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.]

 

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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.]

 

Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Some Final Words

wordContinued from here.

The decision about whether or not to reconcile with someone can be tough, and it is one that I recommend against making until after you have fully forgiven the person for the wrongdoing. Someone who has fully forgiven has a very different perspective than someone who has not. Until you have forgiven the wrongdoer, the bitterness you are harboring will continue to drive your emotions and cloud your judgment. You will know that you have fully forgiven the other person when thoughts of what he or she did no longer hurt. I have not forgotten what Person #1 and Person #2 did to me – I simply remember their actions as facts  that no longer hold an emotional punch on the rare occasions that I think about them.

After you have forgiven, pray for God’s wisdom and discernment about whether to reconcile with them. In my experience, God’s answer has been based on the heart of the other person, not my own, and only He knows what is inside the person’s heart. Only he knows whether the other person is truly remorseful or is simply trying to manipulate you.

Confirm whichever direction you are sensing from God with His Word. Reconciliation isn’t about how heinous the other person’s action was – it’s about the degree to which the person is repentant. What Person #1 did to me was exceedingly worse than what Person #2 did. The difference is not in the level of culpability – it’s in the level of remorse.

If God is leading you to reconcile, obey Him. Trust that He knows what He is doing and that He will bless you richly for your obedience. If you have concerns about walking back into an abusive situation, pray for God to confirm what He is telling you as well as for any specific steps you need to take to protect yourself from further harm. Part of the healing God wants to do for you is to remove the victim mentality. My interactions with Person #1 after forgiveness and reconciliation have been empowering, not victimizing.

Trust that God knows what He is doing. If he is leading you toward reconciliation, trust that He will give you beauty for ashes as you walk in obedience with Him.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace doing a rap move with “Word” on a necklace. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Confirming the Reconciliation Decision with God’s Word

let_me_knowContinued from here.

God is never going to tell you to do something (or not do something) that is inconsistent with His Word, so reference the Bible to validate that what you are feeling led to do is consistent with biblical principles.

Person #1 was (and is) regretful and repentant. While she has not taken full responsibility for every single thing she has done, she has taken responsibility for and apologized for some of it. She is contrite and appears to feel guilty for many of her bad choices. Her motivation for apologizing appears to be her guilty conscience seeking relief. Like the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, Person #1 demonstrates an understanding of her guilt. She has humbled herself without justifying her actions. (She has offered some insights into her behavior, not as excuse but as explanation.) Extending reconciliation to someone who humbles himself and is contrite has a biblical basis, such as the father’s reconciliation with his prodigal son.

Contrast this with Person #2. She would also like to reconcile but has expressed no remorse for her actions. She denies any wrongdoing, offers excuses, and has made it clear that she is open to reconciliation on the terms of ignoring the things she has done. In other words, she wants the benefits of a restored relationship with me without having to take any sort of responsibility for the harm she inflicted. While I have forgiven her for her past actions, I continue to hold her accountable for the harm she inflicted. I have told her that unless and until she takes responsibility for her actions, I will not be in a relationship with her.

The Bible supports this position as well. While Jesus loves and died for all of us, only those who repent enter into a relationship with him:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~ 1 John 1:9

Note that this passage begins with the word if: Jesus forgives us if we confess. Person #2 has not confessed her wrongdoing and continues to justify it. In cases in which someone continues to do something wrong, we are to remove the person from our fellowship:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” ~ 1 Cor. 5:1-2

This does not mean that we withhold forgiveness, which heals us, but we do not provide wrongdoers with the benefits of fellowship with us when they take no responsibility for their actions.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a tin can on a rope and saying, “Let me know.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Praying for Discernment on Whether to Reconcile

why_even_try.pngContinued from here.

If forgiveness does not require reconciliation, how do we know whether to reconcile?

You cannot base this decision on your feelings. If I did, I would have never reconciled with Person #1 but would have already reconciled with Person #2 because I valued the second relationship more than the first. Also, I was willing to put up with more “bad behavior” from Person #2 than from Person #1 for reasons I won’t go into to. Suffice it to say that if I allowed my feelings to drive my decisions concerning reconciliation after forgiveness, my story would the opposite of what I have shared.

Step one is to pray for God’s wisdom and discernment. Only He knows the heart of the other person. He knows the degree to which the person regrets the bad behavior and has truly repented of it. He also knows whether or not your presence or absence in that person’s life will benefit or harm him or her.

Note that I did not mention the benefit or harm of having that person in your life. Once you have forgiven the other person, he or she loses the power to continue emotionally harming you. Note that I am referring to emotional harm. If you are dealing with someone who continues to have the power to harm you (or someone else, such as your child) physically, pray for God’s wisdom in setting appropriate boundaries to protect you from physical harm if you sense Him calling you to reconcile with someone in a position to inflict physical harm.

As you forgive someone who has emotionally harmed you, God heals the emotional pain, which removes that person’s power over you. In fact, that’s one way you will know that you have fully forgiven the other person. As long as you remain mired in bitterness, you have given your “power” away to the other person, enabling him or her to continue inflicting emotional harm. Before I forgave Person #1, her words had enormous power over me. Today, whatever she says is irrelevant because the process of forgiveness dismantled that power. I no longer need emotional protection from her because God has healed my heart.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace’s face on the cover of a book entitled, “Why Even Try?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]