The Comfort of Offense

Teenage girl disaster survivorHave you ever wondered why, after forgiving someone, the thought of them, the sound of their voice, the mere mention of their name can set off a chain reaction of negative emotion and stinking thinking ad nauseum? Sometimes, it can get to the point of having conversations in your head … you know the kind … the things you wished you would have thought of when you were first offended. The kind of conversations where they never get a word in and you are always the victor … oh, and you have some doozies ready – just in case. If we’re being honest, we’ve all been there, haven’t we? We have all planned out our vengeful little schemes in our fantasy world. Oh sure, we forgive, but there is no way we’re going to forget. We can’t! It’s just not wise … they may do it again. For some people, the down side of forgiving and forgetting is that  you can’t stack up the incidents of offense against you if you’ve forgotten them. Forgetting those offenses would mean that everyone who has ever hurt you gets a clean slate each time. Preposterous!

Listen, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the the guy in the elevator who steps on our new Manolo Blahniks. He didn’t mean it. He apologized profusely. Besides, he’s a guy, what does he know about shoes. It’s not like we have a relationship with him. Hating this guy would be a waste of energy….right?

I’m talking about when our best friend divulges one of our most embarrassing secrets publicly at a gathering.We get angry, hurt, embarrassed, maybe even mortified! We try and shake it off; we rationalize about why she did it … too much wine perhaps? She later approaches us with her head held down in shame – she’s betrayed a confidence and ridiculed the one person she loves most in the world. She’s too ashamed to even expect forgiveness. We forgive her, but secretly we tell ourselves, “I’ll never forget what she did to me. I’ll never get over that humiliation.” And we don’t.

Each time we see her, things seem a little more back to normal. We feel magnanimous about our ability to forgive. What a good friend we are to forgive that kind of indiscretion.

Months pass by and we have another secret. We’re about to call her when we remember what we promised ourselves. We said we’d never forget! We forgave her, but the wound never quite healed. Every time the opportunity to prove to her that we really did forgive her came along, we picked at the scab and it bled. After a few years, though the scab finally healed, there remained an indentation – a scar. This is the place where the pain lives and thrives – where the pain has become a monument to what once was a flourishing friendship. We re-hash and re-hash until the offense has taken on a life of its own – it’s called unforgiveness. Our life, the one we once knew – the vibrancy of life – has been ebbing away. We are slowly being gobbled up in a bed of quicksand. Everything we do to rescue ourselves only sinks us deeper in the mire.

We think that if we allow ourselves to forget the past, we are condoning it. That is not the case. Erecting a monument to pain is a slow suicide. After a while, people don’t want to be around the person who is always rehashing the same old same old. It’s unhealthy. It’s like drinking a poison tonic and expecting everyone to take a sip. We end up hurting ourselves more than that friend originally hurt us and we blame it on the very person we said we forgave.

Eventually, we’ve done such an outstanding job of never letting anyone forget we’ve been offended that people know our stories by heart. Some of them actually begin to feel sorry for us and that – pity – is the anchor of offense. That is what perpetuates the pain and gives it life.

So, we meet some one new. A new friend. We have a lot in common. But there is something about her that we just can’t put our finger on. Maybe she sounds like, looks like, or has a habit like our old friend. Suddenly, everyone we meet who reminds us of the pain we’ve been tending to will end up making us run our fingers over that spot again. We don’t even know what’s happening. At some point, we might even become so hypersensitive about our own pain that we don’t even recognize when we do the same thing to others – we become self-centred. We take comfort in our pain. It becomes a blanket that keeps us warm when we no longer trust anyone else.

Forgiving without forgetting is like trying to strain play dough through a colander. It isn’t meant to be. I’m not saying it’s easy. I confess to you that I have stacked upon stacks of many offenses that I have nurtured over the years but you know something, it is bloody exhausting and leads to physical, emotional and spiritual illness of untold proportion. We can’t do this alone. It’s much bigger than we are. We need to realize first all that we have been forgiven for – our indiscretions and our sins – wiped clean as far as the east is from the west.

Forgiving and forgetting is not something we do for others, we do it first for ourselves to restore our health, our sanity, and primarily to maintain and grow in our relationship with God.

“But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and wilful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.”  Matt. 6:15 AMP.

Let Your Love Out

love boxRecently, a friend and I were having a heartfelt talk when suddenly she said, “Let your love out, Hope.”  Hmm, I thought to myself, what have I been doing up to now? What does it say about you, or your capacity to love when your friends think you’re holding back during a heart-to-heart discussion no less? I was all in, at least I thought I was. I felt that annoying little lump in my throat when I started getting really personal, but … ahem … I choked that down pretty quick …. Oooooh, now I get it!

