Having Compassion for Broken People

hippoContinued from here.

This is the final blog entry in a series based upon this quote from the movie I Can Only Imagine:

My dad was a monster. I saw God take him from being the man I hated to the man I wanted to become.”

It’s hard, if not impossible, to develop compassion for a monster. However, when we forgive those who hurt us, God transforms our perception from seeing them as monsters to viewing them as broken people. You may be surprised to learn just how much you have in common with your monsters as God opens your eyes to see their brokenness.

If someone had told me this truth before I experienced it myself, I would have had a hard time believing it. I suffered from so many monstrous abuses that I believed only a monster could inflict. However, as I chose to let go of my bitterness and pull in God’s healing, He opened me eyes to the brokenness that drove the monstrous behavior. While I could not (and never will) relate to someone’s choice to rape and torture a child, I can relate to the brokenness that drove that behavior. I never imagined I could feel compassion for my abusers, but I actually do. I know the pain that drove the monstrous behavior, and my heart breaks for anyone who knows the level of pain that I have myself experienced.

I actually now feel sorry for my childhood abusers. I am saddened that they know similar to pain to what they inflicted upon me, but I’m even more sorry to know that they likely carry around guilt and shame at a level that I (thankfully) cannot relate to. The brokenness was bad enough. I cannot imagine the weight of guilt and shame on top of that brokenness.

God’s love is more powerful than all the hate in the world. It’s hard to believe that, which is why we hold onto our bitterness. I mistakenly believed that if I forgave my abusers, I was letting them off the hook or saying that what they did wasn’t “that bad.” I have since learned that forgiveness is only needed when someone is guilty and when what they did was “that bad.” The sobering reality is that Jesus forgave me, which means that I was guilty and that what I did was also “that bad.” Praise God for His forgiveness! I choose to pay that forgiveness forward, forgiving those who don’t deserve it, just as I have received it – in my brokenness and guilt.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace being squashed by a hippo eating ice cream. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Advertisements

Transforming Perception from Monster to Broken Person

godzillaContinued from here.

I’m continuing a series based upon this quote from the movie I Can Only Imagine:

My dad was a monster. I saw God take him from being the man I hated to the man I wanted to become.”

While it was great that Bart Millard’s father came to Christ and invited God in to transform it, many of our monsters will not make the same choice. Does that mean we are destined to remain victims, fearful of the monsters in our lives?

God taught me that forgiveness is not only the vehicle He uses to heal our pain, but it also transforms us from viewing ourselves as victims to survivors as we change our perception of the monsters and begin seeing them for what they are: broken people. The truth is that nobody is born a monster. Even diagnosed sociopaths have a combination of both a genetic disposition AND traumatic experience to become sociopaths. (For more on this topic, reach Martha Stout’s excellent book, The Sociopath Next Door.) The point is that no matter how evil the person is who harmed you, he or she was first a victim, just like you. That’s a tough lesson to learn, but embracing this truth will radically change your life and help catapult you out of seeing yourself as a victim into a survivor, which is a much more empowering label. (That’s not the end, though – God can lead you further to become an overcomer, but that falls outside the scope of this discussion.)

As long as you continue to hate the monsters in your life, you won’t make the transformation to seeing them as broken people, which only hurts you. I was shocked to realize this truth the day I completed the process of forgiving my abusers. My choice to forgive them did not change their lives one iota, but it powerfully changed mine! All the years I spent nursing my bitterness, reliving the pain, and thinking about how unfair it was that they continued to have this power over me, they were off living their lives! And when I laid all of this down and chose to let go of my bitterness, their lives stayed the same. Forgiveness was the key out of my emotional prison and had absolutely nothing to do with anything that the monsters did or did not do.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dressed as Godzilla. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Problem with Viewing Other People as Monsters

Continued from here.

I’m continuing a series based upon this quote from the movie I Can Only Imagine:

My dad was a monster. I saw God take him from being the man I hated to the man I wanted to become.”

I truly believed that my childhood abusers were monsters, and I based this perception on their monstrous behavior. How could someone engage in monstrous behavior like raping and torturing a child without being a monster? And yet I gave myself a pass on the monstrous ways I treated other people (typically through my negative words) because I was broken. I never stopped to consider that perhaps those who inflicted monstrous behavior might themselves be broken.

