Archive for the ‘forgiveness’ Tag

The Surprising Nature of Forgiveness   1 comment

“FORGIVENESS is a heartache and difficult to achieve because strangely, it not only refuses to eliminate the original wound, but actually draws us closer to its source. To approach forgiveness is to close in on the nature of the hurt itself, the only remedy being, as we approach its raw center, to reimagine our relation to it.

“It may be that the part of us that was struck and hurt can never forgive, and that strangely, forgiveness never arises from the part of us that was actually wounded. The wounded self may be the part of us incapable of forgetting, and perhaps, not actually meant to forget, as if, like the foundational dynamics of the physiological immune system our psychological defenses must remember and organize against any future attacks – after all, the identity of the one who must forgive is actually founded on the very fact of having being wounded.

“Stranger still, it is that wounded, branded, un-forgetting part of us that eventually makes forgiveness an act of compassion rather than one of simple forgetting. To forgive is to assume a larger identity than the person who was first hurt, to mature and bring to fruition an identity that can put its arm, not only around the afflicted one within but also around the memories seared within us by the original blow and through a kind of psychological virtuosity, extend our understanding to one who first delivered it….

“To forgive is to put oneself in a larger gravitational field of experience than the one that first seem to hurt us. We re-imagine ourselves in the light of our maturity and we re-imagine the past in the light of our new identity, we allow ourselves to be gifted by a story larger than the story that first hurt us and left us bereft.”

~ David Whyte

Posted November 11, 2015 by janathangrace in Reading

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Catching Myself in Faux Forgiveness   2 comments

Oliver Sacks is dying.  This brilliant and eloquent neurologist is one of my favorite authors, and reading excerpts from his autobiography this morning reminded me of one large reason–he is a man of profound, lived, empathic grace.  I have often tried to forgive others by brute force, knowing it is the right thing to do and willing myself into a gentler mindset, but without off-setting any of the blame I levy against them.  This “forgiveness” requires no understanding, empathy, or reconsideration of my valuation of them and their behavior. They are bad; I am good–so good that I even forgive their sin against me. Instead of using their failure to reflect on my own shortcomings, on how we are similar, I use their faults to contrast with my virtue so that I understand neither them nor myself any better than before.  I “forgive” from a place of moral superiority rather than from a humble view of our mutual sinfulness so that my very forgiveness becomes a source of distancing and shaming rather than true reconciliation.   Their role is to humble themselves, admit how bad they are, and then I will magnanimously agree with their estimation–“Yes, you are bad, but I forgive you.”  As long as I don’t hold a grudge or wish them ill, I can claim to have forgiven them even if I continue to think badly of them.

But Sacks, by just being himself in relationship to others, showed me how inadequate my supposed grace is.  He not only forgave those who had deeply wounded him, but showed his understanding of their human struggle.  He could see why they reacted to him as they did and could empathize with their situation and viewpoint.  He did this without devaluing his own pain or pushing himself to engage more deeply in a wounding relationship than his soul could well maintain, but he found a way to protect himself without maligning those who injured him.  To understand and empathize with others does not require us to then subject ourselves to ongoing harmful behavior.  In fact, it is when we keep healthy boundaries that we are most able to empathize freely with those who behave in hurtful ways.  I learned first from Kimberly that the justification for my boundaries lies in my own needs, not in the other person’s faults.  Assigning blame is an entirely different consideration than what boundaries I need for my own well-being.  Taking full responsibility for my own boundaries frees me up to give grace with much more abandon because my love is no longer an opening for their hurtful behavior.  Forgiveness is not a moral power struggle, it is an acceptance of our mutual frailty and fallenness.

Posted May 26, 2015 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Be Honest Or Be Good?   1 comment

Following the great literary tradition of Dr. Seuss, someone coined the phrase “Fake it till you make it,” meaning that if you can’t do something good from the heart, do it without the heart until the heart catches up.  If you hate someone, smile and be nice anyway.  If you are frightened, affect a bold, unflinching attitude.  If you are upset, act as though you are calm.  Fake it.

