Source: Contradictions Revisited
A discussion of profession and practice.
Source: Contradictions Revisited
A discussion of profession and practice.
My writer’s group thought that my article, Contradictions, last week lacked a connection between contradictions and expectations and they felt that the conclusion lacked connection between the aforementioned subjects and a neat wrap-up to the whole. Therefore, without regurgitating the original Contradictions, I want to try to revisit the subject for the purpose of clarity and connection.
Throughout the summer and fall of 2016 I was attempting to make amends to people I had harmed and repair friendships that had been damaged or broken. To that end I joined Facebook – after a three-year absence – and sent emails and letters. In several instances I was disappointed, hurt, and disillusioned by the response. One person I sent a letter to responded with a phone call extending forgiveness, but then proceeded to justify all his/her actions leading up to our break. I was disappointed and angry. The self-justification was unnecessary. It left me feeling like I had worked and processed my words and actions from the past, accepted responsibility for the same, made thorough admission of my guilt, sincerely apologized, and sought reconciliation for nothing. S/He responded in a way that left me believing that s/he had no confidence in my growth, no culpability in the whole affair, and had performed perfectly. It was not the response I had expected or wanted to hear. (Thankfully, after several more gentle and earnest attempts, the relationship is mending.)
In another letter I sent I recalled the close friendship this person and I had shared and some of the humorous and serious moments we experienced together. In the letter I asked him/her what I had done to him/her for him/her to not respond to me in my hour of need. The reply I received thanked me for the recollection of good memories and abruptly ended there. Not only was there no response to the questions I asked, there was no acknowledgement of them at all. Within days of receiving his/her letter s/he published an article on his/her blog about the need for a fallen Christian to embrace the church rather than run away from it. S/He used words and phrases like “safety,” “embrace,” “a place to grow,” a place where one can have the “freedom to fall and get back up again,” and a “community (where the fallen one) could have … an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” The contradiction of his/her words and actions were dark clouds, pouring rain, heavy winds, and stormy seas to my mind, soul, and spirit.
S/He is not the only Christian who turned away from me. The community of Christians from which s/he came and of which I had been a part for 25 years did not reach out to me either. Not one person from that fellowship has ever asked me what happened or ever attempted to contact me in any of the myriad of ways one person can get in touch with another these days. Furthermore, when I attempted to befriend people from the Christian communities of my past – going back to my childhood – on Facebook, I was ignored or blocked by a host of them. (I thank God for the Christian people – mostly from my adolescent years – who embraced me, loved me, expressed confidence in me, and helped me in so many ways.)
You see, I have certain expectations of people, especially those who profess to be a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. I not only have these expectations of them, but also hold myself to the same standard. If I announce to all that I have a certain and clear set of values, then you have a certain expectation that I will adhere to them. The same is true of me to you, I expect you to be what you profess to be. It is at this very point where expectations and contradictions converge. When you or I do not live up to the system of beliefs we profess, you and I are disappointed, disillusioned, hurt, and yes, even angry.
As I mentioned last week, contradictions of our expectations come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .
It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. It concerns me when Christians profess to believe in forgiveness and reconciliation and fail to do either. When they profess to embrace 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new,” (NKJV) and fail to accept that in another. I have come to believe that the Christian community at large has a systemic issue with reclaiming their failing or fallen brother or sister in Christ. This appears to be especially true of any who sin in a dramatic or public way that embarrasses the Church or betrays its trust. At this point the Church appears to actually become hostile, critical, condemning, unforgiving, and unwelcoming. The lost sheep is not sought and the prodigal cannot return home. I will not be the judge of the intentions of others, but when it is happening to you it is hard to feel that it is not intentional.
It is a bit tricky to recognize when my expectations are mine alone and not related to a larger scheme. In my first illustration regarding the phone call I received in reply to my letter, this is the case. I had no right to expect this person to respond in the manner that I thought s/he should. The hurt and anger were of my own making because I set myself up to expect one reply and received another. I still do not like the response, but it did not necessarily violate a dearly held set of values.
