What forgiving is and isn’t, part 9

The chain and the tunnel

This spring, a dove family built their nest in our gutter, just outside our kitchen window. They probably thought it was a great spot, with a firm, established foundation. Dovey sat there all day, sitting on her egg. In the early spring, it probably seemed just right. But then it got hotter. The Texas sun beat down on her head several hours a day. When it rained, flood waters gushed through their nest. Sadly, they chose a spot that left her both fried and flooded. Then, recently, she wasn’t there anymore. The spring rains probably washed their nest away.

A nest in the gutter

A place that they thought would be sturdy and safe ended up being unprotected and dangerous. It was a place of extremes.

Today on Choosing Peace, you’ll read about another place of extremes—The Tunnel.

The list
Here’s our current list of What Forgiving Is and Isn’t. We’ll be adding three more points today.

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.
Point #10: Forgiving is a gift that I give to myself most of all.
Point #11: Forgiving is a boundary issue.
Point #12: Forgiving is an essential step of The Healing Journey.

Let’s move on to the next big point about what forgiving is or isn’t. Point #13 will be short and sweet, so you know what I’m thinking about. (Peanut M&M’s.)

Point #13: Forgiving is a choice.
In the first post in this series, I unpacked this essential truth. Forgiving is a choice, not a process. Why am I just now adding it to our list of What Forgiving Is and Isn’t? I don’t have the foggiest idea. Call me slow on the uptake. For more on this issue, see Do I Have To?

Speaking of short and sweet, let’s hop on over to Point #14.

Point #14: Forgiving is chosen freely.
When Logan was little, I picked out his clothes every day. I really enjoyed that time. It was a sweet season.

There are various choices that I can make, appropriately, for someone else. Forgiving isn’t one of them. Ever. Because forgiving is a heart issue, no one else can force us to forgive. (In a similar way, no one else can force us to repent.) We’re each free to make the choice to forgive or not. No one else can make this choice for us. I can’t truly be coerced, nagged or pressured into forgiving. I may say, “I forgive you.” But if those words are spoken without sincerity, forgiving did not take place. I said what someone else forced me to say. In other words, I lied. So now, on top of the original problem, we have lying—another barrier.

Parents and teachers, be very careful in this area. Be very, very careful. Keep your focus on the truth and be a good example. Forgiving is a heart issue. Do not pressure or try to coerce forgiving. If you do, you may unwittingly encourage children to lie. Please don’t go there.

Point #15: Forgiving is the breaking of an unholy tie or bond.
While I was writing the last post, the Holy Spirit—the still, small voice—showed me this truth. It absolutely blew my mind.

Forgiving is the breaking of an unholy tie or bond.

When someone or perhaps some people have wronged me and I haven’t forgiven them, something powerful and destructive connects me to them and to what they did. It isn’t only the memory of who they are, what they did and how I felt. My thoughts are tied to them. My feelings are tied to them. My heart is tied to them—at least in part. And a corrosive cancer has begun to grow in me. The chain is around my neck.

Peaceful Readers, I’m going to take you on a dark journey as we explore the chain.

The chain and the scene
The chain is heavy and painful to carry at first. It scrapes my neck. But I carry it anyway. I actually get used to it. It’s my chain. I need my chain. My chain tells me that I’m right and they’re wrong. My neck gets tougher and stronger. Before you know it, I don’t even notice the chain. It’s just a part of me. I don’t hear it or see it anymore. Other people notice the clanging and scraping of the chain on the floor as I drag it along. But I don’t. Because it’s my chain. It’s part of me now. What’s at the other end of my chain? The TV from the jail cell. The one that plays the scene. And that’s all it plays. It plays and plays and plays. It plays for me. The scene belongs to me. I’m the only one who sees the scene on the TV. That way I won’t forget. I won’t forget why they owe me and what they owe me. I think my chain is my friend. I think it’s helping me. I think it keeps me safe. But the chain was never my friend. The chain was never for me. It ties me to the TV. It keeps me in the jail cell. And I’m the prisoner. I belong to the scene. I thought the scene belonged to me. But I’m lost in the scene.

Quiet your mind and read that last paragraph a second time.

The weight
Let’s explore the spiraling impact of the chain. The Chain of Unforgiveness.

Unforgiveness is something that I carry. It’s something that’s added to my life. Something heavy. I don’t see rightly when I’m carrying The Chain of Unforgiveness. I mistakenly think that I just haven’t gotten around to forgiving yet and that I’m not impacted by my delay—my choice—my chain.