This dynamic was powerfully portrayed in the movie The Shack. Mack, the main character of the story, is given the opportunity to serve as judge. When he’s shown a scene of a man savagely beating a child, he’s asked whether the child is guilty. Mack says no but then learns that child grew into the father who beat him. His father committed monstrous behavior when he beat Mack as a child, but he was not born a monster. He was broken by his own father’s monstrous behavior and then, out of his brokenness, inflicted the monstrous behavior onto the next generation. Mack’s father experienced the same pain and brokenness that Mack experienced. Yes, Mack’s father was guilty of monstrous behavior, but he was also a victim of monstrous behavior, just like his son.

When we view those who hurt us as monsters, we set ourselves up to view ourselves as victims. After all, how can a broken person slay a monster? Because a monster is, by definition, much more powerful, we set ourselves up to go through life living as helpless victims. Some react to this victim mentality by trying to seize control and engaging in monstrous behavior toward other people. Others turn that monstrous behavior inward in the form of self-loathing and self-harm, not necessarily through self-injury but also through addictions, compulsions, and negative self-talk that breaks their spirit. A powerful moment in my healing journey was recognizing that something another person said only once continued to hurt me because I repeated it to myself thousands of times. The other person was guilty of saying it, but I was much more guilty of repeating and believing it, which meant I was actually the one inflicting this monstrous behavior on myself.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Shack. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Monstrous Behavior and Monsters

monsterContinued from here.

This week, I’m focusing on how forgiving those who hurt us can help transform our perception of them from monsters to broken people. My inspiration for this topic came from this quote from the movie I Can Only Imagine:

My dad was a monster. I saw God take him from being the man I hated to the man I wanted to become.”

Today, I’ll focus on the monster part, which is easy for us to relate to. I had no problem seeing Bart Millard’s father as a monster as he broke a plate over his head, told him that he isn’t “good enough,” or admitted to beating him so badly as a child that Bart had trouble sleeping because of his wounds. I also saw my childhood abusers as monsters who raped and tortured me.

There’s no question that beating, raping, and torturing a child is monstrous behavior, so it makes sense for those who suffer at their hands to view those who inflicted monstrous behavior as “monsters.” However, we tend not to view our own monstrous behavior in the same way. We judge others by their actions (monstrous behavior = monster) while we extend ourselves mercy based upon our intentions: “I didn’t mean to say those terrible things to him/her… I have a lot on my plate… I suffered so much as a child and never learned how to communicate well… I wasn’t feeling well…”

And then we also tend to maximize the monstrous impact of what was done to us while minimizing the monstrous impact of our actions toward others. Because I did not beat, rape, or intentionally torture anyone else, I gave myself a pass for all of the terrible words I said to the people in my life. God has opened my eyes to the many ways I used words to hurt the people in my life, and I have had to repent of so many mean things I said to other people … sometimes to their faces but more frequently behind their backs. How many people from my past continue to think of me as a monster because of the monstrous things I said to them out of my pain and brokenness?

This dynamic was evident in the movie as well. When Bart confronted his father about beating him as a child, he father said he cried all night because of it. Bart’s father was broken and did monstrous things out of that brokenness, but did that make him a monster?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dressed like Frankenstein’s monster under the word, “Brains.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Lessons from “I Can Only Imagine”

If you are an Amazon Prime member, take note – The movie I Can Only Imagine is now available for streaming FOR FREE for Amazon Prime members. Woo-hoo!

I saw this movie in the theater and was blown away by the power of Bart Millard’s story. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with this movie, it’s the life story of Bart Millard, lead singer of the Contemporary Christian band Mercy Me, and what led him to write the popular song, I Can Only Imagine, which I heard on a secular radio station because I was not yet listening to Contemporary Christian music.) The movie was just as powerful the second time around from my living room!

This week, I’d like to focus on some life lessons that I have learned that are are inspired by this quote from the movie:

My dad was a monster. I saw God take him from being the man I hated to the man I wanted to become.”