However, the second illustration is, I think, an example of a person acting contrary to his/her stated standards. Instead of “safety,” and all the other things contained within his/her writing, I found coldness, disinterest, lack of concern, distance, and a refusal to engage. I will leave it to God to judge whether these were blind spots or blatant contradictions, but contradictions they clearly are. It is here where my expectations of certain behavior based on ones proclaimed position and his/her actual behavior contradicted each other. I expected him/her to act like a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ and he/she did not. That is the contradiction that most disillusions and disappoints me.
What can I do about this conflict between beliefs and behavior? As I stated last week, I can …
I choose to believe. I choose to believe that God’s grace is sufficient to redeem and change people and provide them with the will and desire to live free of blatant contradictions and respond quickly to blind spots when discovered. I choose to believe that people, although fallible and imperfect, want to live consistently and adhere faithfully to their system of beliefs. When my expectations are not met and there is just and clear evidence of contradictions, I will still choose to believe. As a result of believing in people to be what they profess they are, I will continue to have my expectations of myself and others unmet at times. Because people intentionally or unintentionally fall short of their professed belief system – I include myself here – there will be contradictions between profession and practice. I choose to believe in people anyway.
As a Christian I am called to love others. The greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love others. This is the core of the Christian faith. It is precisely this call to love others that results in my disappointment and disillusionment, but I choose to love others as unconditionally as I am capable. The risk of pain pales in importance to the belief in and love of God and others.
There has been a question that has haunted me for the past eight months, “Why do people disappoint me?” “Why am I hurt by the words and actions of others?” I have come to the conclusion that disappointment and hurt are the result of my expectations of others. Am I wrong to have expectations of others?
As a former counselor, my clients had an expectation that I would keep their confidences. Nearly every session I informed them that everything they said was confidential with the exceptions of voiced desire to harm themselves or others, confession of juvenile abuse or molestation or elder abuse, or if the courts demanded disclosure (which is extremely rare). I held that trust inviolate. Whether in the role of pastor or counselor, to me the pastoral/mental health/substance abuse counseling office was as sacrosanct as the confessional. Once I was asked to disclose to appropriate staff and faculty the content of my counseling with college students if said counseling revealed violation of school rules or codes. I strongly objected and flatly refused to do it. And I never did. In whatever setting, clients have the right to expect that their counselors will keep their confidences.
Other types of businesses and relationships have their own set of ethical and moral expectations to which we expect adherence. The same is true of my Christian walk. If I tell you that I am a practicing disciple of Jesus Christ and if you tell me the same, it comes with an implied set of spiritual, moral, and behavioral standards. When my attitudes, actions, and words contradict my profession of faith, I should expect you to be disappointed in me. And, if you fall short, you should expect me to be disappointed in you. These I call – contradictions.
Contradictions come from a variety of sources. There is/are . . .
It is this last category that causes me the most irritation. Because of my personal failures there have been some in the Christian community who have turned their backs on me. It hurts when I send a letter seeking reconciliation that gets no reply or one that is very formal. I feel anger rise when I confess and beg forgiveness for my sins, faults, and failings to another only to hear them become sanctimonious and “holier-than-thou.” One person spent our entire conversation without taking any responsibility for his/her actions, instead s/he justified them. When I see the names and faces of people within the Christian community who have blocked me on Facebook, ignored my friend requests, or made it impossible for me to send them a friend request, I feel pain.
One author wrote, we who fail should “embrace the (Christian) community as a safe place to grow. Within holy community, we have a freedom to fall and get back up again. We shouldn’t leave when we fail!” That has not been my experience. Instead of a forgiving “embrace,” I found rejection. Instead of “safety,” hostility. Instead of a “place to grow,” a toxic and unhealthy environment. Instead of “freedom to fall and get back up again,” condemnation and ostracization. Ronald Reagan once said, “I did not leave the Democrat party, it left me.” I feel the same about many in my “family” of Christian friends, I did not leave my church family, they left me. Here I stand repentant with wounded arms reaching out for help, but many are they who pass by on the other side. (I thank God for those who did welcome me, allowed me to minister in the ways I could, and who demonstrated confidence in and acceptance of me.)
The author of the above statement is one who passed me by. Is this a blatant contradiction or a blind spot on his part? “Christian community could have given (a fallen person) an opportunity to flourish in faith and life,” he says. Does he think that statement includes me? Unfortunately, I have found it best to hide my failures from the Christian community and make them known to God and a very few confidants alone. The risk of rejection and condemnation is too great to disclose to the Church. This “haven of rest” for the redeemed Christian can become an anchorage of death for the fallen. Therefore, I stay silent. It robs me of an opportunity to share what God’s grace can do and has done, and it robs them of the joy in rejoicing with a lost son who has returned home.
