Saturday, December 12, 2015

Learning to Debunk the Myths of Forgive-and-Forget

Are you in a situation where the same person keeps hurting you again and again?  You know you're supposed to keep forgiving, but things aren't getting any better.  You feel powerless.

If so, then Kay Bruner's new book 'Debunking the Myths of Forgive-And-Forget' was written for you.

If this isn't the case, then keep reading anyway.  To be honest, I'm struggling to think of many situations in my own life when I've been deeply hurt by someone else, but I've still learnt some great stuff about forgiveness by reading this book.

Kay shows how the simple 'forgive and forget' that we were taught as children, and in some cases are still being taught, isn't enough to help us through the complex situations we now find ourselves in.  In fact, this over-simplified answer can lead to us feeling further crippled by pain and helplessness.

These myths of forgiveness are dispelled in the book:

*Forgiveness is quick and easy
*Forgiveness makes me a victim
*Forgiveness condones abuse
*Forgiveness means I can’t confront
*Forgiveness means the relationship is automatically restored
*Forgiveness requires restoration of the relationship

Kay explains how to approach forgiveness so that it will truly bring 'rest to our souls'.  I love this:

'Forgiveness is not another burden for us. It’s the way to live free and clear, but we’ve got to take our hands off the other person’s throat in order to receive the gift of freedom.'

It can be dangerous to focus only on forgiveness and to ignore what it says in the Bible about dealing appropriately with grievances.

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” Matthew 18: 15-17, NLT

As the author writes, 'Jesus tells us that he cares passionately about the abandoned, the poor, the downtrodden. Injustice, as Jesus talks about it, is not something to put up with, or to quickly “forgive and forget.” Injustice is something to be resisted and corrected and dealt with. When we find ourselves confronted with injustice, we ought to take the strongest possible steps to stop it...'

I read about the importance of speaking up in relationships and of getting help from others if needed.  I liked the idea of thinking carefully before confronting: Checking that the offence really is a sin, rather than a difference of opinion; asking whether there's something else going on within us that makes us react so strongly; and checking that the issue truly is something that it's our business to point out.

One thing I found really helpful was reading about the difference between 'Forgiveness', 'Trust', and 'Healing'. 

* It's my job to forgive, to 'let go of my right to the debt I am owed'.

* It's up to the other person to act in a way that is trustworthy.

* Healing is something different again and, ultimately, is God's responsibility.

Applying this to situations that could come up in my own life:

*I can forgive someone for not yet completing a task, while still approaching them about finishing it.
*I can forgive someone, even though I'm still dealing with the consequences of their actions.
*I can forgive someone for regularly letting me down regarding a practical matter, but still choose to make back-up plans.
*I can forgive someone while still acknowledging that they have issues to work through.
*I can forgive someone for repeatedly disclosing my secret , but I'll be more careful about what I share next time.
*I can forgive someone for causing me pain, even though it still hurts.

Kay discusses what to do when reconciliation isn't a healthy choice, including situations when someone remains untrustworthy.  She explains,

'Releasing the relationship doesn’t mean that we shun or hate or despise. We simply release the other person from our expectations and obligations, and trust God to bless that other person. I may not have the capacity, in my pain, to be a blessing to that person. But God can, and He will. No matter how badly the relationship may have ended, God still loves that person. He loves me. As we release relationships, we trust that God redeems and restores, even though we can’t.'

I want to end with one of my favourite quotes from the book.  Kay is writing about Jesus' response when Peter asks how many times he should forgive someone.  This is her interpretation of what Jesus is saying to Peter:

'You’re right. You can’t control what other people are going to do. Remember, we don’t live in the power paradigm. We live as receivers and givers of Love, dedicated to offering reconciliation, not insisting on control. After you’ve confronted the person, and pursued justice, sadly, that person may not choose reconciliation. Eventually, you might just have to forgive, seventy times seven. But guess what, you have more resources than you’ve ever explored. Stop obsessing about what this one person owes you, and revel in all the riches of the Kingdom. Once you do that, that old debt might not matter quite as much. But let me tell you, if you’re so determined to pursue what that one person owes you, you’re going to turn your back on the treasure, and you’ll end up miserable. That’s how it works. You’ve got free will. You choose.'