I, too, have experienced seeing the transformation from monster to man, although my story is different from Millard’s. In his case, God truly did transform his father, who was repentant whereas in my case, many of my abusers were not. While it could be easy to watch this movie and assume that the father had to be transformed before Millard could stop seeing him as a monster, my experience was different. I have learned that forgiveness also brings about this transformation, and the other person’s participation is not necessary for this to happen.

Most Christians are (sadly) resistant to giving forgiveness (although they certainly want to receive it!) because they don’t understand what forgiveness really is. That was my story for decades. In fact, if I could have taken a red pen and crossed out the passages of the Bible I didn’t want to have to obey, my starting point would have been those passages commanding me to forgive those who hurt me. The actions of my childhood abusers devastated me – they shattered my heart and negatively influenced every single aspect of my life. (I am not exaggerating.) They didn’t deserve forgiveness! And yet, forgiving them was the very tool that God used not only to heal the wounds they inflicted but also to transform my perception of them from monsters into broken people. I’ll explain how this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of I Can Only Imagine. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Extending Grace that has Not Been Extended to You

i_forgive_youContinued from here.

The final piece of the challenge of trusting God amidst deep emotional pain is to keep doing things God’s way, even when you see no results whatever. This includes forgiving the people who judge you in your brokenness. Perhaps one of the most difficult of God’s commands is to forgive someone as he or she continues to inflict pain on you, and yet that is what Jesus did. While suffering and dying on the cross, he prayed for his enemies:

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” ~ Luke 23:32-34

When people judge you in your woundedness, they truly do not know what they are doing. They don’t understand the iron in your soul. They have no comprehension of the energy it is taking you simply to get out of bed in the morning and put forth even a mustard seed of faith that God will come through for you in your pain and brokenness. While it is natural to want to hate them – or at least resent them, choose to forgive them instead. Do this even as they continue to inflict pain on you, just as the soldiers continued to inflict pain on Jesus as he was dying on the cross. I know this is not easy, but it is the way through the pain.

This season of pain will eventually end, even though it feels eternal. The choices you make during this season of pain will determine the degree to which you are refined through this fire. Learn the lessons God is teaching you through this extremely painful season. Some lessons can only be learned through suffering, such as patience and perseverance. These lessons are leading you to maturity and completion and are the very tools God is using to lead you to a state of not lacking anything. You are already paying the cost, so learn the lesson. Let “I will trust you, Lord” become your battle cry – your lantern shining the way out of the pain. When you can see nothing but your own pain, make the decision to trust God, and you will find your way out.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a halo and angel’s wings saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Love When You Feel No Love

throwing_hearts.pngContinued from here.

I stated in my last blog entry that from the outside, it would appear that I feel love toward some people who I do not actually feel any love for. How is this possible? It’s the grace of God!

God loves, and Jesus died for, every person you encounter, including the people in your life who have treated you despicably. That same God, through the Holy Spirit, lives inside of you. Thus, you have access to unending love for the people in your live who have wronged you, regardless of whether or not you have forgiven them. You don’t have to “feel love” to “do love” toward people who have harmed you. For this reason, I am going to stop saying that I “do not love” certain people because I choose to “do love” regardless of whether I “feel love.” Hence, I do “love them,” not because I “feel love” but because I love God enough to choose to be the conduit of his love for people I would, frankly, prefer not to spend any time with. My level of love toward a person is irrelevant. As a servant of Jesus, I must “do love” to everyone he loves, which is everyone!

How do we “do love” to the people in our lives who are difficult to love? We live 1 Cor. 13. We are patient and kind, even when the other person is not. We refrain from speaking behind their backs. We choose not to keep a mental record of the many times they have betrayed or simply annoyed us. To quote a departed saint, we look for Jesus in their eyes, “doing” love solely because we love God, and God loves them. It really is that simple – it’s just not easy.

Whenever I know I will be spending time with someone who is difficult for me to love (or “do love”), I spend time in prayer. I ask God to fill my heart to overflowing with His love for that person. Then, when I am in the presence of that person, love flows through me to that “unlovable” person, which is a gift not only for that person but also for me. For the love to flow into me from God and out of me to the other person, it must run through me, so I get to experience God’s unfailing love in a deeper and richer way. Give it a try!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding many hearts and throwing them outward. Courtesy Bitmoji.]