What forgiving is and isn’t, part 1

The trained response and the myth

On Easter Sunday morning, Meagan sent me a one-word text that gave me a feeling of celebration and made me laugh at the same time. Brandon asked me what I was laughing about and when I told him, he understood. Meagan sent me Ha-loo-lie! Recently I told her that when Logan was little, that’s how he said Hallelujah! It was precious beyond words. My pal Meagan brought some preschooler joy into Easter morning. That’s a beautiful thing. It really is. Sometimes a single word can say so much.

Ages, stages and sayings
Ha-loo-lie! makes me think about the different ages and stages of life and the different sayings we use at different times in our lives. Today on Choosing Peace, we’ll be looking at an old saying, among other things.

During different stages of my life, I’ve misunderstood forgiving—what it is and what it isn’t. In each part of this post, we’ll be unpacking many of the different aspects of what forgiving is and what it isn’t. It’s a good thing to explore.

I often call the people I grew up with the people in the house because the word family has certain implications that don’t fit. At all. Growing up, none of the people in the house ever said, “Will you forgive me?” My parents never said, “I’m sorry.” They never apologized for anything. Ever.

The trained response
When someone other than my parents said “I’m sorry,” I was taught to say “That’s okay.” But here’s the problem. It wasn’t okay. At all. And that was part of the sickness—giving us rehearsed sayings to regurgitate—sayings that didn’t make any sense. When I think about this particular trained response—“That’s okay”—I scrunch up my face. Is it polite? Supposedly. Truthful? Certainly not. Helpful? Epic failure.

I’m not really sure who taught us to say “That’s okay” when somebody apologized. Was it the TV shows we watched? Was it my parents? Was it my teachers? Was it the people at church? I really don’t remember. But it was the pervasive teaching in that department. It was what we all said. And it was a serious problem because it was a lie.

The letter
The Good-bye Letter I wrote to my high school boyfriend is a good example. (See this post for more about what a Good-bye Letter is. Here are some hints: It isn’t mailed; it’s for me; it’s very therapeutic. Happy healing….)

Letter to a former boyfriend
September 9, 2018

…Surprisingly, I saw you at a reunion for our youth group years ago. Even though I was afraid that my wacko sister, the narcissist, might be there, I knew that the Holy Spirit wanted me to go. You were there. We sat by each other, yacked and caught up….

You apologized to me that night for the way you treated me. You’d been looking for me for 10 years to apologize to me. I accepted your apology and forgave you. But I didn’t say the right thing. I said “That’s okay.” It wasn’t okay. Nothing about it was okay. I should have said, “I forgive you.”

So here I was, reasonably-well-advanced in years, and I fell back into that ridiculous “That’s okay,” knee-jerk reaction to an apology. And it was an important apology. Yes, I truly had forgiven him when I was a teenager, without reservation. But why did I say the wrong thing at the reunion? Why?

I could have said something that actually made sense. I could have said, “I accept your apology.” I could have said, “I forgive you.” But I didn’t. Why?

Was it that Old Relationship = Old Habits thing or what? Hmmm. I don’t really know.

The trained response—I mean train wreck—known as “That’s okay” brings us to Point #1 about forgiving. Forgiving is not condoning.

Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning.
When we condone, we disregard something that’s wrong—sometimes seriously wrong. We do this with our silence and we do it when we say “That’s okay.” Yea, verily. It’s like giving someone a high-five for punching you in the gut.

Forgiving is not me saying any of these kinds of things: “What you did was okay. It was no big deal. It really didn’t matter. It was acceptable. It was—dare I say—commendable.” Uhhh, not hardly. (Now there are times when someone apologizes and we truly disagree that any wrong was done. That’s a different scenario.)

Truth and focus
We’ll be proceeding with the understanding that harm was done, perhaps great harm. We aren’t exaggerating about what happened, but we aren’t minimizing it either. We’re looking at the situation truthfully. No hiding. No secrets. No denial. No excuses. No drama. No exaggerating. No minimizing. Our focus must be on the truth.

Let me warn you about a common distraction—The Quest for Another’s Intentions. Why do we go around and around in our thoughts, trying to figure out someone else’s intentions? Talk about getting lost in a maze with no way out. Actually—here’s a better analogy. Intension Seeking is a long game at Futile Field and you always lose. Been there; done that. Bottom line? It’s a serious distraction. Don’t waste your time there.