Pretense never appealed to me. I take the honest approach.  If I hate someone or think he’s stupid, I let him know it, scowl at him across four lanes of traffic or shake my head in pity.  There’s a reason I don’t have any Jesus bumper stickers on my car–it would be false advertising.   “Receive Jesus and you can be just like me” has some major shortcomings as a marketing strategy.  To be honest (I’ll try to stick with that), I’ve noticed that when I force a smile through clenched teeth, and he smiles back, good happens, a sliver of peace accidentally slips down into my heart and relaxes my jaw.

Or not.  When I try to stuff the bad feelings and force myself to be virtuous, it doesn’t work so well.  I wrestle down my aggravation over this lane-hogging driver… and the one who dilly-dallied till I missed the green light… and this guy who parked so crooked I can’t pull in, and each time I push down the bubbling anger, it comes back up hotter.  Putting a lid on it can make things boil over.

So which is it–does it help or hurt to act good when I don’t feel good?  Why does positive behavior sometimes pull my reluctant heart along and at other times trip it up?

For me, it depends on the impetus.  When I choose to do good in a way that seems to devalue and override my feelings, it turns radioactive.  When I give grace to others by denying it to myself, it poisons me.  In fact, I don’t think it’s real grace.  Picture grace as electricity–I am the cable, and God is the generator, and when I cut myself off from grace, I also cut off those who receive it from me.  Being only the wire, I can’t crank grace out on my own, especially not from legalism (which is the impetus if I am moved purely by obligation).  Or to say it without wires and sparks: I cannot shame and fight my feelings and then hope to be accepting and generous towards others.

Here is how it plays out for me in two traffic scenarios.  First, under law.  I try to clamp down on my irritation by “shoulding” on myself, forcing down my feelings.  Legalism makes me very conscientious as a driver–I don’t tail-gate, I let others merge in front of me (one car only, thank you), I don’t hold people up at traffic lights as I text on my phone.  I work hard at it because my self-worth is tested daily, and I have to pass every section, even the driving part, to get my human license re-validated.  If God’s keeping a scorecard, I can’t afford to make mistakes, and If I can’t have excuses, neither can you.  It’s a tense way to be a driver… and a husband… and an employee… and a neighbor… and a human.

Grace only has room to flow in when I change the game from whack-a-mole to save-a-mole.  I decide to accept myself and others with our mistakes instead of trying to beat out the faults till we deserve acceptance.  Instead of saying in my head, I drive right, so you must drive right, I say, I make mistakes, so you may make mistakes.  Now this is not a new equation of fairness on a different standard as though I am saying I will allow you as many mistakes as I allow myself, but if you cross the limit, I’ll whack you.  Grace is unlimited.  It is no longer based on fairness.  Whatever I need I get and whatever you need you get.

But what if it goes past mistakes into meanness–she is deliberately unkind.  Then grace takes the form of forgiveness, and since I need a lot of that too, I want forgiveness to be woven into the ambiance of grace in my relational world.  I’m not suggesting a world without boundaries, leaving us defenseless.  But walls are not weapons, so personal boundaries are not a conflict with grace, but a concession to our limitations.  In fact, boundaries are a form of grace to myself, providing support for my weaknesses and security for my fears, and only then will I have the resources to offer grace to others, even to trolls, who are no less deserving.  None of us have merit badges–that’s why we need grace.

Posted March 3, 2014 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Ambiance of Grace   4 comments

Forgiveness part 6: Grace-infused relationships

(I found my flash drive with my notes on forgiveness, so I’ll continue sharing my thoughts.  So far I discussed the need for mutual understanding and self-support in relational conflicts.)