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Fixated on a Plan

Yesterday a friend was talking to me about the debilitating frustration of having a plan thwarted; how it can feel impossible to move on to a different task when there's such a strong desire to carry out the original plan.

I first I thought, "Well, I can't relate to that".  Later though I laughed at myself while remembering that this exact thing had happened to me the night before:

It was Friday night and I was more exhausted than I'd been in a long time.  But it was ok, because I had a plan: I would borrow a DVD and then lie on the sofa to watch it as soon as I'd got the girls into bed. 

It all started off fine.  The children and I each found a DVD to borrow and (I thought) we took them all home.  However, just after reading the bedtime story I realised I couldn't find my DVD anywhere. 

My plan was thwarted!  I felt like there was no way I could now experience the restful, relaxing evening that I'd been looking forward to all week. 

I was not happy.  And everyone knew it.  Even the front door felt the effects of my frustration as I stomped in from checking the car one more time.

Eventually I did calm down, and spent the evening watching a TV programme.  I achieved my goal of having a quiet evening, but just not in the way I'd first planned.

There was nothing wrong with my desire to spend the evening watching the borrowed DVD.  In fact, my need to spend an evening horizontal, doing something restful, was very real (that was obvious to all!).  The problem came when my desire to achieve this time of rest through a particular DVD became a 'need'.

The quotes in italics are from 'Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands' by Paul David Tripp:

The source of (improper) need-driven expectation is the source of untold conflict in relationships...Eventually I will come to accept the logic of my neediness.  I will find it painful to live without the thing I desire.  I will think it is appropriate to do everything in my power to get it.  It becomes my right.

The following steps are helpful in showing how a healthy desire can start to turn sinister:

1. Desire: "I want."  Nothing went wrong here.

2. Demand: "I must." The desire is no longer an expression of love for God and man, but something I crave for myself.

3. Need: "I will." Something desirable is now seen as essential.  I am convinced I cannot live without it.

These can lead to

4. Expectation: "You should." 

5. Disappointment: "You didn't!"

6. Punishment: "Because you didn't, I will..."

I found this Bible quote from James 4:1 (NIV) very helpful in understanding what goes on in me:

What causes quarrels and fights among you?  Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?

Our desires fight for control of our hearts.  What controls our hearts will exercise inescapable influence over our lives and behaviour. 

Often our desires involve positive goals.  For instance, we might want to complete a project that would be helpful to many; we might desire to finish a task with 100% accurately; perhaps we want our time to be used efficiently.  But these desires can still get in the way of what God most wants for us if we let them become needs or demands.

There are some things that we know are always top priorities.  I know God wants me to be kind and patient towards others.  (I also know that I need to look after my own body and mind so that I'm as prepared as I can be for this task.)  When other felt needs become more important to me than my need to put God first and to love others, then something is wrong.  My other 'needs' have become idols. 

For those of us who live with family, it quickly becomes obvious (to our families, if not to us!) when we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by the less vital desires. 

As I've mentioned before, I have a big fear of communicating the wrong information.  Of course there's nothing wrong with re-reading an email once to check that it really says what I want it to and that there aren't any obvious errors.  However, when I'm refusing to attend to the needs of my children because I'm spending so long checking and re-checking what I wrote, then my need to 'get it right' has become an idol that is more important to me than loving my children.  By being too focussed on one area of responsibility, I actually become irresponsible.

It can be challenging to notice all the desires that are battling within us, and to work out what matters most.  It's especially hard when some of the less important desires feel so vital.  Perhaps we each have to figure out for ourselves which strategies will help us do what's right in the face of thwarted plans or tempting distractions.  Here is what's helpful for me:

*I might consciously remind myself I'm doing the right thing, even if it doesn't feel like it. 

*I can ask myself what action would be most honouring to God right now. 

