What forgiving is and isn’t, part 2


The first time I ate cheese on chips—this thing called nachos—I thought to myself, Why in the world would anyone put cheese on chips? These two things do not go together. This is stupid beyond words. Then I had to eat my words because I learned in fairly short order that nachos rock. Yum.

Has there been a time in your life when you thought two things didn’t go together and then you changed your mind?

The quarantine
To be perfectly honest, I was nervous about all three of us being home during this COVID-19 quarantine. Brandon and I would both be working from home for the first time and Logan would be using Zoom and other technology to do his school work at home.

Third day
On the third workday that we were all home—Logan in the room to my right and Brandon in the room to my left, with me in the middle on the couch—I realized that I absolutely loved it. What an epiphany. I didn’t just dig wearing sweats, fuzzy socks and my big, sloppy clothes. I also enjoyed not brushing my hair. Yes, I can admit that. What was happening? Was it more than the sloppiness, the extra sleep, and not spending one to three hours a day in the car? It sure was.

Something else was blossoming between us: All-Day Familiarity. We became an All-Day Family. It was something brand-new. I was blessed to hear their voices. My appreciation for them and for what they were doing went way up. And I really enjoyed the times when we ate lunch together on the porch. The all-day time together brought our relationships to a whole new level—a level that I didn’t realize was missing before. Thanks be to God.

Fifth day
On the fifth workday with us all home, I woke up with these words in my head, …a place called home. I wrote a poem that day.

In a similar way to my discoveries about nachos and quarantine time, today we’ll discover how two very, very important things go together. But first, let’s unpack Point #2 a little more.

Last time on Choosing Peace, we looked at two key points about forgiving:
Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning.
Point #2: Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.

Point #2: Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
There’s a lie hiding somewhere in this common thought, “No Apology = No Forgiving.” It’s actually a twofold lie that says, “(1) Because you didn’t apologize to me, you aren’t remorseful; and (2) since you didn’t apologize, I don’t have any reason to forgive you.”

Looking and looking
Let’s debunk the first part of that lie. You may remember this story from the last post. I saw my high school boyfriend for the first time in decades at a youth group reunion. He looked for me for 10 years to apologize to me. That’s pretty remarkable. Clearly, the lack of an apology doesn’t mean there’s automatically a lack of remorse.

Sometimes people can’t find each other. Sometimes communication needed to be terminated due to safety issues like crime, abuse or severe mental illness. Sometimes people don’t make contact in order to respect the other person’s clearly-communicated boundaries (i.e., “Don’t contact me again”). That reminds me of this post about boundaries with my ex-husband. These examples remind us why some apologies remain unsaid. Obviously, there are a kajillion examples of not apologizing for the usual reasons: fear, pride, laziness, etc. Ugh.

The second part of the lie above states this: “(2) Since you didn’t apologize, I don’t have any reason to forgive you.” That is flat-out incorrect, because it assumes that there’s no reason to forgive other than fulfilling someone else’s request. It assumes that forgiving is only good for the other person. No, no, Cindy Lu; that really isn’t true.

There are many reasons why forgiving other people is essential for me and for my relationships, which begs the question: How is forgiving good for me, for others and for my relationship with God? What does it really do in my life? We’ll begin to explore the answers to those questions today. In the first post in this series, I wrote a preview about these things. “Remember, forgiving is like taking out the trash in my own heart and mind. And that, Peaceful Readers, is a beautiful thing. From big, ugly, smelly, disgusting, angry mess to clean, peaceful, beautiful clarity. You’ll see….”

This bring us to Point #3 about forgiving: Forgiving is essential for me and my relationships.

Point #3: Forgiving is essential for me and my relationships.
The first place where we learned about relationships was in the family we each grew up in. Some families get things right. Others don’t. We may have learned, to a great extent, what not to do. Even with the pain and disappointment involved in that reality, we can move forward, hand-in-hand with God, and ask him What now?

Why did God create families? Let’s do a little rewind and repeat from the first series.

What is the family’s purpose? The family was created as the essential, cohesive group needed to enhance life by providing (1) a safe, nurturing environment to sustain and grow that life, and (2) the people and the place to experience, practice and learn how to live the way our creator intended—giving and receiving love and truth (simultaneously).

Where, when, why?
The place, time and circumstances of your birth and early life were not an accident or a punishment. It was all purposeful. For more on this subject, read the final post in the Grieving series.