What’s going on inside of me isn’t the absence of forgiveness.
It’s the constant presence of unforgiveness.

And I can’t lay it down until I forgive. I won’t understand how heavy The Chain of Unforgiveness is until I lay it down.

Have you ever lost 10 or 20 pounds and marveled at how much better you felt? Whether or not you acknowledged the truth of how you felt before, the change is striking. Your clothes fit differently. You feel different when you sit down and when you stand up. You feel different when you’re standing and when you’re walking. It’s profound.

The darkness
Yes, the chain is heavy. But there’s more to it than just its weight. Can you sense the darkness? Can you see it? Can you hear it? Can you feel it?

Spiritual darkness swirls through the chain.
The Chain of Unforgiveness.

The chain that’s tied around my neck.

The lies and the truth
What are the lies that tell me to carry the chain? The Chain of Unforgiveness?

Lies about unforgiveness
I’m right. I’m justified.
They owe me.
Watching the scene protects me.
The chain gives me control.
The scene tells me who I am.
My chain is punishing them.
Punishing them will make things right.

Truths about unforgiveness
I’m wrong. Unforgiveness hurts me.
Unforgiveness doesn’t even the score.
Watching the scene hurts me.
The Chain of Unforgiveness controls me.
Only God can truly tell me who I am.
Unforgiveness enslaves me.
I must seek my own healing.

The power of pain
Unforgiveness ties us powerfully to something hurtful from the past. When we’re tied to sin, tied to pain, tied to anger, tied to the past, we’re facing the wrong way. We’re facing all the wrong things.

While we’re holding on to unforgiveness,
we’re walking toward the pain
instead of walking away from it.

We can’t really comprehend the destructiveness of unforgiveness. It holds a power over us that we minimize, justify, deny. We’re blind to what it’s doing to us. Other people see and hear our chain and we don’t. That’s the power of Point #15: Forgiving is the breaking of an unholy tie or bond.

When we forgive, we break the power of past sins—our own or other people’s.

Don’t get me wrong. Forgiving doesn’t mean that I’m minimizing the seriousness of abuse, crime or evil. Please drink in Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning. For more on that essential truth, see part 1.

What we see and don’t see
Let’s face it. We are quite good at noticing and even obsessing on other people’s sins, faults, flaws, short-comings, glaring problems, craziness, screw-ups, stupidity, etc. Our own? Oh, we have excuses for that. We’re just a little quirky, right? Or maybe, “I was tired.” Sometimes we whip out The Blame Thrower and say, “I’m just a product of my environment.” Translation: “Blame my parents. If they hadn’t been so messed up, I would’ve turned out stellar.”

The other extreme
At the other extreme, we can be exceedingly hard on ourselves, never extending the compassion to ourselves that we can generously give to others. We’ll explore that problem in a future post.

The tunnel and the haunting
When I’m lingering in A Season of Unforgiveness, other things, other people, sights and sounds remind me of The Guilty Party and what they did to me. When I’m not focusing on something else, my thoughts automatically go to the scene. It’s the new Focal Point in my mind.

I’m standing inside a dark tunnel and the people who hurt me are standing at the other end. My eyes are drawn to them. There’s a glow around them and they’re all I seem to see. I’m constrained, physically and visually. My sight is altered. Everything feels closed in. Constricted. The people who hurt me consume a significant amount of my thought life. They’re always there, looming in the shadows. I can’t get rid of them. I feel haunted. Haunted by them. Haunted by what they did. Haunted by their faces. Haunted by their voices. Haunted by my fear or humiliation or regret. Haunted by what I failed to do or say. Haunted by my own rehearsed speeches. Haunted by my schemes to get back at them. I think to myself, “I’ll show them.”

My mind spins in circles. I’m haunted. And I can’t seem to escape from the swirling in my mind and heart. My feelings lunge toward the hurt, toward the faces at the end of the tunnel. Agitated. Angry. Afraid. Anxious. And I wonder, When will it happen again? How can I escape or protect myself? Scheming. Plotting. Replaying the scene.

I think about it and I talk about it. As I go to sleep, I’m thinking about it. When I wake up, I’m thinking about it. I’m haunted. Every day.

If you’ve experienced a chronic attack situation, this section from the Sociopaths series may feel familiar:

The micro/macro one-two punch
Within the annual sociopathic macro cycle [of holidays and big events], these micro events, or microbursts, smack you unexpectedly, as a constant reminder of who you are (the victim) and where you fit (or don’t fit) in the family.

