Several spiritually awake people I know close out their day with a practice called the Examine. I, however, usually close mine out with a game of Spider Solitaire. I think their way is better. During their “examine” time, they review the day’s events, and make note of themselves and their actions and attitudes. This “examine” time often results in a “to do” list for the next day. An amends may be needed, a phone call for clarification, a note of gratitude. I love this idea so much that I’m thinking about restarting my on examine practice.
How does one go about evaluating self? For me, whether it is in my own daily practice of the tenth step of the twelve or the “examine”, part of all our work involves deciding the standards we want to embrace and code of ethics we want to live by. I, personally, love the twelfth chapter of Romans….
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.
3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.
9 Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. 11 Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! 12 Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. 14 Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. 16 Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. 17 Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good.
18 If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. 19 Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. It is written, Revenge belongs to me; I will pay it back, says the Lord. 20 Instead, If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. By doing this, you will pile burning coals of fire upon his head. 21 Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good. Romans 12, CEB
How do you feel about this tone for living? Are these standards for daily contact worthy of making our own? If practices like forgiveness, compassion and empathy are just isolated atoms in our solar system of life, we’ll perhaps pick them up and discard them without much thought. Commitment to a framework for living allows us to add rooms, rearrange the furniture, and even get new siding in a cool color. But the framework also provides a natural limitation. We limit our choices to the framework. Forgiveness is one aspect, one of many building blocks in a house of faith.
Take some time to consider the nature of the house you are building. How do you like the life you are creating?
Although this month’s devotionals are focusing on practices specifically related to forgiveness, I think the thing I really hope you’re wrestling with is the kind of tone you want to set for your life and your relationships. Forgiveness is an example of tone.
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. 2 Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature. Romans 12:1-2 CEB
What would you say is the tone of your life? How do people experience you? How do you feel about that? Maybe today notice yourself, how you talk to people, what your natural inclinations are when something doesn’t go your way…just notice.
The couple that I mentioned yesterday never managed to find the gift of forgiveness. Once their last child headed off to college, the wife kicked the offensive husband (who had managed to not intervene and make sure a certain cake server was used at their wedding ceremony) to the curb. Both are now living with less financial security, their children have separate holiday celebrations, and their daughter is choosing to live with her boyfriend rather than marry him – even though he desperately wants to tie the knot. She cannot get past the knot in her tummy every time she tries to imagine a wedding with both her parents in the same building at the same time. This is sad.
Forgiveness is a gift, but one we have to open our hands to receive. People who research such things have found that those who have forgiven huge atrocities report that forgiveness was something they received, not something they were able to manufacture.
Many victims, not wanting to double the damage by drinking poison and dying, TRIED to forgive. Their values, their suffering, all sorts of factors compelled them to want to forgive, but most say they couldn’t – until one day they woke up and realized that yes, they had been given the gift of forgiveness.
This doesn’t mean that they didn’t do other things along the way. They practiced prayer and meditation, they went to therapy, they showed up at a trial and looked their offender in the eye, they started a foundation to support other victims of similar crimes. Basically, they practiced creating light in the midst of darkness. And somehow, along the way, forgiveness came to them.
Forgiveness is not a formula, but there are practices that we can practice. Some will encourage a lifestyle of forgiveness, and sadly, some will further entrench us in our resentment. The lady with the cake server resentment told and retold the story of her husband’s gross negligence on their wedding day. His unwillingness to attend to the detail of the cake server proved to her that he did not love her with a Christ-like love! Sheesh! My husband spent so much time on the golf course and basketball court the day of our wedding, that he rushed into the church minutes before the ceremony without his shoes or socks. (My father thought this was hilarious.) At our wedding, we ran out of food before the post-production wedding pictures were snapped! We still shake our heads at what naïve younguns we were, daring to believe that you could get married with one sheet cake and a container of peanuts. I am so so so glad that my dad encouraged humor rather than petty resentments that day. My gosh, we’ve spent the last 35 plus years laughing over various ways we goof things up.
Forgiveness is more about a stance, a position, an attitude, a lifestyle.
Honestly, who would you rather be? A gal with a cake server in your hand, waving wildly about in retaliation for a lifetime of disappointment? Or a person who knows that a groom can get married – with or without shoes on? Do you want a life of showing off or showing up? This means making decisions about all sorts of things, including weddings. Are they about the splash, or the community that helps these young adults to find and build a sustainable, joyful, constantly goofing stuff up but still there for each other marriage?
Are you one of “the few” who are committed to living by a framework that you have chosen? Or “the many” who prefer show to substance and never take the time to figure out if the life they are creating is one they’ll actually appreciate experiencing?
Forgiveness is such a big deal, and offenses are so terrible at times, that it seems IMPOSSIBLE to think that we could ever forgive some of our abusers. That’s ok. In fact, that’s truth. Even in matters of small to middlin’ offenses, we struggle to muster up a small dose of forgiveness.
I once spent a few months meeting regularly with a married couple who couldn’t forgive. Well, the wife couldn’t. It took weeks of prodding and probing to find that one resentment that just couldn’t be let go of no matter how committed her belief in God. (And if you are a God follower, forgiveness is a core issue that you have to deal with, right?)
Her issue? The wrong cake server was used at the wedding. She PREFERRED a different one than the server used.
Is this newly immaturity? You be the judge: they had been married over 25 years at this point.
Do you have any issues of unforgiveness that have poisoned the pond you live and breathe in? This “one issue” (of course you know it was bigger than that but this is her perspective) ruined her marriage. It ruined her marriage!
Dare to dream. What if adding the practice of showing all people respect, dignity, and the posture of wishing others well on a daily basis became your work? I wonder what might change for you….