I know the cause of my woundedness – expectations – yet the question goes beyond the cause. It is not enough to identify the why, I need to determine the next step. In my estimation, there are three possibilities. I can . . .
Will I be hurt again? Most definitely. I will be frustrated. I will be annoyed. I will be offended. But I choose to embrace all the negative risks that come with loving and believing in people.
Our LORD be with you.
“My dad was an angry and volatile man,” the young man exploded the information across my desk. “You never knew whether he’d respond to news with anger, resolve, defeat, or acceptance. If I did something wrong or didn’t do what he asked, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get yelled at or gently counseled. My godly mother took the brunt of much of his anger. It appeared she could do nothing right for him. After she told him to leave, she disclosed to me that she feared for her life.” He paused, appearing to be searching for clues to a mystery, and then continued. “He professed to be a Christian man and he was a minister. You couldn’t help but admire his intellect and his preaching and teaching abilities. In public he was a composed, unflappable man. You could tell that, although quiet and reserved, he was clearly in charge. Few things rattled him. When everyone else was in a panic, he remained calm. But, at home he was an unpredictable, angry beast.” He bowed his head and quietly said, “I know he struggled with mental illness. Maybe that explains it. He asked me to forgive him and reconcile with him. I don’t know what to do,” his voice trailed off in resignation.
Many of us can identify with this man’s dilemma, actually, two dilemmas – forgiveness AND reconciliation. I must admit, within the past few days the distinction between the two has become much clearer. Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate issues. You can give forgiveness without reconciliation. In fact, it is sometimes necessary and preferred. However, in some cases forgiveness also requires reconciliation.
In Christian teaching, God both forgives and reconciles us to Himself at the same time when we seek Him. But, with we mortal and finite humans this is sometimes a two step process.
Forgiveness always comes first and is required. Biblically, we are to seek forgiveness from those we have harmed and we are to extend forgiveness to those who ask it of us. I will forgive because it is the right thing to do. Peter learned in Matthew 18 that forgiveness for others comes as a result of our gratefulness to God for forgiving us. Not only is it a mandate from God – it is also good for our emotional well-being. Mental health literature is replete with the benefits of forgiving. It releases the searing pain that torments our memories. It rids us of the burdensome obligation to seek personal revenge. And, the festering anger that threatens to destroy our relationships can be discharged. I have found that forgiving frees me and gives me peace.
Not forgiving is often a survival mechanism from being betrayed, wronged, injured, or humiliated. We know that among the risks of not forgiving are eternal victimization, continual emotional upheaval, smug self-righteousness, and the inevitable loss of compassion for others.
It is only human for us to build defenses against hurt and pain, both physically and emotionally. That is why we seek shelter during a storm and lock our doors at night. It is why we fortify and guard our hearts and minds against hurtful people and unhealthy situations. We are particular about who we let in to our inner sanctums. To use a home analogy, some people get no nearer than the sidewalk or street, others are allowed into the yard, a few are invited onto the porch, a smaller number are allowed inside to the formal living room, but those who are invited into the kitchen with refrigerator privileges are numbered often on a single hand.
Reconciliation is another step. Sometimes it is not possible or ill advised. We cannot reconcile with those who are deceased, beyond our reach, or rebuff our efforts. We do not and should not expect people who have been physically or sexually assaulted or some other violence perpetrated upon their person to reconcile, especially if the offender is a stranger. However, there are times when we need to reconcile.
I know of a couple of neighbors in a small southern Indiana town who hated each other. Both of them had planted “keep out” signs on their property line. And, the two signs faced each other. Clearly, there was not only some forgiveness that needed to go on, but also some reconciliation. If not for their own sake, at least for neighborhood peace and an end to the negative example being portrayed in front of their young children.
I have come to the conclusion that a greater price is paid by both the seeker and giver for reconciliation than that of forgiveness. It requires trust and vulnerability. Once trust has been broken it necessitates a heroic effort to reclaim. Trust has faith. Trust believes. Trust has confidence. Can I trust that his remorse is genuine? Can I trust that she has made genuine changes and is fortifying her gains and continues to grow? Am I able to see him for what he is now and not for what he was?
