What forgiving is and isn’t, part 7

The gift

Have you experienced a good surprise lately? I sure have. When we told Logan that he’d be our Family Chef again this summer, I was expecting some moaning and groaning. Guess what. He was clearly happy about it. He started talking about ingredients he’s planning to use and original recipes he’s going to cook. His anticipation and chatter about it gave me a big smile.

Today you’ll read about another good surprise, a key and “Frankie Ann is guilty as charged.”

The list
Here’s our current list of What Forgiving Is and Isn’t.

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.
Point #8: Forgiving doesn’t mean regaining trust.
Point #9: Forgiving doesn’t automatically reestablish a previous relationship.

Do you remember Jessie from part 1? The lady who was bawling to her support group about what her now-ex-husband did to her years ago? “He never apologized!” I don’t think Jessie understood what I wrote in this post: “Forgiving is a gift that I give to myself most of all.” I decided to make that Point #10. I’d already written something else when I realized that I needed to replace it. Our new Point #10 came as a very smile-inducing surprise to me.

Point #10: Forgiving is a gift that I give to myself most of all.
Speaking of gifts, have you ever received a silly or weird gift? Maybe during a White Elephant gift exchange or another large group Christmas party? Two different years, Logan gave toilet paper (plus a little something else) at the student Christmas party at church. He cracks me up. That reminds me of this excerpt from the first series.

If you were going to a Christmas party with a White Elephant gift game, think about something strange or funny that you could bring. Is there something in your home that you’d like to get rid of? (Don’t say “my spouse”—too difficult to box and wrap. Ha!)

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Gifts are usually a good thing, unless you’re dealing with sociopaths like my in-laws. I digress. (If you’d like to read a bizarre, entertaining story in that department, see this post.) Today on Choosing Peace, the gift in question is definitely good. No doubt about it.

Point #10: Forgiving is a gift that I give to myself most of all. Now I’ll be the first to admit that it took me many years to learn this truth. Growing up, the only truthful thing I knew about forgiving was that God told us to do it. When people apologized, we all said this big, whoppin‘ lie: “That’s okay.” For more on that mess, see part 1, Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning.

Let’s get back to sweet, traumatized Jessie and Point #10: Forgiving is a gift that I give to myself most of all.

Chained and dependent
Jessie’s healing was dependent—in part—on her decision to forgive her ex-husband Blake. Until she forgave him, she was chained to him emotionally—chained to a terrible event, a terrible memory. Because of her belief in the myth of The Gift-Wrapped Apology, a significant piece of Jessie’s own healing depended on what an extremely abusive, sick man might or might not do in the future. It especially made no sense since Jessie was remarried and she and Blake had no contact with each other. Even if, by some miracle, her ex-husband did decide to apologize, he might not have the ability to contact her. Maybe he died, for all we know.

Why do we make our healing and peace of mind largely dependent on someone else’s actions? Someone from our past. Someone we’re not even in contact with. Why do we do that? From part 1:

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 cell and the key
Jessie’s dilemma shows us the importance of Point #5: Forgiving is not a transaction. Many people live with this mind-set: “If you give me The Gift-Wrapped Apology, I’ll give you forgiveness.” It reminds me of this thing we said as kids: “I’ll trade ya.”

Treating forgiving like a transaction keeps us in chains. It’s like we’re each sitting in a jail cell with a chair and a TV. And the only show that plays on the TV is the movie or the five-second clip of what he/she/they did to us. It plays. And it plays. And it plays. Again and again and again. And for each one of us, the key that will unlock the jail cell sits in our pocket. It sits there all day every day. And we know it’s there. Here’s the question. Will we use it? Will we forgive? Or will we sit behind bars, watching the bad movie.

The timing
Forgiving gets us out of the jail cell and away from the bad movie. But forgiving isn’t the only thing we need to do to experience healing. We have to take The Healing Journey. We have to do the work of grieving our traumas and losses.

We can forgive anytime during The Season of Grieving—
at the beginning, at the end or somewhere in the middle,
as we deal with each relationship, trauma, loss—one at a time.

