Forgiveness and Healthy Boundaries

I do not believe that in offering genuine forgiveness I am required to again submit myself to another person’s hurtful or sinful behavior.  

I do believe that forgiveness releases that person from past offenses against me but it does not release them to continue to wound my heart.

And I will stand up any time, anywhere and defend my. right to create healthy boundaries between my heart and someone who has proven, time and again, that they intend to do just that.

daring to set boundaries brene brown

What does this look like in real life?

It means that I can call, write or tell someone that I truly forgive them for whatever pain they have caused me in the past.  That frees MY heart.  

But if that person refuses to change his or her behavior, I am not obligated to allow them close enough to hurt me again.

It is NOT proof of an unforgiving heart to set up healthy boundaries.

It is wisdom.

So I don’t have to invite them to every event.  I don’t have to allow them to corner me at gatherings where we both may attend.  I don’t have to tell them all the news in my life or include them in my circle of closest comrades.

I can be polite.  I will refuse to spread malicious gossip about them and not continue to talk about the old wounds for which I’ve forgiven them.

When my heart tries to resurrect the forgiven offenses, I will remind it that those are no longer relevant.  I will not let bitterness overtake me.

There’s a compelling and beautiful anecdote about Corrie Ten Boom and forgiveness: 

After WW II, Corrie traveled Europe speaking on the grace of God found even in Ravensbruck, the concentration camp where she was imprisoned and in which her sister died.

After one such talk, a German man came up to her and mentioned that he had been a guard at that camp.  Corrie recognized him though he, of course, did not recognize her.

He thanked her for what she shared and put out his hand to shake hers.  At that moment, she knew what she SHOULD do, but she did not want to do it.  She did not want to touch this man’s hand and offer forgiveness for what many felt was utterly unforgivable.

But God convicted her heart and in obedience she extended her hand.  She speaks of how she felt the Lord’s love and forgiveness wash over her and flow through her when she acted in obedience.

She never saw him again. 

But for many of us, we continue to see and rub shoulders with the ones who have wounded us. 

And if Corrie had again been forced into a concentration camp, she would not have been wrong to go kicking and screaming. 

Forgiving that German guard did not excuse what he had done nor did it mean that if he was intent on repeating it that she (or anyone else) had to simply go along.

You do not have to allow another person to use you as a punching bag.  You do not have to subject your heart to verbal or emotional abuse.  You do not have to prove the sincerity of your forgiveness by enabling continued bad behavior.

forgiveness is not forgetting

That’s neither wise nor helpful.

Boundaries are OK.

They are necessary.

And they do not mean you haven’t forgiven someone. 

Keeping Short Accounts: What I’m Learning From My Son’s Sudden Death

This Sunday morning I had to extend and ask for forgiveness all within fifteen minutes.  

One person said something that unintentionally hurt my heart (he had no idea that what he said plunged a knife in it) and then I overstepped in making an event public before making sure it was definitely on the calendar.

It could have meant I walked away offended and upset. 

But I didn’t.  

Instead I was honest with the person who upset me about what he said and why it hurt.  He apologized immediately and I was quick to accept it.  And when I realized I had offended the other person, I asked for her forgiveness and she granted it too.

I find it’s easier for me to do both- ask for and extend forgiveness-this side of child loss for lots of reasons.  

First, I’m learning that I just don’t have the energy to maintain an offense. 

Offenses are like very fragile hot house plants-they need lots of tending, protection from the elements and so much time.  I used to be good at keeping an offense healthy and vibrant.  I would feed it often and refuse to subject it to the harsh winds of real life where it could be shown for what it was-not worth the energy or effort!

It’s so much easier to wipe the slate clean and begin again.  

Second, I’m learning that since grief wears me down in so many ways, I don’t have the resources to maintain my own mask, keep up my own pretense of always being in a good mood, smiling and having the right words to say.  So I make mistakes, step on toes and feelings with a fair degree of regularity and NEED forgiveness often myself.