When we consciously choose to limit our options to those which fit within the framework of our beliefs, stuff changes.
Did you know that you can practice forgiveness as an action without having happy feelings or expectations of the other person? It may not make our offender suddenly rise to the occasion and make a decent amends. But it may leave us, at the end of the day, with fewer personal regrets. We are, in that moment of decision to treat another with respect and dignity, “bearing witness” to our beliefs in an observable, tangible way. In other words, we are acting with integrity.
Just as we sometimes do all sorts of crazy mental gymnastics to deal with other people’s repetitive, loveless acts, we do the same for ourselves.
We do this when we lead an “as if” life. An “as if” life is pretend. We talk a good game, but our actions sing a different tune. I know this guy who is always telling me how precious his wife is to him, and how much he loves her and blah blah blah. BUT. When they are at home alone, he belittles and ridicules her. He refuses to get a steady job. He runs up their charge card and expects her to somehow find the way to pay for his cigarettes and beer. He says that he loves his wife as Christ loved the church because he’s a Christian. This dude is in lala land…and he’s the only one who doesn’t realize it.
Our practice of forgiveness has more to do with who we are and the framework within which we have chosen to live than the other person – regardless of what they have done or failed to do. Take a few moments as ask yourself: are you leading an “as if” life, or are you creating a life you believe in through your daily practices?
Miroslav Volf has written a book called Free of Charge. In it, Volf shares his own story of forgiveness while making some crucial points about how to become the kind of human who can extend forgiveness to another. He talks about forgiveness as a free gift that we offer others. This is a helpful, although challenging, way to think about forgiveness. We offer forgiveness as an act of grace, just as praying for an offender is an act of grace. But this doesn’t mean ignoring the problem. The fact that we are even having a discussion about forgiveness in a relationship means that we acknowledge wrongdoing on that person’s behalf.
We offer the gift of forgiveness BECAUSE harm has been done, not in spite of it.
Don’t skim over that sentence – pause to prepare.
We offer the gift of forgiveness because HARM has been done, not in spite of it.
In my life, I regularly hear stories of great offense. One genre of story that really upsets me are the ones with the theme of abuse. I cannot tell you how many abused women come and tell me about the profound violations of themselves in childhood or adolescence at the hand of a family member or friend of the family. AND THEN THEY SOMEHOW THINK IT IS OK TO ALLOW THEIR CHILDREN UNSUPERVISED TIME WITH THE OFFENDER.
This really drives me nuts.
But I also understand.
Most of us have been taught the value of forgiveness. We hear things like, “When you don’t forgive it’s like drinking poison and hoping some else will die!” Wowser! Who would do that?
So, because forgiveness is such a process – and it’s complicated and confusing because we haven’t really been taught the process mostly just been told the command – we do some crazy adaptive stuff in order to try to forgive.
We minimize the offense. We excuse the offender. We blame ourselves for another’s bad acts. Do we think that if we somehow can make the offense seem smaller then we have at least a hope that our small capacity to forgive will be sufficient?
This is a bad plan.
Forgiveness is a practice for “the few” who are committed to returning evil with good. But this doesn’t mean that we are on good terms with the offender. Reconciliation and issues of safety are OTHER aspects that we must address when faced with a person who is willing to harm another. People who are willing to sacrifice others so that they might gain are dangerous, and need to be treated as such.
Have you tried to make up some fancy story to excuse the behavior of another in some mis-guided, faux attempt to forgive?
Forgiveness is the process whereby we learn how NOT to hold a person’s past actions against them. We do this by making a conscious choice not to treat someone from a place of contempt. When we accept this principle as one that “the few” follow, it’s easier figure out some next right steps in working through the process of forgiveness. Here are a few things I am learning as I practice the discipline of forgiveness:
- I can have a myriad of feelings about a person or situation, and still not hold their actions against them. I can treat them with respect and dignity and wish them well. This informs my decisions about things like: gossiping, bashing them, ignoring them, praying for them, etc. This does NOT mean that I have to pretend my feelings are something they aren’t. My feelings are mine, and I can have a whole range of them – but they do NOT get the last say, the final vote, the power of the veto against my inspired way of seeing.
- If my work is to respect and wish well, it takes up all the time and attention I naturally give to rumination and remembering the offense. This is totally normal. We like to try to make sense of things. We like to try to understand why someone did what they did, or failed to do what they promised. But that’s not our work! Our practice is to treat others with respect and wish them well. I find that when I am feeling offended, it is a fulltime job to practice my work and leave the head shrinking to a professional.
- There are many things I can do, so long as I do them within the confines of well wishing and respect.
The guy who acted in a predatory manner towards me at a conference was very inappropriate and downright intimidating. But out of respect for the belief that God is God and anything can happen – I chose to address his inappropriate behavior by calling it into the light. “The few” believe in transformation, the power of accountability, the possibility of death and resurrection. I could either spend time wishing him smited or I could be one small cog in the giant tapestry of God’s plan to restore broken things. His behavior toward me taught me that I could not and would not have a conversation with him. That was a boundary that I set up out of respect for myself! But that didn’t mean I was without responsibility and even power to offer hope for change. I talked to his leadership team. I very specifically told them the various acts that caused me discomfort. I neither minimized nor projected. I didn’t tell them what I thought they should do. However, I drew a boundary: until this issue is resolved, I will not be back to this venue.
The practice of forgiveness is never about ignoring.
Are their issues that you are ignoring because you think you should be a forgiving person? Have you perhaps confused forgiveness with passivity? When we engage in crucial conversations about offenses, we are showing deep respect for God’s capacity to heal and restore.