Forgiveness seems like such a wonderful resolution to any conflict… until you forgive me for a lie I did not tell or a missing wallet I did not steal.  Here is the downside of forgiveness–it starts with blame.  I was raised in a family that believed every conflict or pain in relationship was someone’s fault.  If I feel hurt, it’s your fault or if you’re innocent, then I’m wrong to feel hurt.  Someone’s always guilty.  Every conflict was resolved by making the wrongdoer confess and apologize, a power struggle with a winner and loser (really no one wins, and the relationship suffers).  Forced apologies are a stipend of American families: “Tell your brother you’re sorry!”

scapegoat

Genuine forgiveness is only one part of a whole gracious worldview with which I perceive others and relate to them.  What others consider an issue of forgiveness is often simply an issue of acceptance for Kimberly and me.  We offer grace to one another (patience, understanding, benefit of the doubt) without making it a question of someone being right and someone being wrong–we are both flawed and we want to create an environment where we are accepted with our shortcomings.  We do this all the time in facing mild irritations—when she slams kitchen cupboards or I forget to empty the vacuum cleaner canister.  But even with big issues, I have learned from Kimberly that the path of blame and forgiveness is usually a misguided diversion from sorting out our problems with grace.

rumi

Using my family’s approach, I tried in our first few years of marriage to help her see her faults and correct them (shame her into goodness), but she would have none of it–it was not her deeds but my perceptions that were faulty.  She was right, we needed better understanding and acceptance, not better behavior.  Love certainly inspires us to change for one another, but it is the result of acceptance, not the basis for it.  She and I have unique personalities and values, fears and pleasures, histories and perspectives, so we experience the same things quite differently.  This does not make one of us right and the other wrong, one better and one worse. We are learning to appreciate our differences.

JUST 'CAUSE WE'RE DIFFERENT DOESN'T MEAN ME CAN'T GET ALONG

JUST ‘CAUSE WE’RE DIFFER’NT DON’T MEAN WE CAN’T GET ALONG

It’s true that Kimberly doesn’t tell me lies or steal my wallet, but neither do my colleagues or neighbors usually… not even most strangers I meet.  Certainly there is plenty of real wrong in the world, evil that needs to be identified, confronted, and forgiven. But to me, that is the relational ER.  For most of my daily interactions I want to foster a spirit of humble and loving acceptance and understanding.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy, and Lord knows I need a lot of it.

grace

Posted June 17, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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The Fear of Being Forgiven   Leave a comment

I lost my USB drive holding my reflections on forgiveness, so my momentum on that topic has died, but here is a great quote from Stanley Hauerwas in The Peaceable Kingdom:

It is crucial that we understand that such a peaceableness is possible only if we are also a forgiven people.  We must remember that our first task is not to forgive, but to learn to be the forgiven.  Too often to be ready to forgive is a way of exerting control over another.  We fear accepting forgiveness from another because such a  gift makes us powerless—and we fear the loss of control involved.  Yet we continue to pray, “Forgive our debts.”  Only by learning to accept God’s forgiveness as we see it in the life and death of Jesus can we acquire the power that comes from learning to give up that control….

forgiveness

To be forgiven means that I must face the fact that my life actually lies in the hands of others.  I must learn to trust them as I have learned to trust God….  

But because we have learned to live as a forgiven people, as a  people no longer in  control, we also find we can become a whole people.  Indeed the demand that we be holy is possible only because we find that we can rest within ourselves.  When we exist as a forgiven people we are able to be at peace with our histories, so that now God’s life determines our whole way of being—our character.  We no longer need to deny our past, or tell ourselves false stories, as now we can accept what we have been without the knowledge of our sin destroying us.

Posted April 25, 2013 by janathangrace in Reading

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Healing Takes Time   Leave a comment

Forgiveness 5: Sorting Out My Feelings

When I am insulted or slighted, abused or betrayed and the offender won’t discuss it, at least not honestly, I try to decipher her on my own so I can better shape my response.  In every conflict I want to be as gracious as I’m able, starting with grace to myself so that I will have the resources to be gracious to the offender, genuinely gracious—out of freedom, not obligation.  Self-acceptance, not shame or duty, is the soil from which true forgiveness springs.   When I am wounded, it may take time to recover my own sense of grace (that is, to settle into God’s grace).  It takes as long as it takes.  It is crucial that I not sacrifice my own well-being by rushing to work through emotional issues.  I do not nurse my hurt, but I should not belittle my hurt either.  Neither of these is an honest and healthy approach.  Doing a quick patch-up job is disrespectful of and harmful to myself as well as our relationship.