I can hardly expect others to extend to me what I withhold from them!

Third,  I’m learning that the only thing worse than finding out someone I care about is beyond reach is hearing that news knowing I never made things right when it was within my power to do so.  

When you’re expecting your healthy, vibrant, youthful son to pop over on Saturday morning but instead get a knock on the door before sunrise, it changes everything.

Sometimes I don’t heed my own advice.

But when I’m paying attention, listening to my heart and really present, I work hard to keep short accounts with those I love and even those I don’t.  

Paul wrote: 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

~Romans 13:8

I don’t want to leave this world owing anybody anything except love.  

Love is never satisfied because hearts always need more.

And I am glad to pay it.

If we really want to love must leran to forgive

Why You Might Have to “Forgive” God

I love this quote.  

It’s honest and exactly how I felt after Dominic was killed.

Like any healthy human relationship, forgiveness is a key component in allowing us to grow closer to those we care about.  Intellectually, I believed that God is perfect, and could do no wrong.  I could agree with all the scriptures I had read since I was a child that told me God cares for us with an everlasting love.  But what my heart felt was that God had done Cathy and my whole family an injustice.  As long as I held onto those feelings, I knew I could never move forward.

So one evening alone at home, I simply said these words out loud:  ‘God, I forgive you.’

When I was finally able to let go of my ‘justifications’ for feeling angry at God, something inside of me shifted.  There were no heavenly rays of light breaking through the clouds, but I could tell that much of the mental turmoil I had been struggling with was being replaced with a quiet peace.

The thing is, I knew deep down that God did not need to be forgiven.  The forgiveness was meant for my sake.  It opened my heart to begin to listen and allowed me to receive more of what God wanted to teach me about who He really is.

~Warren Ludwig, Jewels in the Junkyard

It may be an affront to our religious sensibilities to even suggest that we “forgive” God.

But it is a bold rendering of the betrayal my heart felt.  Why MY son?  Why ME?

It’s true-as long as I held onto the reasons God had “done me wrong”, I was unable to lean in and trust Him again.

Like Job, I thought I had Him figured out and could hold my own in a debate with the Almighty One.

But also like Job, when confronted with His holiness, perfection and majesty, found all I could do was cover my mouth.

And when I shut up long enough to hear Him, His voice brought comfort.

He [Christ] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be trevailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased,’ but He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’

~Julian of Norwich

I no longer feel betrayed.  

I still don’t like this life.

I would never have chosen this life.  

But I will trust the One Who made me to carry me through it. 

i made you and i will carry you

 

 

 

A Mother’s Love: Wisdom from Wendell Berry

There are many reasons I love Wendell Berry’s writings. 

He is committed to living gently among people he loves and caring for the earth that sustains our lives even if we won’t admit it. 

He is unafraid to speak uncomfortable truth.

But mostly I love his poetry. 

I could share dozens of pieces that have touched my heart and made me cry but today, in honor of mamas everywhere, I choose this one.

Read it slowly.  Savor it like fine wine or good chocolate. 

Let it sink in where it can do you good.  

To My Mother
by Wendell Berry
I was your rebellious son,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.
So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,
prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,
and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it
already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,
where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

I believe that a child’s first taste of gospel freedom is found in a mother’s unconditional love.

“causing me to smile now, looking back, to see how paltry was my worst, compared to your forgiveness of it….”

 

as far as the east is from the west

Repost: They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

I remember the first couple times I ventured out in public after Dominic left us and the flurry of activity surrounding his funeral was over.

I felt naked, afraid and oh, so vulnerable.  

The tiniest misplaced word or random glance could undo me and I burst into tears.  

They Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

What is Forgiveness?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about forgiveness lately.  

What is it, exactly?

If I forgive then must I also forget?  If I forgive then must I also allow unfettered access into my life?  If I forgive then do I have to pretend the wounds inflicted by the offense don’t still hurt?

