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.]

 

Spiritually Mature People Do Not Stay Angry with Anyone

angryContinued from here.

This trait of spiritually mature people is a tough one for most of us – spiritually mature people take these Bible verses seriously:

’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” ~ Eph. 4:26-27

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” ~ Eph. 4:31

Note that this does not mean that a spiritually mature person never gets angry. Even Jesus got angry. What separates the spiritually mature from the spiritually immature is choosing not to dwell on that anger so that it does not turn into bitterness. That’s tough to do, particularly when you are in relationships with people who continually step over your boundaries and repeatedly hurt you.

This was a particularly difficult aspect of growing spiritually for me because a lot of people hurt me over the years. Also, I grew up not understanding how to set and enforce boundaries, so I attracted people who were looking for someone who would be easy to exploit. Nursing my anger and bitterness made me feel empowered, but what it really did was prolong the pain. Someone might say something cruel to me one time, but I would “hear” that comment a thousand times as I replayed it in my head as I nursed my bitterness. Obeying God by forgiving those who hurt me and releasing my bitterness was the catalyst to experiencing deep emotional healing as well as growing up spiritually in Christ.

While I still get angry from time to time (I do live with a teenager!), I don’t dwell on the anger. I have learned the key to not letting the sun go down while I am still angry – it’s praying for the person who angered you. Now that God has freed me from the bondage of bitterness and unforgiveness, I refuse to go back. No matter how deeply someone wounds me, I pray for him or her daily until it no longer hurts. And if the situation comes to mind and tempts me to get angry again, I pray for the wrongdoer as many times as needed to get through the day. God honors this type of obedience. It’s not easy, but it’s well worth it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking very angry. 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.]

 

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.]

 

Meditating on Scriptures Relevant to Forgiveness

readingContinued from here.

I have found that until I have progressed in the process of forgiveness, I am not in a good place to make decisions about reconciliation. Keep in mind that forgiveness is a process rather than a particular moment. As you pray for the offender day after day, you will gradually release the anger and bitterness, which leaves room to invite God in to heal your pain. The more deeply you or your loved one was hurt, the longer this process might take.

The other important part of forgiveness is holding your thoughts captive to Christ. When we are hurt, it’s natural to focus on our emotional wounds. As we do, they grow larger in our minds. If we are not careful, our perspective can shift so that the pain seems larger than our God.

The truth is that God is bigger than your pain. Thus, we must remove our eyes (focus) from our pain and place them back onto God, where they belong. To do this, I recommend looking up scriptures in the Bible that remind you of what God says to do when someone hurts you. Then, whenever you are tempted to think about the offenses against you, pray for the offender and meditate on applicable scripture.

For example, let’s say Sonja is tempted to mull over what the offender did to her child. Rather than give in to the temptation to rehash all that has happened, Sonja can say a prayer for the offender. She can then meditate on applicable passages of scripture, such as the following:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. ~ Matt. 6:14

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. ~ Matt. 18:21-22

Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. ~ 2 Cor. 2:7-8

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~ Col. 3:13

While this won’t be easy for Sonja, it really is this simple. If she uses each thought of the offender as a reminder to pray for her and reinforces what God says to do through meditating on scripture, her focus will return to God, putting her in a better place to make reconciliation decisions.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting on a beanbag chair, drinking coffee and reading the Bible. Courtesy Bitmoji.]