*As someone whose mind tends to fixate on irrational obsessions, it helps to ask a trusted person whether the thing that feels so important to me really is something I need to be putting energy into. (edit: Clare's husband is amazingly awesome at this!--her husband)

* If I'm spending too long trying to get something 'just right', I know I need to hand over to God the responsibility for the outcome of my work, remembering that he is big enough even to turn my mess into something that will bring him glory. 

*In the case of my DVD-melt-down, especially as I was feeling so exhausted, it helped when I finally stopped my frantic activity and instead lay down and calmed down for a few minutes until I started to think more clearly.  If I'd had more energy, doing something different and enjoyable for a few minutes might have helped my distress levels to diminish enough that I could approach the situation more rationally.

It's hard.  It's painful.  We won't always get it right.  But being able to recognise that our strongest desires aren't always the ones that we need to be attending to, no matter how important they might feel, seems like a great first step.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Gladly Receiving Help

A bunch of people from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Giovana Milanezi, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio
The last few weeks seem to have involved a higher level of activity than usual, and we have also experienced a higher number of minor mishaps than we normally do.

At the start of the weekend Andrew had an injured knee and was coming down with a virus; and I had a car with a dead battery that needed replacing.  We also needed to urgently improve security at the house. 

I can find it uncomfortable to accept help from others; but this weekend we weren't in any place to helping ourselves.

I was reminded of the time I first fully accepted that sometimes I need to be the one accepting help, that I can't always expect to be the person doing the helping:

We were preparing to leave our overseas home so that our third baby could be born in the UK.

Preparing to leave and packing away our personal possessions is always hard work.  It's bad enough for organised people, but it presents a particular challenge of those of us who get distracted easily and are organisationally challenged! 

I received offers of help from a couple of friends, which I really appreciated.  Accepting this help wasn't too hard for me because my friends were under no pressure to offer it. 

It was a reminder though that I really do need the body of Christ, and that it can be a very good thing to accept help from others, especially when they are gifted in areas that I'm not.

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12 NLT)

What was really hard was having to ask for help from those who would be inconvenienced by assisting. 

I had an awful time trying to fill in all the paperwork that was required in order to fly after the 32nd week of pregnancy. Numerous difficulties came up in getting everything approved. 
Two days before we were due to leave the country, after our family had already flown to the capital city to wait for our international flight, I was told that the paperwork had to be filled in again on a different form. 
A good friend had to spend her evening printing off various forms so that the doctor could fill them in once more. The doctor, who already had plans for the evening, then had to spent her Friday night re-filling in forms that she'd already filled in earlier that week.  I hated it!  I would willingly have been the person madly rushing around to help someone else in need, but I felt terrible being the person who required others to be put out on my account.
So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.  This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:22-25 NLT)

When I'm in a place of having less dignity I'm not a hindrance to the body but am just as valued as when I'm strong. What matters is that the body is working well together. 

Instead of seeking primarily to achieve and be helpful, I want to be content to be where I am, doing what I need to do (or not do) in that moment.

We certainly saw the members caring for us this weekend.  Friends helped by donating and installing fence posts and securing our back verandah.  Our neighbours approached us about passing on a car battery that they no longer needed, and which Andrew then used to quickly solve my car issue.  

Tomorrow I'm wanting to get to eight different places in one morning, so I'm certainly grateful for the timing of that battery!  I thank God for how he has met our needs through the people he has placed in our lives. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Myth of the Perfect Friendship

I think many of us have felt a longing for the perfect friendship: The kind of friendship where we are constantly secure and happy in the relationship and free from all insecurity and frustration.

Now that I'm in a place of having some very strong, healthy relationships, I've discovered something: A genuine friendship with another human is a wonderful thing; but many of our ideas about 'The Perfect Friendship' are based more in myth than in reality.

