the heart of every relationship. The only way to put the pieces back together is to admit what we have done, and ask for forgiveness, and keep asking.

Don't indulge in self-pity, guilt, or disengagement. Keep on asking. When we have forgiven ourselves and asked God to do what he has already done we will be able to begin the work of repairing our relationship with those we’ve hurt. The rest will unfold in time but can only come about if we have taken those first steps. Finally, we must forget how to practice the behaviors that brought us to this pass. Quite literally, put them out of our mind and forget them for once and forever. Become new, stop lying to ourselves, admit our mistakes, and commit ourselves to a life without trickery.

At the heart of every lie, infidelity, and misrepresentation is a common source. Our very human neediness and fear. Fear of being found out, fear that we are not who we say we are, not whole, good, or deserving. Of course, these fears are lies, ones we invented and tell ourselves. They are not the judgement of others and certainly not how God sees us. They are no more real than any magic trick. Let them go and our lives will become so much lighter. It will unfold with a searing brilliance we cannot begin to imagine.

What do we have to lose? After all, all it takes is trust.

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