Micro events keep victims feeling hunted, confused and never safe. Always on guard. Always wondering when the next attack will come.

Wondering when and how to escape….

The unholy tie or bond
What makes this haunting—The Chain of Unforgiveness—an unholy tie or bond? We’re tied to sin, which is always unholy. And we’ve unknowingly accepted that we can’t shake it, which is a lie. We don’t even see our desperate need to get rid of the chain. We keep replaying the scene in our minds. The sin has taken residence deep inside us. That’s why I called it a cancer. It is destructive and it is serious.

We can be tied to someone else’s sin against us or we can be tied to our own sin.

These unholy ties put us in Punishing Mode. We fantasize about punishing The Guilty Party, we unintentionally punish the people around us and/or we punish ourselves. We give what we’re tied to, so we give pain. Yes, indeed. Hurt people hurt people.

Unforgiveness vs. fear
The focus of my mind and heart—where they go when I’m not doing something else—can tell me whether I’m experiencing the unholy tie or bond of unforgiveness. Do my thoughts go to positive aspects of my life, to God, to Jesus, to my thankfulness, to peace, to things I’m looking forward to? Or do they go to the past and what someone did?

Let’s explore an exception to this—a very challenging exception. When we’re in a vulnerable situation, we can be uncertain about whether we’ve forgiven someone or not. Why is that?

Unforgiveness and fear display very similar thought patterns.

Three scenarios
Have you ever been a sociopath’s target? Have you ever been stalked? Have you ever found yourself in an abusive living situation? A place where you had to be quiet or exceedingly good. A place where you had to walk on eggshells sometimes. A place where you took your cues about what you could or couldn’t say or do based on someone else’s wide mood swings….

Thought patterns
I’ve experienced all three: sociopaths, a stalker and an abusive home environment. People can be dangerous. When we’re dealing with dangerous people, we have to be on our toes—ready for attacks. We frequently journey in our thoughts into The Land of If-Then. We forget The Only If That Matters. (See this verse.) We also reflect on past events in hopes that those experiences can help us develop an effective strategy for the future.

Because abusive environments require us to remember and plan for what’s coming, it’s challenging to determine if unforgiveness remains in the mix. Many of the thought patterns are similar. When we’re experiencing a dangerous situation, we’re remembering and planning. We’re focusing on boundaries, protection and safety. When we’ve chosen A Season of Unforgiveness, we’re remembering and plotting. We’re focusing on punishment, revenge and vindication.

The truth about forgiving and being vulnerable
Obviously, it’s challenging to forgive in the middle of an abusive situation.

We can mistakenly believe
that forgiving leaves us vulnerable,
when forgiving actually gives us clarity.

Before we forgive, we’re facing the wrong way—focusing on the pain and the past. After we forgive, we’re looking with clarity at the present. We draw strength from the truth. We remember Point #6: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring wrongdoing; Point #7: Forgiving doesn’t mean rejecting or sabotaging natural consequences; and Point #8: Forgiving doesn’t mean regaining trust.

What can we do to determine if we’ve actually forgiven in the midst of abuse? First, ask God if you need to forgive someone who’s involved in this situation—for a specific incident or in general. Second, consider your thoughts. Are you watching the same scene again and again? Do you think about punishment scenarios?

A prayer in a vulnerable situation
If you’re in a dangerous, vulnerable situation, pray this prayer. It’s filled with truths from God’s word. To see the Bible verses, click on the links.

Dear God, my situation is difficult. I’m vulnerable to attack. Please show me the things I need to do and say, and give me the courage to follow through. Give me the right words at the right time. I pray for wisdom and discernment. If I need to forgive someone, show me what’s left undone. You are my protector. You are with me and you are for me. I cast all my cares and anxieties on you because you care for me. Please give me sound and restful sleep at night and energy for each new day. Lord, I know that you will do the right thing at the right time. You will handle any appropriate vengeance or vindication. I trust in you. In Jesus’ precious and holy name I pray. Amen.

Make sure that you listen to the ethereal song below and watch the music video. It’s filled with powerful contrasts—darkness and light; night and morning; sin, Jesus’ atonement, life, the mercies of God and more.

Coming next: I think we’ll be digging into grace and maybe honor next time. I just have a few notes typed so far. We’ll both be surprised. 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: Lamentations 3:19-26

Song for Healing: “New Every Morning” by Audrey Assad reminds me of this expression: Believe and receive.

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