Myth #1: A Great Friend Will Leave You Emotionally Fulfilled After Every Interaction

This excellent blog post about marriage got me thinking about how our insecurities can also affect our expectations about friendship.  If I feel insecure after talking to a good friend, it's probably not because she did something wrong.  It's much more likely to be related to the lies I believe about myself.  For instance, if my friend sounds a bit more distant than usual (perhaps she has a house full of small children), and if it doesn't happen to be a conversation when she says something affirming to me, it might trigger thoughts such as, 'I'm annoying.  People don't want to spend time with me'.

A healthy friendship will leave me with unanswered questions at times. Frequently pushing for reassurance will hurt, not help, the relationship. It's not a bad thing to be in a place where I don't feel completely satisfied, and where I need to go back to the truth of who I am in God.  

Myth #2: A Great Friend Will Always be Available When You Want Him/Her To Be

I have three small children.  There are times when a high quality conversation with another adult just isn't possible.  There are times when I'm busy because I already have something on the calendar.  I know that I'm not always free to chat or spend time with people.  I imagine the same is true for you too.  But it's easy to feel put out when we're on the other side of things and it's our friend who isn't available for us. 

It's even harder when our friend doesn't have the same availability as we do; perhaps because her time is less flexible, her family commitments are different or because her personality means she needs more time alone.

I love this quote that I saw on the
Grace for Moms website: 'But if your idea of a good friendship is based on accessibility – or, “being there” for someone – then consider this: the Word says a friend loves at all times.  It doesn’t say a friend is always at your beck and call.  It doesn’t say a friend will respond immediately when you have a question, or need to vent about some frustration.'
It can be disappointing when a friend isn't available at a time I'd like them to be. However, life goes a lot better when I give my friends the same grace that I would want to be shown.

Myth #3 A Great Friend Understands You Completely

I'm different from many of my friends in how I think and feel, and also in terms of my cultural background.  That's great because we can help each other by seeing an issue from a different perspective.  It also means that I might need to explain my thoughts and feelings more than I would to someone who is wired the same way or has a more similar upbringing. 

I have other friends who I can explain myself easily to because they think like me, or because they are from the same country.  I wouldn't go into details of my love of spreadsheets with my friend who hates mathematics, but it might be a great connection point with a different friend. 
I don't know if anyone has one friend who they can connect well with on every level.  It's great to have a range of friends; all of our friends might frustrate us in some ways; but each one can also bring something unique to the relationship. 

For the same reason, it's important to recognise that our closest friends will also enjoy and benefit from friendships with others too.  If this makes me feel uncomfortable, it's a good time to stop and look at my own motives rather than letting feelings of ill will linger.

Myth #4: A Great Friend Will Always Take Your Advice

It's hard to see others making choices that we see as being destructive.  I'm slowing learning that it's not my job to fix my friends.  I'm working on turning first to God in prayer, and being more careful about when to speak up and when not to. 

I'm also learning that my friends are free to make their own choices.  Sometimes they need to figure out for themselves that a decision wasn't so great after all.  Often God's timing isn't my timing for bringing a particular issue to someone's attention.  At times I've been blown away by how God has spoken powerfully into a situation in a way that didn't involve me saying anything :-).  And of course sometimes I'm the one who is wrong about what is best for my friend!
I need to love my friends in what I say and how I act.  The outcome is not my responsibility though; It's not my job to make sure my friends always act sensibly.

The Reality:

I appreciate my friends immensely.  However, I know I'm never going to find another human who will meet all my needs, who will always be there for me and who will always understand me and my concerns.  And that's ok.  There is only One who can manage all this; may our desire for the perfect friendship send us running into his arms.      

Sunday, October 25, 2015

When the Mess is Uncovered

I know I don't always make good, kind choices.  I also know I'm not a super human who gets everything right.  I have no problem with admitting this.  However, when someone actually catches me in the act of being unloving, lazy or just plain wrong, I don't like it at all! 

One of the big, on-going struggles in my life is messiness.  We all have mess in our lives, but mine is literal.  Whether it was a small student bedroom, or a house filled with children, it's always been a mess most of the time.  In fact, some of you reading this might have been involved in cleaning up my mess at some point.  
For various reasons I seem to find it a lot harder than most people to be tidy.  I've noticed that even a simple task such as putting everything back into the bag after a picnic can feel difficult!  Over the years I've developed strategies and made some progress but I also know this is going to be something I always struggle with.