I’ve experienced all three time frames. In grieving The Trauma of Disengagement about my mom’s emotional neglect, I forgave her at the end of The Season of Grieving. I had a lifetime of hidden realities to discover and unpack. At times, the anger I’d denied my whole life bubbled over. Not pretty. After I forgave her, God did more healing that I didn’t even know was happening. I’ll tell you that sweet story later. In grieving The Trauma of Divorce, I forgave my ex-husband at the beginning of that healing journey. I thank God for the timing of that forgiveness. What about my sister Pam, the malignant narcissist? Well, I kept forgiving her along the way—each time she pulled something controlling, something ridiculous, something manipulative. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Healing through prayer
Yes, I’m a big fan of Point #10. Forgiving is a gift that I give to myself most of all. In part 2, I described unforgiveness like a chain around our necks, tying us to the people who hurt us. When we forgive, the chain to that person, that event, that relationship breaks off our necks and falls to the ground. We feel different. That’s because we are. Very different.

After we forgive people who caused us significant pain, we can feel conflicted about praying for them. We know that the Bible tells us to pray for our enemies, but we don’t want to. Sometimes we feel the still, small voice inside our minds encouraging us to pray for them. We still feel conflicted.

I hope this clarification will be helpful. Some of us were trained that praying for someone means asking God to bless—or reward—them. And we know in our hearts that it wouldn’t be right to ask God to reward someone who is evil, someone who is abusive, someone who derives pleasure from hurting others. We don’t ask God to condone and reward evil because we know it’s not the right thing to ask and we know he won’t do it.

Big prayers
Consider these kinds of alternatives. When we pray for our enemies (1) to seek and find God; (2) to stop hurting people; (3) to experience healing through deep reflection, devotion to the truth and genuine repentance; (4) to honor God with their thoughts, words and actions; and (5) to be a godly blessing to others—those are meaningful and “safe” things to pray for. Those five things sound like massive things to pray for in light of the people we’re talking about. But our God is in the miracle business. Pray big prayers anyway—for yourself, the people you love and the people who’ve hurt you the most. Spiritual transformation brings glory to God and makes the world a safer, better place.

A step toward healing
I won’t minimize how very difficult this can be, especially depending on the nature of the traumas/losses you experienced. Try those prayers anyway. I found that my heart healed and softened greatly toward my ex-husband after I started praying for him. I didn’t pray for him daily, by any stretch of the imagination. But each time I did, I felt better. Give it a try and see what happens in you.

Praying for people who’ve hurt us takes us a step
toward healing each time we pray.
And it becomes easier and more natural each time we do it.

After I wrote those five prayer points above, I prayed them about my sister Pam and my in-laws, the sociopaths. It felt weird, but it wasn’t painful.

You can do it.

Let’s get back to Jessie and Blake as we move on to Point #11.

Point #11: Forgiving is a boundary issue.
What Jessie was communicating loud and clear was this common sentiment: “You broke it! You fix it!” In other words, “Blake, your abuse traumatized me, so you have to un-traumatize me.” And here’s the problem with that. Jessie’s ex-husband doesn’t have the power or the authority to fix Jessie. Blake can’t undo what he did. He can’t turn back time and make Jessie the person she was before he hurt her. Even if he wanted to. He can’t do it.

The responsibility department
Since Jessie is responsible for her own thoughts, feelings and actions, she’s the only person who has the authority to receive the healing that’s made available to her. No one else can receive it on her behalf. Only Jessie can take The Healing Journey in her own life. God is the healer. He is the one who transforms, if we allow him to. Jessie’s ex-husband isn’t God. Blake isn’t the healer.

The boundary questions
What makes this a boundary issue? Boundaries are about where we draw the line between what is and isn’t acceptable behavior and what is and isn’t our responsibility. Let’s ask The Boundary Questions we learned about in a previous post to help us see some of the boundary issues more clearly.

♦ What is the problem? Jessie’s unresolved trauma.
♦ Who owns the problem? Jessie has the problem. Blake doesn’t.
Whose problem is it? Clearly, it is Jessie’s problem.
♦ Who is responsible for fixing the problem? Jessie is responsible.

The boundary problem
Jessie has a boundary problem because Blake isn’t responsible for Jessie’s healing. And she’s pretending that he is. She’s lying to herself. This is a boundary issue in The Responsibility Department. Jessie is responsible for Jessie’s healing. And forgiving is an essential step of The Healing Journey. As long as she refuses to embrace her responsibility for her own healing, it won’t happen. Why not? Because she won’t finish the work of grieving, she won’t persist in The Healing Journey and she won’t forgive Blake. She wants somebody else to do the work for her. She’s saying: “You broke it! You fix it!” And that’s not the way it works.

Our hearts don’t have a warranty. Relationships don’t have a money-back guarantee. People aren’t products.

We’re each responsible for taking The Healing Journey in our own lives.

