Have you ever had your world turned upside down by a single sentence?

Have you ever felt someone else’s words unlock a caged place within your heart?

If so, then this story is for you.

It begins with me spending a month in a residential rehab called The Clearing.

I am here for work – I’m a copywriter on The Clearing’s team, writing ebooks and essays – but I am also here for my own healing.

(They tried to make me go to rehab, and I said yes.)

On this particular day in workshop, we are learning about self-forgiveness. We are offering ourselves compassion for our judgments against ourselves and others.

Then The Clearing’s co-founder and CEO Joe Koelzer tells us, almost offhandedly, “Oh, and by the way, you don’t have to worry about asking God for forgiveness.”

At this, I cannot help but raise my hand and say, “Wait … you don’t?”

There is incredulity in my voice because Joe is speaking a language I don’t understand. The thought of not asking God for forgiveness feels utterly foreign to me.

After all, my childhood God was a God of judgment. While I met some wonderful people in my church growing up, I also absorbed a lot of ideas about working hard to be saved and not ending up in the Lake of Fire.

And while I’ve let go of some spiritual baggage, the child within me still fears not measuring up.

How many times have I prayed for forgiveness over the years? How many times have I begged the God of my understanding to please, please forgive my many mistakes and failings?

“No,” Joe says. “And I’ll tell you why not. As we’ve discussed before, here we believe that God is unconditional love.”

I nod. That much I can follow; that much feels familiar.

Joe continues, “Well, think about it. A lot of people talk about God’s unconditional love … except if you do X, Y, and Z. But that’s not actually unconditional love. By definition, there is no judgment in it.

God doesn’t need to forgive you because God never judged you.”

My eyes are deer-in-the-headlights-wide.

Joe gives me a kind smile and concludes, gently, “You were the one that judged you. But God never did.”


It’s hard to describe precisely how hard this hits me. God doesn’t need to forgive you because God never judged you.

It’s as though I have spent years in a dark room and someone has flipped on the lights. I am blinded, yet I am also seeing clearly.

Joe’s words conflict with religious doctrines that I’ve believed for most of my life. But they also cause a powerful, ring-true resonance within me. They align with every felt experience of the Divine that I’ve ever had.

My mind is incredulous – How can this possibly be? – but my heart is beating out steady affirmation: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Soon there will be tears in my eyes, but for now I am too shocked to cry. When I do find my voice, I say, “Wait. Wait. Stop the bus. Really?”


For the rest of the session, my fellow Participants will make (good-natured) fun of me for my reaction, and I will not mind.

Instead, I will feel old knots of fear falling away. I will think about the recorded words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

And as the weeks and months pass, this simple, freeing truth will return to me again and again …

God never judged me. God never judged you. There was always only love. @AWishComeClear (Click to Tweet!)

Caroline McGraw is the creator of A Wish Come Clear, a blog about getting past perfect and rising up real. Visit and receive a free copy of Getting Real & Letting Go: A Collection of Quotes for Recovering Perfectionists. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.