Truths and principles
When we didn’t learn truths and Godly principles in the family where we grew up, we have the opportunity to learn those things on The Healing Journey and in our relationship with God. It is not his intention to keep us in the dark. God makes himself known to us through his divinely-inspired, revealing, life-transforming word—the Bible. He also makes himself known to us through the Holy Spirit.

What forgiving does for me
The truths and Godly principles that I needed to learn—either while I was growing up or on The Healing Journey—will help me as I apply them to my relationships. Here’s an example of a key truth I needed to learn about forgiving.

Usually when people hurt me, I acknowledge it and remember it. Whether the harm was thoughtless or intentional, the negative impact ties me to them—sometimes with a very heavy chain—until I forgive them. The memories, thoughts and feelings chain me to what the other people did, and I’m the only person who can take the chain off my neck. How? I break the chain and it falls off me when I forgive them—one person or one incident at a time.

The other people are usually totally unaware of the chain around my neck. It isn’t around their necks. It’s around mine. Forgiving releases other people from owing me something. It cancels their debt. But what it does most of all is this. Forgiving releases me from being chained to painful experiences and/or relationships.

Forgiving releases me.

Affected by others
When someone has wronged me—by what they did or didn’t do or by what they said or didn’t say—something in me was negatively affected. I was distracted, misled, hurt, damaged and/or broken. In other words, I was affected, maybe in a tiny, seemingly-insignificant way or maybe in a catastrophic, traumatic way—or somewhere in between. Other people’s behavior affects us. (I usually call it impact.)

Admitting = doing
Sometimes we don’t want to admit this reality—I’m affected by other people—because admitting that truth means I need to do something about the negative things other people leave behind in my life. I need to deal with the window they broke or the front door they left wide open. The broken window = what they did. The wide-open door = the impact/fall-out: vulnerability, fear, pride, anger, denial, sadness, intrusive thoughts, depression, anxiety, difficult relationships, nightmares, addictions, self-destructive behaviors, PTSD, etc.

Pretending and substituting
For some of us, it’s easier and safer to pretend that other people don’t affect us. To pretend that we’re impenetrable, walled fortresses of self-sufficiency. It may feel safe to live behind stone walls, but there are serious consequences for that mindset and way of life. No one gets in to hurt you, but no one gets in to love you or befriend you, either. Do you know someone like that? What a lonely and sad way to live. Yes, it’s seemingly safe from emotional harm, but it really just substitutes one kind of emotional harm for another. It substitutes detachment for the risks and rewards of relationships.

Relationships, reality and expectations
Let’s leave the stone fortress behind and move into the life of flourishing that God intended for us—life with meaningful relationships—with God and with people. First, we have to acknowledge this truth: People will disappoint us. That seems obvious, since we all sin (i.e., do things our way instead of God’s way); but some of us have unrealistic or harmful expectations in that department.

Some of us expect our relationships to be walking, talking perfection 24/7, so we freak out or react with shock when people get things wrong. At the other end of the extreme, some of us expect and tolerate abuse and neglect, ignoring things that absolutely must be addressed. In between those two extremes is a continuum. Where do your expectations sit? Too high? Too low? Leaning toward one end or the other? It’s good to reflect on that. Is some slight tweaking or major renovation in order? Ask God about it.

As your faith grows, you’ll trust God more and more. You’ll hear the still, small voice speaking in your heart and mind. You’ll recognize the power and working of the Holy Spirit in your life.

In difficult relationships or situations, there are times when God calls us to be still and to allow him to fight battles for us. We pray. We trust. And we wait. Other times, he asks us to wait for his instructions. Waiting can be hard. There are other times when God calls us to be an agent for change. He calls us to speak. He calls us to put boundaries in place. He calls us to be courageous.

A follower’s steps
Do this every day.

1. Pray.
2. Read God’s word, the Bible, to know him more and more.
3. Listen to him.
4. Obey.

His presence
Often, we don’t understand why things are happening or what God is doing. His ways are not our ways. But, as his children—with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior—we remind ourselves of the truth: God is good, he is for us, he is working, and he will never leave us or forsake us. We also understand that we won’t always get what we want. The steps above don’t guarantee an easy life or A Hallmark Movie Happy Ending in our relationships. Sometimes people leave. Sometimes people die. Sometimes people betray us. Sometimes relationships end. Which brings us back to this important truth.

God will never leave us or forsake us.

The relationship between love and forgiving
Most of us understand that love is essential for *human flourishing. But love is much more than a feeling. It’s an action word. If you’d like to dig into this truth, read Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled.