The people who hurt us—and in some ways broke us—can’t fix us. God is the healer. And he tells us to forgive—not as a friendly suggestion, but because it’s absolutely paramount to our own healing and fruitfulness for the kingdom of God. We’ll dig into God’s mandate about forgiving in another post.

Fear of tears
Remember, forgiving is an essential step of The Healing Journey. Some of us don’t take responsibility for our own healing because we believe that (1) it’ll be too painful, (2) it’ll take too long, and (3) it’ll ruin us. We’re afraid to feel the pain involved and we’re afraid to do the work. (Read the Time for Grieving posts for help in this area.) We believe the lies—The Seven Messages of Denial from this post, including this big one: “If you start crying, you’ll never stop.” That is a lie. I’ve heard people say that lie before, and I used to believe it myself. The inevitable crying seems to be one of the things we’re afraid of the most. We’re afraid that we’ll “lose it”—our sanity, our self-control.

Drink in this truth.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….
Ecclesiastes 3:1 and 4, World English Bible

Healing in the tears
When it’s time to weep and mourn and we refuse to do it, we miss out on the natural healing process. We wind up suffering in silence until we take care of business and do the crying our souls, minds and bodies need us to do. There’s healing in the tears. And it doesn’t go on forever. I hope this truth from The Seven Messages of Healing will bring you encouragement and comfort: “You cried (and you stopped crying).” We feel relieved to experience that reality. To grieve and move to the other side. To look back and know things are resolved. To experience peace during and after The Season of Grieving.

Peace in the grieving
I like this quote from the Grieving series. Even while you’re doing the work of grieving, “…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….”

Here’s an important list from the last series.

The Seven Messages of Healing

Healing says:
1. You thought about it.
2. You talked about it.
3. You felt it.
4. You cried (and you stopped crying).
5. You looked it in the eye and said good-bye.
6. You are loved.
7. You laid it down.

The big truth: Doing the work of grieving heals you and frees you from the pain of loss and trauma.

Tossing ours and taking his
We do a variety of things to avoid our responsibility for our own healing—from hanging onto the myth of The Gift-Wrapped Apology to fear of grieving/crying to getting lost on That’s Not Fair Avenue—always a long, time-wasting detour. In other words, It wouldn’t be fair for me to forgive someone like you—not after what you did. You’re the one who needs to fix everything, including me. Yes, pretending that our healing is someone else’s responsibility is a common malady.

Here’s another boundary issue in The Forgiving Department. We often try to take God’s responsibility away from him. Yowza. What do I mean? We want to skip the forgiving part and jump right to the revenge part.

Judge, jury and executioner
We want to be the judge, jury and executioner for The Guilty Party. In other words, we want to dish out the punishment, the retaliation—and how about a little humiliation for good measure. We have some very specific ideas about how that punishment should look. Fire, flood, blood, gore. Or sometimes a payback scenario: “You did it to me. I want someone to do the same thing to you—times 10.” We’re more than happy to tell God how he needs to punish them. And when. And, in case he’s been really busy, a reminder of why. I am guilty as charged on that one.

The instructions and the promise
Rest assured, Peaceful Readers, that God never rests and he is always on the job. This important verse reminds us that God will take care of business. He knows everything and everyone. We understand and see so little.

Do not seek revenge yourselves, beloved,
but leave room for the wrath. For it is written,
“Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.”

Romans 12:19, New Heart English Bible

Always right
We may not like how long it takes God to mete out his vengeance. Remember that he was patient with us before we came to repentance. Who knows? Maybe your prayers for the people who hurt you will result in repentance, salvation, fruitfulness for the kingdom and great glory to God. Whether true change of heart takes place or not, know that God’s response will be right in every way. He will do the right thing at the right time in the right way. Guaranteed.

God will make all things right in the end.

I’m particularly fond of today’s two points: Forgiving is a gift that I give to myself most of all and Forgiving is a boundary issue.

Here’s our summary for today.

1. Forgiving unchains me from painful experiences and relationships.
2. Praying wisely for people who hurt me helps me heal.
3. Forgiving is an essential step of The Healing Journey.
4. I need to admit and own my problems.
5. I need to take responsibility for my healing and do the work of grieving my losses/traumas.
6. God will take care of any appropriate vengeance.
7. God will make all things right in the end.

Yes, he will.

God will make all things right in the end.

Coming next: One of the truths in our wrap-up list above will be Point #12. I’ll keep you in suspense. Pop back by in a week or so. Until then, 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: Hebrews 13:20-21

Song for Healing: “Is He Worthy?” by Andrew Peterson

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