Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Still Learning to Forgive

What does it mean to forgive?  We all know we need to do it, and we keep hearing that we are supposed to forgive for us not for the other person.  We forgive so that we don’t become bitter and so we can move on…right…I think we all know why we forgive, but it’s the what and how that really get us.

Everyone has offenses they’ll have to forgive, and many of us have been sinned against in ways that most people wouldn’t blame us for not forgiving.  The world tells us some things are unforgiveable. 

And I keep hearing that you forgive, but not forget.  But again, what’s the difference?  Every single time that I remember what happened, it hurts all over again, even when I thought I had already let something go. 

What does it mean to forgive?

Christian psychologist Dr. Arch Hart says that “forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me,” and I think that is a pretty good place to start.  Ir means letting go of the “eye for an eye” mentality and choose to allow God to deal with that person.  Ok, that sounds good start, but I think it misses two essential things, especially if you have to continue to be in relationship with someone who has hurt you.

In my experience, one of the biggest components of really forgiving someone, is grief.  We often tend to try to cover up how much it hurt or somehow water down the offense in an attempt to forgive and move forward, but a friend used to tell me that if you keep sweeping things under the rug, eventually you are going to trip. 

When we grieve, though, we'll only make matters worse if we vent to the person who hurt us, and often even third party friendships will misdirect our grief by dramatizing or minimizing the situation.  But God will never do any of this.  Tell Him exactly how you feel, hold nothing back, even tell Him if you are mad at Him about it (don’t worry, He can handle it, I promise).  He hurts when we hurt, and bask in that…He’s the one that can actually hear our hurts and pain and feel compassion but not be brought down by our emotions.

That brings me to the next important part of forgiveness.  It’s not just about letting go of your right to hurt them back, but often it’s about letting go of them making it better.  Especially when we are close to someone who hurts us, we often take our pain to them, wanting them to make that hurt better, and many times, they can’t or won't.  In fact, the more we take our hurting hearts to them asking them to make it better, the more they usually hurt us. 

It is here that the “forgive but don’t forget” thing is vitally important.  God allows us to remember hurts to keep us from continuing to get burned.  We have to remember what happened because people often keep repeating the same behavior.

Think of a people like fire.  Flames can keep us warm, kindle our hearts, but there are substances that can ignite a fire making the flames out of control and if we stick our hand in the fire we will be burnt.  If we confuse forgetting for forgiving then we will keep repeating the same mistake and eventually become a pile of ashes.  We have to remember what caused us to get burnt.  We often have to set healthy boundaries to keep from getting burnt and remember what substances caused the flames to get out of control; in this way we can still experience the warmth but remain safe.  Then there are some fires that no amount of water or proper boundaries will contain, and in that case you always RUN!  The Bible says to flee from devouring relationships, and sometimes that is what you have to doesn't mean you are not forgiving, you are not trying to hurt them back, you are just protecting yourself. 

Thus far, in learning to forgive, God has shown me that I must first let that person go to God.  I let go of my desire to vindicate myself and give that person over to God.  Next, I tell Him how much it hurts and where it hurts, and instead of asking that person to make it better, I must let God heal it.  If they do change eventually and say/do the things I was longing for, it’s just icing on the cake, but it is not what I am holding onto to move on.  And finally, I have to remember what happened so that I can learn from perhaps giving inappropriate access to my heart to someone who is not able to handle this delicate treasure.  People are broken, but God can handle our pain and our pearls, and He is tender and trustworthy at all times.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Life Ain't Always Beautiful"

It is often our most painful moments in life that become our greatest victories.  The old saying is true, “That which does not kill you will make you stronger.”  But the key to walking through pain and heartache to strength and prosperity isn’t pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. 

Believe me, I was raised in the south too, by generations of hard working men and women who have seen themselves through hard times that you and I could never dare imagine.  And the phrases “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or “put on your big girl panties” have rung in my ears more times than I can count.  Along with “____ or get off the pot” and “mind over matter”. 

All useful sayings and often appropriate, but what happens when you have pulled yourself up and put on your big girl panties and done your business and gotten your mind in order…and the bottom still falls out from under you?  What happens then?  You are face down in the dirt, a pit even, with no way out and no one to help you.  What do you do then?  All that advice is useless and discouraging even, making you feel like you must be made of lesser substance than every one around you.

It’s in times like this that we often do what we should have done in the first place.  We cry out to Jesus.  When there is nothing and no one left, we cry out to God, even those who claim they don’t believe start saying His name.  But when I’ve reached the bottom, my most desperate and painful place, and I find myself stretched out naked on the floor unable to help myself, and I cry out to Him, desperate for help and healing, these are the times that I see something great. 

But we hate this place…we don’t like to give up control. That’s what all the bootstraps business is about – you being in charge of your life.  It sounds great, except that every last one of us at our core is a mess.  Pulling ourselves together and looking nice, even just to impress a few people for an hour or so, makes us feel in control.  But we are really not, and when we think we are is when we are in the most trouble.

Facedown in the mud, in the depth of that pit, I found the most beautiful truth – it is not control that I need.  I need to submit.  In submission to the Father there is something even better than control: Freedom, Love, Wholeness, Security, and oh sweet, precious Grace.  When we come before Him in every area, recognizing that we do not, in fact, have what it takes, He fills us with His power and we are blessed – not because we deserve it or earned it, but we are blessed out of the abundance of His riches none the less.

And you know, “should” will just only carry you so far…we all have a jacked up “want to”, and that’s what we need to be giving to Him.  Instead of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, we need to fall down on our faces before Him, asking Him to change our hearts and minds, to raise us up in desire and discipline to serve Him and with strength and wisdom to press through what life throws at us. 

If you are going through a painful time, a trying time, and your struggling…stop struggling, just fall down on the floor before the one who created you, tell Him that you can’t do this, and ask Him to change you, to see you through…you’ll never be the same.

I’ll leave you with some lyrics that God often sings to me when times are painful.  I’ve heard Gary Allan wrote this song after his wife committed suicide.  

Life ain't always beautiful
Sometimes it's just plain hard
Life can knock you down, it can break your heart

Life ain't always beautiful
You think you're on your way
And it's just a dead end road at the end of the day

But the struggles makes you stronger
And the changes make you wise
And happiness has its own way of takin' it sweet time

No,life aint always beautiful
Tears will fall sometimes
Life aint always beautiful
But it's a beautiful ride

Life aint always beautiful
Some days I miss your smile
I get tired of walkin' all these lonely miles

And I wish for just one minute
I could see your pretty face
Guess I can dream, but life don't work that way

But the struggles makes me stronger
And the changes make me wise
And happiness has its own way of takin' its sweet time

No, life ain't always beautiful
But I know I'll be fine
Hey, life ain't always beautiful
But its a beautiful ride
What a beautiful ride