Again, my focus is on my own pain, not on blaming the other person, but since I have been hurt, I no longer feel safe with her.  Until I have found some personal resolution, our relationship will also lack resolution.  I may need a break from our usual level of interaction… whatever I need to stay emotionally safe long enough to work through my own stuff.  I should tell her clearly that I am not punishing her, that this is about me and what I need and not an effort to manipulate her into feeling bad or changing her behavior.  (And I need to be sure this is true.)

Ultimately I want to somehow get to the point that I feel no ill will towards her.  Whether I reach this through exonerating her or through forgiving her is not crucial as long as I am respectful towards myself (my perspective and feelings) in the process.  I may decide that this is primarily my own issue and not hers.  I may determine that she is at fault, and that I will need to forgive her.  I am not her final judge, so I may fault her wrongly, but forgiveness still works: it frees me from suffocating on my own anger and bile.

Posted March 28, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Love Shaped Questions   2 comments

Forgiveness 4: Seeking Understanding

love question

When I get whacked by the blunt end of a relationship, I first need to assess the bruising and salve it with compassion.  From this haven of acceptance and support, I can draw enough grace to respond in a healthier way to the bruiser.  But before forgiveness is even an option, I need to piece the story together: why did he act that way?   Easy forgiveness brushes aside this opportunity of better understanding.  What are his heart sores and life hurdles?  How did he see and experience our social fumble?  We also need a better grasp of the relationship.  Every interpersonal dynamic is involved here: truth-seeking, communication, perception, relational history, roles, expectations, and a hundred other facets.  Forgiveness is only part of this complex relational feng shui, so if it is my only consideration, I turn a vivid social mosaic into a black/white toggle switch of blame.

blame block

shortcut

Quick forgiveness looks so gracious, and long discussion seems so dramatic.  Both of us may want a quick fix, and perhaps it’s the right choice for now, but we should remember that this tables the issue, it doesn’t resolve it.  The same conflict will pop up again and again until we sort it out.  Deferring until later may feel better in the short run, and may be a necessary strategic move, but it does not enrich our bond.  And slowly over time little resentments will build up like barnacles on a boat or relational callouses will form to deaden the pain and with it the vibrant connection.

So I begin to unfold the map of who he is.  I’m not looking for evidence to accuse him.  I simply want to understand him, see things from his perspective.  Since resolution requires mutuality, I share with him in turn my struggles, without implying fault.  Just as my own heart hides when I am gruff and suspicious with it, he cannot be honest and forthcoming about his genuine feelings and thoughts if I don’t invite him with gentleness and love.  I can accept him without approving of or excusing his behavior.  He is precious regardless of what he does or doesn’t do.  I want to know what he feels about our scrape and why he feels this way.  If he is dismissive or defensive as I probe, then he’s not at a safe place with me. He may not even feel safe with himself because of the shaming voices in his head.  When he closes the gate on this part of our relationship, I must honor it—I cannot force him to share.  In response, I may also need to stake down a boundary marker to protect my heart.  Perhaps a better time will come if I stay open and gracious.

DO YOU SPEAK RABBIT?

DO YOU SPEAK RABBIT?

If we can break through into deeper mutual insight, we will then want to reflect also on our relationship.  This will spark memories of past conflicts, a rich resource to ponder if we don’t use it as ammunition but as sutures.  Why do we react to one another in this way in these situations?   What are we feeling and thinking?  Do we respond to others in similar ways?  Why or why not?  What patterns does this reveal about our interactions?  Since honesty and openness depend on our sense of safety, the one issue we overlook at this point is blame.  It may be that neither of us is guilty or both are guilty or that the problem lies in a completely different direction.  But once we are sharing, the issue of fault and forgiveness often becomes moot.

Posted March 22, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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Care for the Wounded Self   5 comments

pain-and-shots

Forgiveness 3: Postponing Blame

“Why can’t we learn our spiritual lessons over a box of chocolates instead of through suffering?” a friend once asked me.  Unfortunately this fallen world is thick with pain, especially relational pain, but there’s a flower in the nettles: it’s the hard stuff that grows me personally in patience and courage, and it’s the tough stuff that deepens and strengthens my friendships.  When we brush up against others, our tender nerves jangle us alert to something in our interaction that needs tending.

