What forgiving is and isn’t, part 5

Asking the right questions

First things first.

Happy Mother’s Day!

This day can be filled with many different emotions. I pray that you experience the peace of Jesus Christ today. This photo reminds me of motherhood and peace.

Logan at the lake, 2012

So far
We’ve learned a lot about What Forgiving Is and Isn’t so far.

Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning.
Point #2: Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
Point #3: Forgiving is essential for me and my relationships.
Point #4: Forgiving doesn’t mean reconciling.
Point #5: Forgiving is not a transaction.
Point #6: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring wrongdoing.

Point #7: Forgiving doesn’t mean rejecting or sabotaging natural consequences.
I hope you enjoyed digging into Point #7 last time. The Dysfunctional Family Diner sure was fun. We’ll continue looking into this aspect of forgiving today.

People like the forgiving part. They don’t generally like the natural consequences part—not at first. When I wisely apply natural consequences, the other person doesn’t immediately say “thank you.” But I know I did the right thing. And later, the impact is undeniable. It feels good to see the change.

Last time I mentioned five of the reasons why we forgive and then reject natural consequences.

1. Laziness
2. Fear of rejection
3. Training as children/familiarity of bad behavior
4. Lack of guidance about identifying and/or solving problems
5. Fear of anger

The boundary questions
Sometimes we don’t know what natural consequences actually look like. I understand that.

When we have better clarity about boundary issues,
sometimes the natural consequences come into focus.

What’s the relationship between boundaries and natural consequences? One key aspect of boundaries deals with ownership. The answers to these boundary questions can tell us what to do next.

♦ What is the problem?
♦ Who owns the problem?
Whose problem is it?
♦ Who is responsible for fixing the problem?

Here are some examples.

Marriage 1.0
If you read the Grieving Divorce post, you learned a lot about my first marriage—The Nine Years of Misery. I forgave Greg for his addiction problems, his infidelity, etc. But I didn’t understand boundaries or natural consequences. I thought that if I loved him enough, if I forgave him enough, if I was understanding and caring enough—if I was “good” enough—that my love and commitment to our marriage would rub off on him and change him.

I mistakenly thought I could “fix” Greg—and our marriage. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the authority to change him. Only he had that authority. And he didn’t want to change. We went to counseling and he refused to do everything the counselor asked him to do—other than showing up and paying. She’d ask him to give her a simple yes-or-no answer to one question before the next session. He wouldn’t do it. She’d ask him, “Did you think about [so-and-so question]?” He said no. Every time. And that, Peaceful Readers, is a crystal-clear picture of Greg’s attitude toward our marriage. He said no.

The power of natural consequences
After our marriage was over, Greg apologized and I forgave him. I also gave him A Parting Gift—a big natural consequence. And that natural consequence unlocked a huge door in Greg’s life. Some important, essential changes started to unfold.

From Grieving Divorce, part 6:

Appropriate consequences, which lead to healing
…After our divorce, Greg experienced appropriate consequences for his terrible behavior for the first time in his adult life…. We would not be friends and I told him why. …That’s what every single one of my boundaries communicated to him. “There will be no contact between us and it is not up for discussion.”

The first step
…And guess what happened….

He finally admitted that he had a problem.

Additional steps
Greg eventually went to a 12-Step Program for his alcoholism. How did I find out? He tried to call my sister Pam and her husband to make amends with them—one of the 12 Steps.

When I look back on my first marriage, Greg acted like a wild teenager and I acted like I was his mom. He played and partied and I did most of the work and nagged him. He made lots of mistakes; but then again, so did I.

The ownership test
Let’s test the ownership here. What were the problems? Greg’s addictions, infidelity and abuse, and my lack of boundaries and unhealthy communication. Whose problems were they? We both had problems and our problems impacted each other. Who was responsible for fixing the problems? Greg was responsible for fixing his problems and I was responsible for fixing mine.

Marriage 2.0
I learned some important things in my first marriage. In our counseling, I learned that I treated Greg like a child instead of a spouse. I needed to change that way of thinking, speaking and interacting. After I married Brandon, I learned a lot more. I read Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. That was a game-changer for me in many ways.

Life with Brandon has given me the opportunity to really learn about boundaries and how to answer these important questions. Where do I need to draw the line? What is acceptable and unacceptable? What am I responsible for and not responsible for?

I lied to myself during both of my marriages. I told myself that I married difficult husbands because I liked to help people. In reality, I married husbands who’d been severely abused because I had been abused. I married them because they felt like home. Unpacking my life and my childhood while writing the Grieving series helped me to see the truth about my life and my choices.

Let’s back up to find out the biggest reason why it took me so long to problem-solve with Brandon—with forgiving, healthy boundaries and natural consequences.