Not okay
We can wrong each other by what we do, what we fail to do, what we say and what we fail to say.

When I forgive someone who wronged me,
I’m not denying the seriousness or the impact.

In other words, forgiving does not mean ignoring the truth. When I forgive, I need to forgive with honor, with my eyes and heart open—acknowledging the truth of what happened and how it impacted me.

When I forgive, I’m not saying, “That’s okay.” Say it with me, Peaceful Readers: “It wasn’t okay.” If it would feel good to yell It wasn’t okay!—go and sit in your car by yourself and go for it. Take a deep breath…. It! Wasn’t! Okay! There. Much better. Rewind and repeat as many times as you’d like. I mean it. You’ll know when you’re done. (See this post to read about my yell-fest in my big red truck after my mom died.)

Therapeutic letters
Is it time for you to write a therapeutic letter or two? Read this post to learn about writing an anger letter—The Hour of Power. A Good-bye Letter blends an anger letter and a Letter of Gratitude—covering the highs and lows of a relationship. These letters are extremely therapeutic. They help us get the feelings out of us and they help us achieve closure.

Did you notice in the excerpt from the letter to my high school boyfriend that I didn’t even write his name in the title of the letter? That may give you a small indication of the extent to which his behavior was oh-so-bad, oh-so-disrespectful, oh-so-harmful. I won’t bore you with the details. Needless to say, it was bad. Very bad for me. Or was it?

Step 1
When I broke up with him for the last time, I started learning how to stand up for myself. In that way, this harmful relationship led me to The Healing Journey. For that, I’m grateful. Breaking up with him—and meaning it—was Step 1 of The Healing Journey. And I didn’t have any idea at the time. In fact, I didn’t realize that it was Step 1 until I wrote this paragraph. Very profound.

I began The Healing Journey when I was 15 years old. Guess what happened 18 years later. God reached down and saved my soul. I gave my heart and life to Jesus! God’s been working in my life for a very long time.

For me, forgiving my high school boyfriend was a part of my step into The Healing Journey. I forgave him long before he asked for my forgiveness. And that, Peaceful Readers, brings us to Point #2 about forgiving. Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

Point #2: Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
In other words, I do not have to wait for a gift-wrapped or sincere apology in order to forgive. More to the point—the shorter the time between an offense and my decision to forgive, the better off I’ll be. Easier said than done sometimes. Don’t I know it.

Point #2 is a big one—a really big one—so I’ll say it again.

Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

We can experience unimaginable devastation when we get lost in the misconception that says: “No Apology = No Forgiving.”

Jessie and Blake
One day I witnessed this devastation first-hand. It was a serious roadblock—a dark, spiritual stronghold, as they say.

I was sitting in a support group. This sweet lady—I’ll call her Jessie—was bawling because of her ex-husband’s taunting and unbelievable emotional abuse about a specific, traumatic event in her life. Let’s call him Blake The Snake or just Blake, for short. He did something really sick and sadistic to Jessie. Blake twisted the knife in her heart and mind in the most twisted way. And he laughed while he did it. He laughed at her shock and pain. It was horrifying.

Jessie seemed chained to Blake and to this one particular thing that he did—like a scene from a horror movie that frequently replayed in her mind. Blake probably never gave it another thought, unless he got a sick kick out of it, like the typical sociopath’s free entertainment at someone else’s very-traumatized expense.

The despair
Jessie and Blake were divorced and didn’t have any contact with each other. And yet, Jessie was crying uncontrollably because Blake never apologized for what he did to her. She would not admit what was quite obvious to the rest of us. (1) He would never apologize for it, and (2) they were not in contact for very appropriate and healthy reasons, not the least-of-which being the fact that she was remarried. Boundaries, people.

And there she sat in extreme despair, locked up in this issue. Jessie cried out, “He never apologized!” We very lovingly told her, “He’s never going to apologize.” She would have to continue The Healing Journey—and forgive Blake—without The Gift-Wrapped Apology.

The gift-wrapped apology
What, exactly, is The Gift-Wrapped Apology? It has three parts and it goes like this. Hey. That sounds like a catchy line in a song. “It has three parts and it goes like this….”

