Love is a Choice, Not a Feeling

drawing_heartI was talking with a woman about my background, in which I shared that I have fully forgiven all of my child abusers and everyone else who has hurt me. Later in the conversation, she made reference to me loving my abusers, and I corrected her, stating that I do love feel any love for them. She reminded me that I have forgiven my abusers and concluded that I must either love them or have not yet forgiven them. I replied that I do not, in my flesh, have one ounce of love for my abusers. However, because I love God and God loves them, I experience God loving them through me.

I have written quite a bit about forgiveness, and I think this is an important point for people to understand. Love is a choice, not a feeling. If I had to wait to feel love in my heart for my abusers before I could forgive them, then I might never reach a state of forgiveness. The way I know I have forgiven my abusers, as well as others who have hurt me, is that I rarely think about them, and when I do, there’s no pain or anger. Note that I said nothing about feeling anything warm and fuzzy for them. I have no desire in my flesh to interact with them, nor do I feel drawn to them.

That being said, I have sensed God’s leading me to interact with some of the people who have hurt me over the years – people against whom I used to live in a state of unforgiveness. I would think about them a lot, and whenever I did, I felt anger and pain. I feel neither when I interact with them today, but I also do not “feel love” for them. From the outside, though, it would appear that I “feel love” because of the way I treat them – with compassion, kindness, and respect. This is because love is a choice, not a feeling, and I choose to love them. I’ll explain what I mean by that in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace drawing a heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Forgiveness Invites God to Avenge

aww_yeahhContinued from here.

If I had not loved my enemies by praying for those who persecuted me, I do not believe that any of what followed would have taken place. Note that God did not intervene instantly – my being honored while my enemies were removed happened four months later for one and six months later for the other. I believe God first waited to see what I would do and that He did not begin avenging me until after I forgiven my enemies. After I obeyed Him by forgiving my enemies and moving on with my life, God stepped in and avenged me.

God placed the following message heavily on my heart: “You might have forgotten about what your enemies did to you, but I did not. I take it very personally when someone goes after my child. I am the God who avenges you.” I wept in gratitude as I learned at a much deeper level how deeply God cares for me.

Because God avenged me before, I trust that He will avenge me again. I find it easier to pray for those who wrong me and choose not to dwell on their actions because I know that God will bring about justice in His timing. The sooner I do my part, the sooner He will be free to do his. God does not instruct me to forgive to let people “off the hook.” Instead, he instructs me to forgive both to free me from pain and to lay the groundwork for Him to intervene in justice. He is the God who avenges.

I hope that hearing my testimony will help you trust that God will avenge you and bring about justice in your life, but you must do your part first. Pray for your enemies, and bless those who persecute you. God has the power to avenge you in ways you never imagined. God truly is a God of justice, and He takes it very personally when someone tries to harm you. Do what God tells you to do, and then wait in hopeful expectation for God to avenge you.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace cheering and saying, “Aww Yeahh!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

God’s Vengeance on My Behalf

victoryContinued from here.

Four months later, the director contacted me to let me know he had selected me out of ~ 180 colleagues to be featured in an article for my company’s intranet. I would be profiled as a representative of those doing my job because I was one of the “best of the best.” This was a real honor. That same week, I learned that one of the two people who had sought to “take me down” over speaking truth was no longer with the company.

Keep in mind that this is a huge company, and I was telecommuting, so I was not privy to much information about the comings and goings of colleagues. I sometimes did not learn about someone on my own team leaving until weeks, or even months, later. Learning about the departure of someone in a different division was nearly unheard of, and yet it happened.

Two months after this, the article was published on the company’s intranet. Everyone from the President down logged into their computers to see my smiling face and read an article about me, as representative of my position in the company. That same week, I learned that the other person who had sought to “take me down” was also no longer with the company. Again, me getting word about anyone leaving the company was nearly unheard of, but I learned this information and was able to verify it by that person’s removal from the online employee directory.

I realized that this was far too much coincidence to be random, so I went to God in prayer and thanksgiving. He placed heavily on my heart that while I may have “forgotten” about what these two people had tried to do to me, He had not. It was not coincidence that I was publicly honored at the same time that God removed both of those people from the company. He had fulfilled the words He had spoken to me through the Newsboy’s Blessed Be the Name song six months prior. Read back over the passage of scripture and marvel at how completely God fulfilled this promise in my life:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
‘All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the LORD your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear.’” ~ Is. 41:10-13a

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace cheering with stars shooting out around her. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Experiencing God as My Avenger

can_you_notContinued from here.

I was only a few weeks into a new job when two people from another department tried to “take me down” for speaking truth. Rather than talk with me directly about their concerns, they contacted my boss’ boss’ boss – the head of the entire division – and demanded my head on a platter. I was accidentally copied on the email conversation and was appalled by how vicious these two people were in their attack. I did not know what to do, so I prayed.

I had Christian music playing in the background as I worked, and the Newsboy’s Blessed Be the Name came on the radio. I felt the Holy Spirit drawing me to listen the scripture that the lead singer quoted at the end:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
‘All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the LORD your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear.’” ~ Is. 41:10-13a

The message I took away in that moment was “do not fear,” which is how the passage starts and ends. I told God that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to continue working at a place with such vicious coworkers, but I had spent much time in prayer about whether to accept this job and believed this was God’s will. So, I would stay and trust that He is in control and would not put energy into being fearful.

Instead, I would pray for those two vicious people in obedience to Jesus’ instruction to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. I did this every morning for several weeks until I no longer felt anxious or upset. Meanwhile, the director called me to personally apologize for my being accidentally copied on that email. He assured me that he was “fighting back” on my behalf and that my job was not in jeopardy. After several weeks, I moved on with my life and “forgot” about what had taken place. However, God had not.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of a cat sitting on Grace’s head and Grace asking, “Can you not?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The God Who Avenges Me

woe_is-MeA friend is having a difficult time with forgiving someone who has repeatedly hurt her. While she understands in theory that she needs to love her enemies and pray for those who persecute her, she is having trouble actually doing it. She does not want to pray for someone who she very much would like to take vengeance on.

What this person has done to my friend repeatedly is not right, and my friend has been deeply wounded by this person’s terrible actions. Not only has she been hurt, but other relationships have been affected as well. From where she sits at this point in time, she questions whether those relationships will ever recover. How can she do what God tells her to do while in the midst of pain and heartbreak that are a direct result of this person’s terrible actions?

All of us have likely experienced this dynamic to a greater or lesser degree at some point in our lives, and it’s hard. On the one hand, we want to be faithful followers of Christ and do what he tells us to do. On the other, our pain screams for vengeance. We don’t want love and forgiveness for the wrongdoer – We want him or her to PAY! This was my story for decades as I lived in unforgiveness toward my child abusers. Like my friend, I stayed mired in bondage, reliving the pain over and over again, which made forgiveness seem impossible.

My friend’s sticking point, as was mine, is her deep desire for justice. What was done to her was not right. Forgiving the person who wronged her feels like she is letting the person off the hook. When we choose hatred and bitterness rather than forgiveness, we mistakenly believe that our negative feelings result in some kind of justice, but they don’t – they keep us mired in pain while the wrongdoer is off living his or her life.

What I did not appreciate is that when I choose to obey Christ by loving my enemies and blessing those who curse me, I invite God in to avenge me, and He is in a much better position to do so than I am. God is the God who avenges me:

The LORD is a God who avenges.
O God who avenges, shine forth.” ~ Ps. 94:1

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” ~ Rom. 12:19

I am going to share my own personal testimony of experiencing God as the One who avenges me. Because He was faithful before, I trust that He will be faithful again. Actually experiencing God as my avenger has made it easier for me to pray for those who hurt be and bless those who persecute me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace being carried by a bear and saying, “Woe is me.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Reconciliation Decisions for Your Child

childContinued from here.

Most of what I discussed this week is about your own relationship with an offender. How do we apply this to making reconciliation decisions concerning our children?

Step 1 is to work through all of these steps for yourself. When the “Mama Bear” instinct has been triggered on behalf of our “cubs,” we are just as susceptible to allowing bitterness to take root in ourselves. We need to remove that bitterness through forgiveness so we can see clearly to instruct our children. Get your own heart right with God before leading your child.

Step 2 to is teach these lessons to your child. Be open and honest about how you were tempted to hate the offender for hurting your child. Explain the steps you worked through (or are currently working through) to forgive so your child can also learn these steps. Your child needs to forgive as well before she can make a good decision about reconciliation.

Step 3 is to inquire about why your child desires to continue a relationship with the offender. Did the offender apologize and take responsibility for her actions? Is there more to the story that you don’t know about yet? What value does your child see in this relationship that outweighs the offense?

My son chose not to be close friends with his offender again (much to my relief!), but he did choose to maintain a surface-level acquaintanceship with him, mostly through social media. When I asked him why, he provided some valid reasons. I cautioned him that because the offender has not taken responsibility or apologized for his actions, he might do them again. My son is not worried because he has changed in positive ways from this experience. For example, he learned not to change who he is to please someone else, as he had done in that friendship. Instead, he found new friends who like him exactly as he is. Because my son changed through the experience, he is no longer the same person and, thus, no longer vulnerable to the dynamic from which the offense arose. In other words, his relationship with this person is not the same because my son is no longer the same.

Ask God for wisdom and discernment concerning your child. If her desire to resume the friendship is based on returning to the same dynamic, you may need to intervene. However, if she has grown through this painful experience, she might have changed enough so that the dynamic will be different this time. Ultimately, our children need to learn to make their own choices concerning their friends – we will not always be in a position to control this. With God’s direction, you can help her see the bigger picture and make healthier decisions about how she allows other people to treat her.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a picture, drawn by a child, of someone smiling by a house and pet. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Making the Reconciliation Decision

forgive_youContinued from here.

I recommend against making reconciliation decisions until you have made significant progress in forgiving the offender. For me, I needed over a year of praying for a family member who had deeply wounded me before I was ready to consider reconciliation. In situations involving minor offenses, I might only need a few hours. I have made the life decision never to allow bitterness into my heart again, so my recovery time from an offense has become much shorter. Situations in which I allowed bitterness to take root and flourish needed much more time to heal before I could consider reconciling. Until you forgive, you are likely to allow the pain to drive your decisions. Instead, you want reconciliation decisions to be made from a place of healing.

When you feel led to make a reconciliation decision, the first step is always prayer. Ask God to give you wisdom and discernment about whether or not to reconcile. Also, be honest with yourself about your motives for reconciling. For example, in the case of the family member that took me over a year to forgive, I felt God leading me to extend grace. This person hurt me because she had been deeply hurt herself. God wanted to use me to help heal her pain. While I did not feel love for her, God filled me to overflowing with His love for her. I made the choice to obey where I sensed God leading me, and He provided the love.

I have no expectations from this person. I did not reconcile based on what I could get out of the restored relationship – it was entirely based on what I could give. While I had nothing of myself to give, God provided me with all He had to give, and this profoundly changed my relationship with this person. The dynamic of our relationship is different because God changed me. He can do the same for you.

God does not ask us to walk back into an unhealthy dynamic and be martyrs. As you forgive, God changes you. Because you have changed, the dynamic of the relationship will also change because you are no longer the same version of yourself who was in that relationship before. As you allow God to love the offender through you, that person will also change. God’s love truly is that powerful!

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dressed like an angel and saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]