Trust extends toward another while vulnerability is about me. The less we trust the more fences we build for protection; the more we trust the fewer fences we have and the more vulnerable we become. If we do not trust we insulate ourselves. Now, insulation has a two-fold purpose – it keeps the cold in and the heat out in summer and it keeps the heat in and the cold out in winter. When we make ourselves vulnerable we remove the insulation and expose ourselves to the elements. To be vulnerable means we risk getting burned by the searing heat of anger and resentment. To be vulnerable means we risk exposure to the bitter and frosty bite of indifference. Relationships require an element of vulnerability, without it we have no relationships.
The young man in my office could readily forgive his father, but he was not yet ready to reconcile with him. He did not trust his father in spite of evidence he had changed. Nor would he allow himself to be vulnerable enough to take the risk. That is where the situation remains as of this writing.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not for the weak. Only those with strength coupled with empathy and love can make this journey.
Several years ago I heard a man tell his story about leaving the ministry. He said his decision was made one night while he was the on-call chaplain at his local hospital. A man came through the ER carrying an unconscious, bloodied toddler. Doctors and nurses rushed the child to a room working furiously trying to save his life. The chaplain sat with the man as he held his head in his hands and cried, “O God, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to do it.” From time to time the chaplain checked on the condition of the boy and would return to his father with any news of progress. Again the man would repeat, “O God, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to do it.” This scenario repeated itself three or four times until the father was informed his son did not survive. That night the clergyman quit the ministry and turned his back on God saying, I knew God would forgive that wicked man and I did not want to serve a God who would forgive a man such as this.
The minister had it right in one aspect: God forgives. This is abundantly clear in both the Old Testament and New Testament. God forgave some people who committed some hideous sins. Consider King David who used his authority to seduce and impregnate another man’s wife. Then he arranged for her husband to be killed so he could marry her. When confronted with his evil conniving, he repented (Psalm 51) and was known by all as “a man after God’s own heart.” (I Samuel 13:14) And then there was King Manasseh who closed the Temple, dismissed the priests, set up idols on the high places for Judah to worship and to sacrifice, and surrendered his son to the fires of Molech, an Amorite god. After being taken captive to Babylon, he repented of his sins and God restored him to his throne in Judah. (II Kings 21:1-18 & II Chronicles 33:1-9)
In the New Testament, Jesus chooses Matthew – a tax collector for the hated Roman occupiers who determined his own salary by collecting more money than what was owed – as one of the twelve Apostles. (Matthew 10:2-3) Likewise, there was Simon the Zealot, numbered with the Twelve, who was likely an assassin. (Luke 6:15) The Zealots were a group of Judean patriots who killed any Jew that collaborated with the Roman government. One of their preferred methods was to kneel beside a collaborator during a festival or feast and drive a dagger deep into his back. Finally, there was Paul – a blasphemer, persecutor of Christians, and an insolent man – who called himself the chief of sinners. (I Timothy 1:13-15) By the grace of God he was transformed to be an Apostle and the writer of 13 of the 27 books that comprise the New Testament.
Recalling these men of old demonstrates how far the grace of God extends into sin riddled lives to save and redeem them. But, that was a long time ago and their gross offenses do not affect us. What about today? Do you believe the notorious serial killer, Jeffery Dahmer, who killed at least 17 men and boys and cannibalized some of them, could be redeemed? According to the prison chaplain’s office and several other clergy who visited him, he was a new man in Christ before he was killed in a prison bathroom. I have witnessed individual Christians and churches rejoice over the conversion of people like Dahmer. However, he did not kill one of their relatives. The former minister in my opening paragraph had an irredeemable list. I fear when someone touches our lives, our community, and our church we, too, have a more narrow definition of the redeemable than what God has.
During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the world was confronted with a little known and feared epidemic, AIDS. In one of my seminary classes we had quite a lively discussion about people so afflicted and whether they could attend church or not. There were those, fearing the possible transmission of this disease, advocating for a ban on church attendance. Apparently, many churches had adopted this position as policy. Others in the class campaigned for ministry and inclusion. This era was not a particularly bright spot in church history as many churches chose to say that the AIDS patient was redeemable, but just not at my church.
