Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Gift Everyone Really Wants for Christmas~ 4 steps to lasting forgiveness

You spend all week cooking, all the paycheck shopping. All your best stuff strung in lights and garlands throughout your house.

They come and you hope.

But then hurtful words and hard looks and echoes of long-ago wounds hang like icicles over the turkey and the presents and the pie.

Nothing ever seems to change.
Ever wonder why that is? Why the holidays carry so many expectations, then dump so many disappointments?

Maybe it's because even while we hope for magic, we hold onto pain. Maybe it's because it's just not true that time heals all things.

Maybe it's because it's often easier to give than to forgive.

Meanwhile, time only hardens the wound, or numbs us to really caring. But it's always there, under the forced smiles and behind the fleeting frowns.

The pain someone else caused--even a long time ago--has a way of pushing its way into other relationships. It pushes out in shouted words, or layers on in extra weight on our bodies, or chases us down in impossible expectations on ourselves or pokes out in distrust of friends who truly love us.
That parent who left you? Our pain—when left to itself—kills our relationship with our friends, our spouses, our own kids.
That horrible thing you did to your spouse or your parent or your child or your friend? When we try to justify it away. When we try to shove it down. When we beat ourselves up again and again. Refusing to say we’re sorry. Refusing to see our wrong. Refusing to let ourselves be forgiven. We die more and more each day. And drag others into the grave.

But when we have no control over the circumstances. When people just won’t change. When the painful past chases us into the miserable present and the bleak future, forgiveness is the answer.

Forgiveness changes us. At the very least, it releases our heart from hate, from blame, from prison. And often, it changes others too. Certainly the ones closest to us who have had to live with our bitterness. But also, it just might change the one who did the wrong.

It's one of those funny things where we have more power when we lay down our rights. That right to blame and build walls and withhold ourselves.

Wrong things—the ones others commit against us and the ones we do to others—have a way of defining us. We become labels like the Abused, the Abandoned, the Children of Divorce, the Adulterer, the Drug Addict, the Rape Victim, the Pornographer, the Gossip. Everything that happens after is filtered through the wrong. 

Women who were hurt decide to never trust another man. A child whose parents divorced decide never to get married, never to have kids. The man who prayed to God as a child for the abuse to stop and it didn’t becomes the atheist who plans never to believe in good things again.

But when we forgive or accept forgiveness, we claim new defining moments. We become the One who had the strength to let go of the wrongs. We become the Victors instead of the victims. We become the Forgiven instead of the abuser. We can claim hope instead of sitting in despair.

Forgiving allows us to sprint forward instead of trudging along with the past caked like mud on our feet.

So, here are some ideas on helping us to forgive or accept forgiveness.

1.   Make a list.
a.       Of the people who have wronged you, who you haven’t yet forgiven, and list their wrongs.
b.      Of the people you have wronged, of the offenses you committed.

     2.    Write a letter or take a forgiveness walk.
In private, write a letter to the person or take a walk and say out loud as if speaking to the person about the things they did.
Lay it all out. The hurt you’ve felt, the consequences of their action.
Or write a letter or say out loud the things you did wrong. A confession, with no justifications, no explanations. 

    3.       If appropriate, communicate to the person that you’re releasing them of the wrong they  committed against you or that you are sorry for the wrong you’ve committed against them. 
(Give it some good thought if your communication to them of the specifics will actually help them and your relationship with them. In some cases, this could cause more pain to actually tell them about it.) 
 Even if you don’t tell them about forgiving them or about your confession, look for ways to communicate, through actions, that your relationship with them is new.
No more anger. No more excuses. No more blame.  No more self-hatred.
A fresh start, as far as it depends on you. 
(If there has been abuse and there is potential for more abuse, please consider simply praying for the person and don't actually choose to interact with the abuser.)

    4.    Forgive again.
         When the hurt returns in your heart (which it may do, even after forgiveness is given), then take the time to forgive again, release again, recommit to forgiveness.
    Then stop bringing it up to them, to others, and to yourself.


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