Friday, September 14, 2012

How To Forgive (part 2)

Continuing on in our journey to forgiveness, if you are reading this then you have already made two decisions; the first being that you have decided to forgive, followed with the decision as to why you are choosing to forgive.  In other words you have worked out for yourself (because you are the only one who can) what is in it for you, to choose the path of forgiveness.  You did not make the decision because it’s what you are expected to do, or because others have told you that you should, because if you did, in the end you will not honestly forgive.  You made it because you have answered the primary question that you must answer before you can truly begin pursing forgiveness… WIFM ‘What’s in it for me?’
Now you must answer another question that only you can answer, I can not give you the answer, nor can reading any book (or blog), listening to any scholar, friend, guide, pastor or family member.  All of whom can give you “an” answer, but not "the" answer.  You have to decide this for yourself.  

You must define what ‘forgiveness’ means to you.  If you don’t own the meaning of it, then it is simply a word, and not an action.  To help you discover what forgiveness means to you, it will help to know what it is not, to identify any misconceptions that may be lingering about in your mind as to what forgiveness is. 

Forgiveness is NOT:
1.      Forgiveness is not sending the message that he (or she) can do wrong and get away with it.
2.      Forgiveness does not mean that you have to bury your anger
3.      Forgiveness does not mean the other person wins and you lose.
4.      Forgiveness is not putting a smile on your face and saying everything is okay
5.      Forgiveness is not going soft on something that is severely wrong.
6.      Forgiveness does not mean you have to be the good guy while the bad guys skips away free
7.      Forgiveness is not  letting go of healthy forms of anger
8.      Forgiveness is not lying down and becoming a human doormat.
9.      Forgiveness is not pretending to go back to normal as if nothing happened.
10.  Forgiveness is not allowing others to disrespect your needs and boundaries.
11.  Forgiveness is not telling the one who has harmed you that the past does not matter
12.  Forgiveness is not denying that you may have to live with the pain caused by the one who harmed you.            AND LASTLY
13.  Forgiveness is not agreeing to be best friends with the one who harmed you.  

Some things that forgiveness DOES:

1.    You will release any demand for restitution, especially if you have exhausted all reasonable efforts at restitution or restoration.
2.    You choose to let go of any illusions that you might somehow control the wrongdoer’s life.
3.    You will choose to give up any obsessions in regards to the wrongdoer, as you have better things to devote your attention to.
4.    You will focus on rewarding relationships and pursuits.
5.    You will stop looking in the mirror at what is in your wake and instead look forward to the new opportunities that await you.
6.    You will give yourself permission to make choices that will lead you to contentment, peace and joy. 

The choice of forgiveness will not eliminate your pain, nor does it mean that you will never feel emotions associated with the trespass that has been committed against you.  What it does do is regardless of the trespass you have been made to endure, it enables you to refocus your energy, emotions and thoughts on the better plans of the future instead of remaining tied to the burdens of the past indefinitely. 

Before we turn our attention to how healthy anger and forgiveness not only can co-exist, but actually go hand in hand, you must first answer the question  

What does forgiveness mean to you?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

How To Forgive (part 1)

I will go to church on Sunday and it is very likely that somewhere within the sermon that I will listen to, that my pastor will encourage forgiveness.  He will quote scripture and draw a lesson on why we should forgive those who have sinned against us.  If you go to church you probably have and will hear something similar on a fairly frequent basis.  I have heard different variations of that same message my entire life and so have you.  I do not disagree with the idea, the action or the encouragement to do so, however what is frequently lacking in these messages of “why” is the all important “how”.  To explain the “why” and not the “how”, reminds me of the old Abbot and Costello comedic routine “Who’s on First”.   It can only lead to confusion at best and frequently to long lasting guilt for those who are struggling with forgiving someone who has caused them harm.

Let’s be honest, we all struggle with forgiveness, no one is immune to it.  If you have dwelled on this planet for any length of time perhaps you can relate to being haunted by problems from your recent or long ago past that seem insurmountable.  Perhaps you have scolded yourself for not being “over” it, or at least further down the road towards forgiving the individual who hurt you.  Many of you have gone so far as to attempt to convince  yourselves that you shouldn’t even be feeling the pain that you feel, that somehow your pain is not legitimate.  However the truth is, that your pain is legitimate and the good intentions of your friends, family, church, society, and finally yourself telling you that you are wrong for feeling unforgiving only magnifies and impedes your struggle to forgive. 