The trauma
Something very traumatic happened during my first marriage. One year after I married Greg, I got pregnant. Greg told me that I would be having an abortion. His first wife had two abortions—and according to him, it was no big deal. Little did I know how profoundly that experience would change my life. Knowing what I had done—that I had an abortion—I felt deserving of punishment, I had to hide, and I had to keep the secret. I had my abortion when I was 26 years old. And 26 years later, in the month of February, I finally got healed from The Trauma of Abortion at a retreat. This healing—laying down the shame and receiving forgiveness—gave me the strength and courage I needed to stand up for myself—with Brandon, with his abusive parents, with my abusive sister and more.

What I could say
I learned from Boundaries that I can’t tell another adult what he or she will or won’t do because I’m not the boss of them. But I can say what I will or won’t do, tolerate or accept. I can say, “I’m not available….” In other words, You’re free to yell if you want. However, I’m no longer available to listen to your yelling. If you decide to yell, I will be picking up my purse and exiting this house.

Drawing lines
The month after that healing retreat, I drew the line with Brandon. I’m not available to listen to your yelling anymore. That same month, we started going to counseling. We started getting better, as individuals and as a couple. When he yelled at me in May, we separated for 12 days. I went to Camp Charlene and God did amazing things for us. Brandon apologized very sincerely and I forgave him. (More on that later.) In July, we learned that Brandon’s parents are sociopaths. We drew hard lines with them that summer and we walked away from their chronic, chaotic, destructive abuse. We got stronger. That fall, I started writing Choosing Peace. All these things happened in one incredible, challenging, healing year.

The ownership test
What were the key problems in our marriage? Brandon’s yelling and my lack of boundaries. Whose problems were they? We both had a problem and our problems impacted each other. Who was responsible for fixing the problems? Brandon was responsible for fixing his problem and I was responsible for fixing mine.

Were there additional problems? Yes. Our abusive, mentally ill relatives kept our lives chaotic and stressful. The Sociopaths series tells how we identified, learned about and dealt with Brandon’s sociopathic parents. A Story of Grieving describes my sister Pam and her sick, codependent relationship with our mom. We forgave them, we put healthy boundaries in place (i.e., No Abuse Allowed), and we’re living in our Safe Zone. Thanks be to God.

Laundry 1.0
These next two sections—Laundry 1.0 and Laundry 2.0—don’t include the need to forgive, but they’re good, lighthearted examples of A Slice of Life, with a little bit of boundaries and natural consequences tossed into the laundry basket.

Brandon mentioned to me recently that he was out of clean underwear. My reply? “Bummer.” At our house, we each do our own laundry. If someone has time to watch TV, that someone has time to throw a load of underwear into the washing machine. Did Brandon mention his laundry dilemma because he hoped I’d offer to wash his underwear—and maybe more? Probably. Did it work? Nope. The status of Brandon’s laundry belongs to Brandon. He asks me to fold his T-shirts sometimes. I’m good with that. So here’s the natural consequence. If Brandon doesn’t wash and dry his clothes, he doesn’t have clean clothes to wear. Pretty cool, huh? The same goes for Logan and for me. Occasionally, when Logan has a heavy homework load, I’ll help him out.

I used to do everyone’s laundry, but I retired from that rat race a while ago. I was staying up late doing laundry while Brandon and Logan were lying around enjoying playtime or sleeping. I had taken on more than I should have and I had no one to blame other than Yours Truly. I rewrote the playbook, reduced my workload and have not regretted it one iota. Yee-haw.

The ownership test
Let’s take The Ownership Test. What was the problem? Brandon had no clean underwear. Whose problem was it? It was Brandon’s problem. Who was responsible for fixing the problem? Brandon was responsible. Can you see me smiling and doing my Happy Dance?

Laundry 2.0
This example is at the other extreme. When Logan was a preschooler, I taught at his two-day-a-week preschool at church. At the end of one of our days at preschool, I was holding him over my shoulder and he threw up all over the back of my shirt. Ewww.

The ownership test
Did we have more than one problem? Yes, indeed. First problem: Logan was sick. Second problem: My shirt was gross. I got us promptly to The Burb (our old Suburban) and I leaned forward the whole way home. Logan didn’t throw up again, so that was good. His problem resolved itself. Even though Logan threw up on me, who was responsible for solving my problem? Obviously, I was. Logan couldn’t help me with my problem. He wasn’t responsible for my laundry or my hygiene. Both of those issues were my responsibility.

Impacted by problems
Laundry 2.0 shows us this truth rather vividly. Other people’s problems impact us. Sometimes their problems become our problems, although maybe in a different way. When we’re dealing with young children, we know who does the laundry. As our children get older and when we’re dealing with our spouse or other adults, these lines aren’t always so clear-cut.

More questions
We have to keep asking ourselves the boundary questions:

♦ What is the problem?
♦ Who owns the problem?
Whose problem is it?
♦ Who is responsible for fixing the problem?

I can also ask myself these questions. Am I contributing to this problem by what I’m doing/not doing or saying/not saying? Do I need to change something that I’m doing? Do I need to draw a line? Do I need to speak truth? Do I need to take my hands off someone else’s steering wheel? Have I lied to myself, telling myself that I’m “helping,” when I’m actually enabling?

Think of a current problem in your life and ask yourself those questions. Ask God to show you what you need to do.