The first and most important part of The Gift-Wrapped Apology is the gift itself. This gift sits inside an attractive, sturdy box. The gift is a complete acknowledgment of what they did wrong, including the pain their actions caused—with remarkable insight and compassion to see things from your point of view. That’s quite a gift, isn’t it? The second part of The Gift-Wrapped Apology is the wrapping paper. That’s the sincerity, with absolutely no ulterior motive involved. That sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Sparkly, even. And, last but not least, the third part is the fluffy, luxurious bow on The Gift-Wrapped Apology. That’s the clearly-communicated remorse—major regret—perhaps with a promise to never do it again. Goodness. Miracles never cease.

The fantasy
Now I realize that I sounded a little sassy in the paragraph above. But—seriously, people. Sometimes we have this fantasy in our minds that The Gift-Wrapped Apology would magically undo or fix everything, like some cosmic Trauma Eraser. And it doesn’t. It doesn’t. The Gift-Wrapped Apology doesn’t undo the trauma and/or the loss. It doesn’t eliminate the short-term or the long-term impact on our lives. It doesn’t erase the memories or the feelings. It doesn’t get rid of the fall-out, which can include bitterness, spinning thoughts, unforgiveness and much more.

The myth
The Gift-Wrapped Apology—something that is so idolized—is a destructive myth. We dream of receiving The Gift-Wrapped Apology when we say or think things like this: “If only he/she/they would apologize for _________, that would fix everything.” Not true, Cindy Lu. Heavy sigh.

We idolize The Gift-Wrapped Apology because we want a quick, easy fix to a rather complex problem. The problem of pain. The problem of trauma. The problem of abuse. The problem of neglect. The problem of loss. We dream that there’s a magic pill that we can take that will immediately fix all the pain, the memories, the problems. We think The Gift-Wrapped Apology is that magic pill. And it isn’t.

We have a natural inclination to run from our problems and the feelings we don’t like. That’s what the myth of The Gift-Wrapped Apology is all about.

The healing journey
We have to take The Healing Journey, one step at a time. We have to do the work of grieving. In the last series, we covered the many facets of grieving. Here are some excerpts from Time for Grieving, part 1—about grieving, forgiving and loving God—the three aspects of Artful Living.

Artful living
Peace is not a place without suffering or pain. Understanding and embracing this truth will change your life and the way you live it.

Moving toward mastery
Peace is a place where you’ve mastered the steps of The Healing Journey—having learned, practiced and mastered the work involved in (1) The Art of Grieving, (2) The Art of Forgiving* and (3) The Art of Loving God. If you ignore or refuse to participate in any of these three areas, you can’t live a peaceful life. Something at the core of peaceful living will be missing or unresolved. Also, if you start the work of grieving or *forgiving, but fail to successfully complete the work, here again—you’ve chosen to forego peace….

Hold fast
Yes, grieving is hard work. Lean in to God. Hold fast to God….

Whether you feel like you’re slipping and falling down or standing tall and steady, hold fast to God. We talked about building a right relationship with God in the series about sociopaths—especially in the five-part post called Thanksgiving. We’ll talk more about building that relationship in this series and why it’s so crucial to The Healing Journey….

Peace in the storm
Surprisingly, to some people, even while you’re doing the work of grieving or the *work of forgiving, you can experience peace—if you’ve given your heart lovingly, devotedly to God through Jesus Christ his son. There will be struggles. There will be pain. There will be conflicts within your own mind (and sometimes with other people). There will be painful emotions. There will be tears. And much more….

The glimmer
But amid all this pain and strife, you can feel the glimmer of peace—a quiet comfort—at the same time. This peace assures you that you’re taking the right journey at the right time for the right reasons….

*Addendum: Please note this correction. Forgiving is not a process. It is a choice.

And we have to forgive in order to move forward and lay down the traumas of the past. Sometimes, like in Jessie’s case, forgiving is much easier said than done.

Thank you for joining me today and for Choosing Peace.

Coming next: We’ll dig into The Gift-Wrapped Apology more in the next post. We’ll also reflect on the word deserve, as it relates to forgiving. Come back next time for some serious Frankie Ann sass and more.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Psalm 36:5-10

Song for Healing: “God of All My Days” by Casting Crowns

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