There begins the motivation for the following series on “How to Forgive”.  It is meaningless, pointless and cruel to instruct someone on why they need to do something, and then fail to show them how to do it.  While I do believe that you should forgive, I will not tell you that you have to.  If you choose to, then perhaps what I will write will be of benefit to you in that endeavor, if  you choose not to then you need go no further then my first point.  

Forgiveness is a choice

Read that again. Forgiveness is a choice.  This is going to sound backwards, and it certainly sounds (at first) as if it goes against Christian theology, but as forgiveness is a choice, it means that you do not have to forgive.  No one can force you to forgive, it is not mandatory.  In other words, to understand how to forgive you must first understand that you do not have to.  That the only way to truly forgive is to permit yourself to hold on to your anger and hurt feelings forever if that is what you want.  

You can not settle upon which choice you are going to pursue until you have answered the same question we all must ask of ourselves.  “Why should I forgive?”  Or put another way “What benefit to you would there be if you choose forgiveness or if you choose to hold on to your hurt and anger?”   You need to settle your answer to that question before you can move any further in either direction. 

Next Post - What is Forgiveness

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Forgiveness - How Love Wins (part 5 of 5)

“Forgiveness is the final form of love.”  
Reinhold Niebuhr

In the world you and I live in, there are very, very, very few things that can be stated with absolute certainty; but this is one of them; as long as we live on this side of Heaven we will face conflict.  If you are most of us who dwell on this planet that means that you will be on the “losing side” of that conflict more often than you are on the “winning side”.  As a result you will be susceptible to feelings of anger, anxiety and depression; you will suffer broken relationships, rejections, manipulation and abandonment…. 

Conflict is inevitable, and it hurts, sometimes it hurts so deeply that it rips at your very soul, however in spite of that you were made to have options, you were made to have the ability to choose, while you can not chose to opt out of the trespasses that will be committed against you, you can choose what happens inside you. 

That is what this short series has been about - “choices”; for once you realize that you have options available to you, it is then possible for you to choose which course you want to follow.  Many people are afraid to forgive because they feel they must remember the wrong or they will not learn from it. The opposite is true. Through forgiveness, the wrong is released from its emotional stranglehold on us so that we can learn from it. Through the power and intelligence of the heart, the release of forgiveness brings hope.
I am not so naive to presume that by just telling a person that they need to forgive that anything has actually been accomplished, more often than not, such a statement causes more stress and does more harm than good.  Why?  Because while you may have been taught right from wrong, good from evil, that you were to be forgiving, and fair while you were a child; and while you may have had an awkward and brief conversation about sex; truthfully how many of us when were teenagers did a parent, counselor, trusted friend, guide, sit down with you and say “Let’s have a discussion about your emotions, the meaning and direction of them, how you deal with adversity and how you are going to deal with the inevitable heartbreaks and conflicts of your life.”   You were never taught HOW to forgive; and the church in America which preaches forgiveness, offers no guidance whatsoever, other then to tell you that you must forgive to be forgiven.  Talk about pressure. 

I am going to tell you truthfully and straight up that to find the hope that you once possessed YOU MUST FORGIVE; however I will also acknowledge that it took me years worth of work to forgive those who betrayed, slandered, lied, stole from and abandoned me.  Forgiveness does not happen overnight. But it can happen, if you choose to seek it.  Time does not heal all wounds, it simply covers them up under a layer of dirt, you can not will forgiveness into existence, you can not pray it into existence, you must work at it, and it will be the hardest work you will ever undertake.  If you ever want to have peace and hope, it is what is necessary.  

While I have spent the last five posts writing about forgiveness and why you need to forgive, what I have really been doing is leading you to the next step.  Doing it.  To help you in that endeavor I will turn my attention to sharing with you what I have learned in my struggle to forgive, not why, but HOW - Twelve Imperfect Steps to Forgiveness (more or less).