It's one thing to tell people that I'm a Messie (a term coined by Sandra Felton of 'Messies Anonymous'); it's quite another for someone to walk into my house and find a table that hasn't been cleaned up from lunch (and possibly breakfast too), a floor that's covered in stuff, and surfaces with no surface showing.  I realised that in these situations, I often feel shame.   In the book 'Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection', Edward Welch asks,

'What do you want to hide? That is a shortcut to identifying shame in your life.' 

Well, you all know now what I want to hide.  I can feel the same way if someone spots me sharing incorrect information, or catches me being unkind about someone else.  There are numerous areas where I feel shame if people see me fail.  Welch writes,

'We can fail because of our own sin, but most failure is simply a consequence of being a creature and not the Creator. We are limited and finite. We make mistakes. We can’t do everything perfectly. We can’t even do things as well as our friends and neighbors.'

I realise that shame is a massive and complex topic, especially for people whose experiences have led to shame being strongly ingrained, perhaps from an early age.  I won't pretend that there are simple solutions, though I do recommend Welch's 'Shame Interrupted' for some fantastic insights and help on this subject.
The shame I'm dealing with on a day-to-day level is not of the huge, crippling variety; but I still need to deal with it.  I've found it really helps to identify this feeling of shame and then speak truth into my situation.   I might start by reminding myself:

"Clare - It's ok that people discover your flaws, because they really do exist.  Everyone has them.  They are a part of being human.  You wonder what people will think of you?  Maybe they'll think you're human; that you struggle with things too. Perhaps it will help them believe that you will have understanding and grace regarding their own struggles."

I choose to believe the truth about who I am and what my status is, described by Welch below,

"God honored us—it is too much to take in... If you want Jesus, you must be willing to accept the honor that goes with the relationship. Your royal status—ascribed to you, not achieved—has been unveiled."

Honour comes from the one who knows us better than anyone.  Someone who sees all our warts but will never change his mind about who we are in him.

I'll continue to work at tidying my house and loving those around me, but wanting to be motivated by love and not shame.  I want to love those who enter my home by offering them a pleasant environment (or at least an empty chair to sit in!).  I want to love and help those around me by speaking kind and true words. 

Sometimes I'll fail.  Sometimes I'll notice honest mistakes I made and learn from them.  I know that sometimes I will choose to be lazy or uncaring; there's certainly a place to feel convicted, and then to fully accept the forgiveness and grace that is offered.  But there is no need for continued shame.

In 'Abba's Child', Brennan Manning writes,

'My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.'

I want my deepest awareness of my identity not to be of a Messie or someone who gets things wrong, but of a child of God, deeply loved by him.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Being at Peace with Getting it Wrong

I realised something about myself this week, after reading from the book of Romans (8:15) in the Bible:

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.

I realised that the vast majority of fear in my life is related to me doing or saying the wrong thing.  Whether my fear is an irrational, obsessive one, or just a thought that passes through my head, it's usually something to do with me getting something wrong.

"What if I say x and someone interprets it as y and then z happens" (with 'z' often being a highly catastrophic outcome).

It works for the past too: I can obsess over what I've already written or said, and sometimes over what disastrous consequence might happen as a result.

But God didn't design me to be a super human who never makes mistakes and who excels in every area.  He knows I don't think quickly in a crisis.  He knows I'm not a perfect listener.  He knows I might recall the wrong information, or interpret a situation incorrectly.  Yet he tells me that I am not a slave to fear; I am his Child and he is my Father

Even when I confess to doing something that I knew was a bad idea, he meets me with grace and forgiveness.

God is big enough to deal with my messy situations, and even to turn them into something wonderful. 
It's God's job to do everything perfectly; it's my job to love him and love others the best I can.

I know that whether I get it right or get it wrong, God is still the perfect healer.  And so I have peace.