(*For more information on human flourishing, see this American Psychological Association article about the impact of severe neglect on children’s brain development and more, from studies of children raised in Romanian orphanages.)

Let’s begin to unpack the relationship between love and forgiving. We’ll be digging into this issue throughout this series. Love is one of the defining attributes of God. We were created for a loving, personal, close relationship with God. Since the most intimate human relationship is the relationship between husband and wife, we’ll look at love and forgiveness today in the context of marriage.

Anyone who’s been married for more than a month knows that a marriage with no forgiving has problems. And those problems start to stack up. When we don’t forgive in our marriage, what do we wind up with? We get score-keeping, retaliation and hostility. Ouch. That sounds prickly. (Please know that forgiving does not mean ignoring problems or sabotaging natural consequences. Forgiving is not a synonym for vulnerability. We’ll cover those issues in a future post.)

Back to our newlyweds. We learn rather quickly that our new spouse will not be doing and saying everything just the way we like it. I may want to sleep in and my spouse may want to Rise and Shine at 6 A.M. on Saturday and start working together on various projects. Yikes. My spouse will learn that I’m not always saying and doing what he likes either. I am not Walking, Talking Perfection, in his eyes or in reality. Neither is Newlywed Brandon.

And the issues that knock us out of our Happily-Ever-After Fairytale Fantasy aren’t just about preferences and expectations. Sometimes we’re rude. Sometimes we’re selfish. Sometimes we overreact. Sometimes we don’t pay attention. Sometimes we’re impatient. Sometimes we snap at each other. Sometimes we think You are so __________! or You are such a __________! The list goes on….

Holding on to the wrong things
When I choose not to forgive my new husband, I’m holding something against him in my heart and mind. I’m replaying what he did or failed to do, what he said or failed to say. I’m not happy about it. I’m not happy with him. Noooooot happy. He “owes” me something, as far as I’m concerned. But I’m not talking to him about it. I’m just expecting him to read my mind and fix what he broke. I’m thinking destructive thoughts, like: If he really loved me, he would __________. That doesn’t sound very loving, does it. Actually, it sounds like a serious example of “the trash in my own heart and mind.” What takes out that trash? Forgiving.

I would also be wise to start communicating with my new husband with love and truth—simultaneously. That takes a lot of practice, especially for those of us who were raised in families where love and truth were inconsistent or missing. Keep working at it. Communicating with truth and love, simultaneously and consistently, helps us heal and grow.

Question and answer
These three consecutive verses give a compelling answer to this question.

How is forgiving related to loving?

[Be] kind to one another, tenderhearted,
forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you.

Be therefore imitators of God, as beloved children.
And walk in love, even as Christ also loved us,
and gave himself up for us,
an offering and a sacrifice to God….
Ephesians 4:32–5:2, New Heart English Bible

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Ephesus. What does this Bible passage tell us? God forgave us and we need to imitate God because we’re his children. Paul moves right from forgiving, to being forgiven, to imitating God who loves us, to living a life of love, to Jesus Christ’s love for us, to Jesus’ great sacrifice of love—his death on the cross—that bought our redemption and forgiveness and reconciled us to God.

Love fuels or motivates forgiving. And I’m not talking about the feeling of love. I’m talking about the decision to walk in love. Love is a verb, like forgiving.

Love and forgiving are intertwined.

This scripture also ties love and forgiving together. It tells us that love binds virtues like kindness, compassion and forgiving together into perfect unity.

Saying and needing
Both Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:12-13 mention kindness and compassion along with forgiving. Is forgiving a kind and compassionate thing to do? Absolutely. Forgiving says, kindly: “You don’t owe me anything.” It also says, compassionately: “I’ve wronged people too. I understand that we all need forgiveness.”

Because love and forgiveness are intertwined and because we all need love, we all need to give and receive forgiveness.

Forgiving is essential because love is essential.

Yes, indeed. I hope you enjoyed digging into Point #3 today: Forgiving is essential for me and my relationships. We’ll revisit this truth in future posts since it’s an underlying theme in this series.

Coming next: Well, Peaceful Readers, this post didn’t end up covering what I thought it would. Come back next time for a little Sociopath Math, some Peanut M&M’s and more. Thanks for reading and for Choosing Peace. 

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: Romans 15:5-6

Song for Healing: This song reminds me of this post’s subheading, “Intertwined.” Enjoy “Shelter” by Jars of Clay.

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