The crazy game 3.0
In the Nice Try section of this post, I described a stellar power play attempt by my sister Pam, the malignant narcissist. She tried to kick me in the teeth while she was on vacation. Can you believe that? Here’s the chain of events. (1) Pam dropped our mom off at her new memory care facility. (2) She didn’t drop off enough clothes for the week. (3) She told the staff at the facility not to wash our mom’s clothes. (4) She left town on vacation. (5) She texted me and told me to go up there, pick up the dirty clothes, wash our mom’s clothes and return the clean clothes to the facility. She even told me what day of the week to do all this. How thoughtful.

What did I do? I totally ignored her. I didn’t reply to her text and I certainly didn’t do Perfect Pam’s “Because I Said So” To-Do List. When someone tries to pull something crazy on me, they get my secret weapon: Silence. I’m not available to play The Crazy Game 3.0 or any other version.

The ownership test
What was the problem? Pam’s troublemaking—and her permanent residence in Control Freak Central. This is important. My mom’s lack of clean clothes was not the problem. Pam tried to make it The Problem. She orchestrated The Problem to sock it to me. But, unbeknownst to her, I don’t play The Crazy Game 3.0 anymore. (The staff washed our mom’s clothes.) Whose problem was it? It was Pam’s problem. Who was responsible for fixing the problem? Pam was—and is—responsible for fixing her behavior and her mental health problems.

Ask yourself these questions. Would a reasonable person do this? Would I ever do this to someone else? If someone’s behavior leaves you feeling confused or troubled, step back and seriously think about it.

When drama comes knocking, don’t answer the door.

Just because someone insists—“You have to take care of this” or “We have a problem” or “I need your help” or “So-and-so needs your help”—their energy level (I mean drama) doesn’t make it true, right, respectful, loving and/or appropriate. Don’t get lured into the chaos or automatically say yes. Ask yourself: Who am I dealing with? What do I know about this person? Always remember who you’re dealing with. Stop. Back up. Think. And take The Ownership Test. What is the real problem and who created the problem?

The most natural consequence
I forgave Pam while she was pulling her premeditated, manipulative troublemaking and I gave her a very unexpected natural consequence. Say it with me, Peaceful Readers: Forgiving doesn’t mean refusing or sabotaging natural consequences. Amen to that.

My description of Pam’s Power Play includes one of my favorite sayings in The Boundaries and Natural Consequences Department: I’m not available…. When people behave badly, The Most Natural Consequence is for reasonable people to refuse to be around them. That includes not responding to their crazy texts. Remember, boundaries are about where I draw the line between what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable—and what is and isn’t my responsibility. Control freaks are all about control and manipulation. Manipulation is all about lies. Those behaviors are abusive. Abuse is never acceptable. It’s not okay.

That takes us full circle—back to Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning. Yes, I forgave Pam, but I didn’t sugar-coat or tap-dance around what she did (Point #6: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring wrongdoing); nor did I lie and say, “That’s okay.” It was very much not okay (Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning).

The boomerang and the compliment
During the last 50-some-odd years, I’ve encountered some sick people and some really strange, disturbing behavior. God showed me the way out of these entanglements. He’s taught me so much. Thankfully, I’ve learned and decided what I will and won’t tolerate. On occasion, I say, basically: “Knock it off.” But usually, I totally ignore The Chaos Boomerang and let it fly back and hit The Thrower in the face.

When we use natural consequences, people sometimes call us mean. Consider it a compliment from someone who was just trying to throw something at you.

Remembering, praying and learning
Remember this foundational truth, Point #3: Forgiving is essential for me and my relationships. Today we dug some more into Point #7: Forgiving doesn’t mean rejecting or sabotaging natural consequences.

After we forgive, sometimes we’re given an opportunity to problem-solve.

Do you need to learn more about boundaries and/or natural consequences? These three things have really helped me. Give them a try. (1) Pray and ask God for wisdom and courage, (2) read Boundaries, and (3) work with a great counselor.

When we’re not sure what natural consequences would look like in a particular situation, we need to pray about it. Sometimes we need to talk with a wise counselor, mentor or friend.

Choosing friends wisely means choosing wise friends.

Wise friends learn from their life experiences. Wise friends tell us when we’re wrong. Wise friends make us better people. I’ve learned so much from Brandon and my close friends. Shout-out to Brandon, Charlene, Meagan and Summer. I love you!

Coming next: We’ll look at the last part of Point #7—sabotaging natural consequences. You’ll read a story that could be called “Frankie Ann Caved In.” Then we’ll move on to Point #8 and maybe Point #9. I haven’t written it all yet, so I’m looking forward to some laughs and surprises. Come back next time. 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: Blessed, saved and victorious. Celebrate as you read Deuteronomy 33:29.

Song for Healing: This beautiful song—“For Ross” by Thad Fiscella—reminds me of the healing that forgiving and problem-solving bring into our lives. Thad wrote this song for his son. I smile today, not only because it’s Mother’s Day, but because of so many blessings. Thanks be to God!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *