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.]



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.]


Empathy Developed through Slow Miracles

forgive_youContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, God healing me from the pain of childhood abuse happened slowly as I obeyed His command to forgive them. I did this by praying for them day after day, week and week, and month after month for over a year. I knew I had forgiven them when the pain was gone. If God had miraculously healed that pain instantly, I never would have forgiven them, which would have led me right back to where I started – mired in bitterness, which would have brought more pain. Instead, I am free and refuse to go back into the bondage of bitterness. I choose to forgive anyone who hurts me immediately and pray for each transgressor daily until I no longer feel pain. God not only gave me the tools to participate in the slow miracle of healing the pain from childhood abuse, but He also showed me how to apply those tools in my day-to-day life so I am not mired by bitterness today.

Because God used a slow miracle that required me to exert much effort in obedience to Him, I have deep empathy for those who are mired in unforgiveness. I have not forgotten how difficult unforgiveness is or how distasteful the thought of forgiving a wrongdoer is. I vividly remember all of my own objections: “But they don’t deserve it! You have no idea how deeply they wounded me! Nobody could forgive what they did to me! I have every right to hate them, and I DO hate them!” This deep empathy helps me be gentle as I guide people toward obeying God in this sensitive area.

As an example, I have shared that I am the executive director for a statewide prison ministry. A woman called about potentially volunteering for our post-incarceration ministry. I told her that ALL are welcome, from shoplifters to murderers. I also mentioned that even sex offenders are welcome, which was a stumbling block for her. She had the wisdom to recognize that she was not yet spiritually mature enough to offer comfort to sex offenders who were reentering society. Rather than judge her for this, I told her I understand – and I do! – because if we were having this conversation five years ago, it would be completely different because I used to feel the same way. I told her that I had been victimized by sex offenders as a child, and I was only able to develop compassion for sex offenders after God led me to forgive my own abusers.

To be continued…

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


Slow Miracles Keep Us Empathetic

i_feel_uContinued from here.

One of the reasons that we do not immediately die and go to heaven when we receive Christ as Savior is because once we submit to God’s authority, our lives stop being about us. God loves everyone and wants to be reconciled with everyone. We are His Body on this earth to reach out to others. Many of those who are separated from God are in bondage, and we can best reach them by maintaining empathy toward what it feels like to be in bondage. The slow miracle enables us to stay empathetic to the pain and challenges of living with difficulty and impossibility.

Another one of my slow miracles was healing from the child abuse. While therapy took me a long way, I continued to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms that my therapist said would never fully heal. He said that PTSD is something that is not healed so much as managed. Instead of having hard months with a few good days or weeks, the ratio would shift to having good months interspersed with few hard days or weeks, but hardship related to the PTSD would always be a part of my life. I did not experience healing of my deepest emotional wounds until I obeyed God in forgiving my abusers, and that took time … lots and lots of time. I prayed for them day after day, week after week, and month after month for over a year before I was finally able to forgive them. I knew I had forgiven them when the pain was gone.

Because this was such a long and difficult process for me (a slow miracle), I retain empathy for those who live in a state of unforgiveness, which (sadly) is most people, even Christians. If God had instantly healed my childhood pain without requiring me to forgive, I am certain I never would have obeyed God in doing so. My pain was so heavy that I was willing to do ANYTHING – even obey God in praying for my enemies – to find relief. Even though I forgave my childhood abusers years ago, I continue to remember the pain and heaviness of unforgiveness, which gives me deep empathy for those who are hurting as they continue to feed their bitterness toward those who have wronged them.

I have more to say on this topic, so we’ll continue discussing miracles next week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her hand over her heart and saying, “I feel U.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]