If I feel the arrows, I snatch up my shield to defend myself, which is natural and healthy—self-protection by flight or fight—but it hurts me if I use that to dodge rather than pursue growth in myself and my relationships.  My emotions yelp when some wound needs my compassionate attention, a wound that may be decades old.  My friend (or enemy) may be the occasion for my pain without being the cause of it.  Her soft words may strike against a sharp emotional edge in my past.  On the other hand, her innocence does not invalidate my pain.  My feelings are what they are regardless of her role.  They carry within them their own legitimacy and don’t need outside validation.  They speak the truth, not about her but about me, about the cuts and bruises on my soul.

crab

When I am hurt in some interaction, I need to slow down and pay attention to the ache, and I need to provide enough emotional space to tend to my injury.  Sometimes, at least initially, this may get messy for the relationship.  I may withdraw for a time or push back, but the goal in padding my emotions is not to avoid, but to embrace this opportunity of self-discovery.  So when I have cleared enough emotional room, I slowly disentangle my pain from her actions and take ownership of my pain.  I do not mean that I blame myself for my pain! If I barge accusingly into my soul, it will duck for cover.  The wounded need compassion, not condemnation.  By taking ownership I mean identifying the agitating source inside me and not outside me (so I can take charge of the healing process).  The diagnosis starts with a caring “Why?”  Why do I feel bad, especially if my feelings are more intense than others would be in this situation.  If I try to fix the relationship before I understand my own heart, things are apt to get more twisted.

blame-her

I am slowly learning, but I still habitually jump past this necessary groundwork when I feel stung.  I quickly assume blame—either he’s at fault for hurting me or I’m at fault for feeling hurt.  But if I blacken the other guy in order to justify my feelings or in order to get him to take responsibility, I overlook what my wincing heart is telling me about my own wounds and need for support, compassion, and healing.  I’m not suggesting that we should deny our feelings about the other person.  That anger, doubt, and fear is the very emotion I must identify, feel, and discern, but I make sense of my feelings by listening to them with gentle care, not by blaming the other fellow.

When I make the other person’s behavior the focus of my attention, I undermine my own self-support, even when he is clearly at fault.  He has leveraged power against me by his hurtful acts, but if I continue to focus on what he’s done, I keep myself his prisoner.  Even if I induce him to apologize and make amends so that I feel better, I will be worse off for it because my good feelings are still dependent on his response, and so I am still under his power.  Whenever I make someone else responsible for my feelings, I lose control of my own emotional life.

I don’t mean to suggest that I have to sort out my own stuff by myself.  We often need the help of a friend who knows us well and accepts us as we are… not someone to “side” with us against the other, but someone who helps us understand ourselves better.  If the issue is not a powder keg, then I may be able to talk it through with the person who upset me, but the focus should really be on discerning my own wounds and needs, not on venting or “correcting” the other person.  The apology I want so much to hear may dull the sting but will not heal the lesions in my heart.  My heart needs comfort, acceptance, embrace—love that is enduring, unquenchable, unconditional, inescapable, unbridled, and passionate.

Mother-Hugging-Child

Thanks for Hurting Me   Leave a comment

Forgiveness II: Other options

My friendships are sprinkled with boredom and surprise, tinged with ambivalence and enthusiasm, stuffed with doubts and hopes, fears and triumphs.  They wander through gardening and coffee and politics, with rants and laughs and confusion.  Relationships are so rich and complex and rewarding.  And they are painful.  That’s the part we’d like to cut out like a tumor.  We commonly assume that pain in friendship is a bad thing, a sign that something has gone wrong, a malignancy.  It certainly feels bad, and so we naturally want to avoid it or resolve it as quickly as possible.  I know I do.  Berly quietly mentions my lateness or messiness and it feels like a bee sting.  My emotions jump, swatting and dodging to protect the softer parts of my soul, sometimes with clenched words, sometimes in the silent safety of my mind, working out feverishly a plan to escape future critiques.