Here’s what I have so far: 

  • Forgiveness means letting go of the feelings surrounding the offense.  It means no longer expecting an apology, restitution, repentance, restoration.  It means trusting that whatever work needs to take place in the heart and life of the one who has injured me will have to be done in and through them by the power of God, not by me holding their feet to the fire.
  • Forgiveness means extricating my own heart from the bonds of expectation regarding the other person.  We start fresh.  Clean slate.  I lay down my hopes for how that person should/will/might treat me.  It’s a way of liberating myself regardless of whether they choose to remain in bondage to bad habits, a bad temper or unfruitful relationships.
  • Forgiveness means I have stopped looking to the other person for healing.  I must tend my own wounds, work my own field of feelings, deal with my own shortcomings, poor choices and habitual sins.  I can no longer use another person’s action or inaction as an excuse for my own delayed healing.
  • Forgiveness means that I can and should erect appropriate boundaries.  Every relationship is not a mission field.  I am not required to lay down my life to enable another person’s bad behavior.  If the person I forgive chooses not to change hurtful behavior, then I do not have to give them access to my heart and life.  I can be kind, receptive and compassionate but I do not have to hug them close just to make it easier for them to hurt me again.
  • Forgiveness means that I don’t use my injury at the hands of that person to malign his or her reputation.  If I have released that person from obligation to me through forgiveness, then I must choose to lay down the offense and not mention it to others.  (This, to me, is a good test of whether or not I’ve forgiven someone.)
  • Forgiveness is an act of my will regardless of the other person’s response to my choice.  Love, kindness and forgiveness are in essence the proffered hand.  If the person to whom it is extended slaps it away, then it’s on them.  I may be ready for a sea change, but the other person may still be resisting

forgiveness is not forgetting

Some people are easy to forgive!  

They recognize how their actions or words have wounded my heart and they ask for forgiveness. 

Others are much harder!

They either choose to ignore or are unable to see that they have hurt me.  

But I am called to forgive regardless because I have been forgiven.

forgiveness is difficult because it involves death and grief brene brown

 

 

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, As We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us

There are lots of opportunities for offense surrounding the death of a child.

Once your heart is broken open wide with great sorrow, there’s no defense against the bumps and bruises that are a natural product of human relationship and interaction.

  • Friends and family that didn’t show up.
  • Friends and family that showed up but said or did the wrong thing.
  • Friends and family that abandoned me as soon as the casket closed.
  • People that make me feel guilty for grieving or question my sanity or my “progress”.

But I’m learning to let go of offense.

Not only because it is too heavy to carry in addition to my grief, but because the Lord has commanded it.

I grew up reciting what’s commonly called, “The Lord’s Prayer” without much thought to the individual phrases or their meaning. It wasn’t until adulthood that I read it in context and continued on to the rest of the chapter.

What I found there was chilling.  

These are some of the hard words of Christ that most lay persons and many theologians prefer to gloss over.

“For if you forgive other people their failures, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you will not forgive other people, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you your failures.”

~Jesus (Matthew 6:14-15 PHILLIPS)

WOW!  The plain reading of this text tells me that if I refuse to forgive others, I place myself outside the forgiveness of my Father.

It makes sense though-if my sins were borne by Christ on the cross, then so were yours.  

If His grace covers me, it covers you.  

If I want to be seen through the eyes of mercy, then I must be willing to look through those same eyes at my fellow man.

At first this feels like bondage instead of freedom.  

But the truth is, forgiveness is liberating.  

It sets me free to operate in the fullness of who I am in Christ.  It forces me to trust Him with my pain, with my sorrows, with my offenses and with balancing the scales of justice.

forgiveness-quote-charles-stanley

Forgiveness opens the path to relationship and community.  It testifies to the mercy and grace of God.  

It shines like a beacon of light in a dark world.  

It is the power of Christ in me.

To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.

~Henri Nouwen

forgiveness_is_the_fragrance_that_the_violet_sheds_on_the_heel_that_has_crushed_it-385646