Do you have anyone in your life with whom you can just uncork the fermenting emotions you have bottled up so well? I thought I was free of that need to control how deep I allowed myself to go, and I thought I was being pretty authentic; looks like not everyone was in agreement. There is nothing, nothing more important than love and I am often reminded that it does more harm than good to suppress it.

Honestly, I detest thinking that I’m like one of those bottles of aged wine you think you’re about to have a nice glass of when suddenly, you end up pushing the cork down too far! What is it that seems to drive that cork further down with age? Past experience perhaps? Fear?

I recently spent the day with two of my favourite little girls. There we were – sitting together, bird watching, drawing with pastels and chatting – outside of my own head, outside of my fears – I was completely present with Carla and Ané – completely present, living in the moment – and loving them as if there was no risk involved…because there was not.

So, what is it about spending time with adults that make some of us hold back – living in the regret or trauma of the past – living in fear of more of the same in the future? Don’t think for a minute that children don’t get their feelings hurt. Don’t think for a minute that their little hearts don’t get broken from time to time. Don’t think for a minute that the people they love most in the world have never done wrong by them; I have children – I’ve seen them hurting. The difference between child-like love and loving as a adult is the dwelling factor. Children don’t dwell on the past and certainly don’t look at the past as a threat to their future. Children love with all they have. That’s why Yeshua (Jesus) told people that being child-like in love is the only way to greatness (spiritual and earthly success):

3 “Truly I say to you, unless you repent (change, turn about) and become like little children [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving], you can never enter the kingdom of heaven [at all]. 4 Whoever will humble himself therefore and become like this little child [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:3-4 Amp.

I have an abundance of love inside me. It takes up a lot of room and sometimes I’m sure that cork just wants to pop off, but I unknowingly keep pushing it down. Then, there are times – like when I’m with Carla and Ané – it just leaks out. It’s bigger than I am. True greatness and success is to let it out freely, without reservation, without judgment, without fear, without almighty pride holding us back.

The thing about loving adults is that there is always the possibility that you’ll be hurt or rejected, but that is never reason enough to hold it back. Children love the way God loves … unconditionally …. with no agenda … no owzies… and they do it fearlessly. It’s so important that Yeshua said it 5 times in the Gospel of John. “This is My commandment: that you love one another [just] as I have loved you.” John 15:12 AMP.

If you’re afraid of being hurt or rejected, chances are you’re afraid of loving. The truth is, if you haven’t already, you will be hurt, but you won’t die from it. Let your love out – it’s commanded of you.

True Surrender

Bench in formal gardenGetting older isn’t just about a cumulative store of wisdom that you can draw on. Wisdom means nothing until you make the choice to employ it. There’s a preferred expression I use: “take my advice, I’m not using it.” Recently I’ve been feeling like a hypocrite; the words I speak to others seem to resonate deep within my soul. All this great advice I have to share and yet I cast it aside like a fool.The truth be known, it’s easy to give advice when making a choice or taking action is the choice of the person you’re speaking with. The fear of self-application can immobilize a person into a life of solitude.

I have spent the last 15 years, or so, growing in many ways. That is a fact that cannot be disputed. The areas where I have failed to grow have been due to a consuming fear that has paralyzed my growth in the area of  relationships. Some people make it into the “sphere of trust,” but there has always been an inherent dread of the possibility that pain may penetrate that sphere. What I’ve come to realize recently, however is that my fear of being hurt has caused me to build a fortress around my heart that is virtually impenetrable. The sad thing is that I have conquered nothing by building walls. I’ve barricaded myself with my fears.

Believing I had surrendered to the false power I allowed fear to have over me did allow some growth but I have realized that we cannot love or allow ourselves to be loved until we acknowledge that there will be pain in all relationships and that is life – and it isn’t life threatening. Not all future relationships will turn out the same as those of the past and not everyone from our past is responsible for the pain suffered at someone else’s hand. The pain of our past cannot kill us unless we allow it to live on inside us – and that, my friends, is a slow and treacherous way to go. Where is the wisdom in that?

Try as hard as you might, you cannot move on from the past until the fear that the past will repeat itself is conquered. What conquers fear? Surrender. True surrender conquers fear. True surrender is not just a feeling. True surrender is born from a choice to believe that even if what you fear most happens, you will not only survive it, you can thrive  because of it – if you so choose.

We were made for each other. You can’t be there for anyone if you hide away in self-imposed solitude. Your pain has a purpose – Someone else out there IS exactly where you have been. Don’t waste your past pain – use it as a healing balm and apply it to someone else with love.

The wall I once built for protection has hemmed me in; my surrender will break it down and keep it down.