bee sting
In spite of my fears and doubts, I’ve come to realize that the hard patches in our togetherness are quite often the most vital for our well-being and richest for our relationship.  They uncover something important about me, about her, and about us.  They open the way to deeper understanding, connection, and love, greater trust and security with one another.  But this path requires the courage to face into the storm and work through the feelings together, not find ways to side-step the mess or slap up quick fixes.
Pain in relationships can come from so many sources–differences of perspective, personality, priorities, or preferences, unavoidable circumstances and pressures, misunderstandings, bad timing, sensitivity, stupidity.  Notice that none of these things are culpable offenses, not even stupidity, so forgiveness is not the answer.  Close neighbors to forgiveness come into play—patience, humility, acceptance, and benefit of the doubt when the behavior is irritating or problematic or inconvenient to us.  But I think forgiveness uniquely addresses the issue of wrongdoing.  There is a big difference between excusing or making room for someone’s behavior and forgiving them.

patience
Forgiveness is only relevant when someone is to blame, and such a turn must be taken with care since that exit for dealing with relational pain bypasses other options, perhaps better options.  For instance, if the major problem is miscommunication, we prefer seeking clarity rather than blame, at least in our calmer moments.
When one of us feels hurt, it’s best to slow down, breathe, get some emotional space, and try to sort through the feelings, seeking mutual understanding.  This is far easier if we can leave aside blame for the moment.  A rush to judgment sets one against the other, obscures the truth, and slows progress personally and relationally.  I know how hard it is for me to move in a healthy direction when I feel defensive.  In the end, if one of us needs to choose a better course of action (repent), why not start from a place of insight and love rather than coercion and shame?  In our marriage, when seeking understanding is the goal instead of deciding fault, we find that forgiveness plays a much smaller role.

couple

Posted March 11, 2013 by janathangrace in thoughts

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The Universe Where Forgiveness Lives   2 comments

Forgiveness Part I: Framework

 
world puzzleForgiveness is a small portion of how I respond to others when I am hurt, and this in turn is a small part of the much bigger framework of human relationships.  To understand any piece of this jigsaw puzzle requires me to know its connection to the other pieces and to have a general grasp of the whole.  So let’s peek at the box top.

This is a profoundly social cosmos. A profoundly conversational cosmos. In a social cosmos, a talking cosmos, a muttering, whispering, singing, wooing, and order-shouting cosmos, relationships count. Things can’t exist without each other. And the ways things relate to each other can make them radically different from their fellow things.  –Howard Bloom, The God Problem

Everything from the dance of electrons and protons to the gravitational pull of the Milky Way finds its place in the universe by its connection to other things.  As part of this social cosmos, we humans are profoundly shaped by our relationships–our families and communities and cultures.  We largely understand ourselves and our place in this world based on the input we get from others.  This is both wonderful and awful, for our greatest joys come from love and belonging but our worst wounds come from separation and rejection.

broken love

We don’t really have much choice about this fundamental social reality.  We can’t invent our own language and still hope for connection.  We speak our mother’s tongue or stay mute.  In the same way, our thoughts and actions are channeled by the perspectives of our families and cultures.  Our whole world is organized and explained to us from one specific vantage point so that even to argue with it, we have to speak from that context.  We can’t disagree with our English-speaking mom in Hindi. We are inextricably tied to our relational ecosystem.  We may be able to switch contexts, but we always have a context, and we always crate our past along with us (ask any married couple).

webLife is a web of relationships, and so to discover who I am in distinction from others, I must understand them and how I relate to them.  I soon realize that although there are individual strands in this system, they’re all interconnected.  When I put my hand on any one relational dynamic all the rest vibrate.  Anger is connected to shame and fear, shame impacts perspective and motivation, motivation informs decisions, focus, resources, and a hundred other elements.  It is not only that I am connected to my brother, but that I am tied to him in a thousand complex ways.  Each interaction sets the web twitching, and before I respond, it is best to understand myself and my brother and the relational dynamics between us.  I should not have a default response, not even forgiveness.  Trying to fix every problem with forgiveness is like repairing a house with just a saw.