I am acquainted with a man who was released from prison after serving a 40 year sentence for murder. His first Sunday home he went to the church where his parents attended when they were alive. The congregation knew him well. Still, he received a fairly cool response. The next Sunday he went to another church where he was known. That church was downright hostile, telling him he was not welcome to attend their church. For his third try, he chose another church where he knew several members. They welcomed and embraced him and chose to treat him as redeemable. The first two churches said in essence, “We do not want murderers attending our church.” For them, this man, whom some had known since his childhood, was irredeemable.
What of the child abuser or molester, the woman abuser or rapist, the severely alcoholic or addicted, the adulterous spouse or the compulsive gambler? It appears it is harder to believe that a person is redeemable the closer they are to you and the more harm they have inflicted upon you.
A few weeks back I wrote this line: “Perhaps they fail to see me as redeemable, and therefore are blind to the redemptive work that continues to make me a better man.” Although I understand and own the pain I have caused, it is difficult for me to accept the view of me that some in my family still harbor. It is hard for me to acknowledge that I am numbered with the irredeemable in their eyes. It hurts.
O God, forgive us when we harbor an irredeemable list in our hearts. Help us view humanity as You do. May we embrace the truth that the greater the sin the greater is Your grace and that no one is irredeemable in Your eyes.
If you have wintered in a climate where the snow flies and the winds blow until there are large drifts and closed roads, you know what it means to be stuck. If you have driven in a field, yard, or on a dirt road during a rainy spring, you know what it means to be stuck. If you have tried without success to solve a problem that appears to have no resolution, you know what it means to be stuck. But, you can shovel your way out of a drift, and push or pull your way out of the mud. You know you can get unstuck, eventually, even if you have to wait for the snow to melt or the mud to dry. And, there are very few problems mathematically or socially that cannot be solved with some knowledge and cooperation. However, I am stuck emotionally.
For the past three years, I have gone to counseling regularly for help with my major depressive disorder and the emotional stress from some disturbing experiences in my past. It took a few months to get stable, but afterwards I made good progress. My depression is now in a mild to moderate state and life is much better. However, the things haunting me in my dreams and many waking hours continue. My counselor tells me, and I acknowledge the truth of her observation, that I bring up the same subjects each session. So, there you are, I am stuck.
Here is the kicker – there is a way out, but I do not know if I want to take that path. My therapist has told me there is a treatment called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR that has shown great promise for people with single or multiple episodes of trauma. In fact, the clinical and field trials show great success – over ninety percent for single episodes and over seventy percent for multiple. Apparently, I am in the “festering wound” stage emotionally and I need to activate my brain so it will remove the block in order that my healing may continue. I am told that it will help me become an objective observer of my experiences rather than an active participant.
My question is, “Do I want that?” Do I want to look at some of these troubling issues from a distance like a spectator? You see, my concerns are near and dear to my heart and they are very active, ongoing issues. I pray about and over them. Cry and get angry. Feel hurt and emotional pain. Ask the question “why?”, experience frustration, and wonder how others cannot see the answer that is so clear to me.
My problems are three in number. The first is with my ex-wife. There are some unresolved issues that I have attempted to settle without success. My goal is not that we would become besties and have standing invitations to each other’s events. No, I want an amicable relationship in which we share what we have in common – our children and grandchildren. This has been my prayer for nearly four years now.
Sure, I would love to be rid of the nightmares with the accompanying screams, yells, physical thrashing in bed, and fighting to stay alive in life-threatening situations. I would love to make the conflict dreams that are filled with arguments, disrespect, and aggravation end. It would be nice to have the subtle needling stop. No more “alternative facts” spread. And, an end to using our children against me. But, at what cost – less concern? Satisfaction with the status quo? Indifference?
The second of my frequent topics with my counselor is the loss of my ministerial credentials. Actually, it is not so much the loss, but the refusal to give me a path to reclaiming them. When I asked to be put under discipline in order to be reinstated, I was refused. No one interviewed me. I was not asked to produce character witnesses nor were any contacted. There was no guidance given me about the process or what the ministerial committee required. My defense was not asked for or recorded. The decision appears arbitrary to me, and I was told an appeal would be pointless. Do I need to just let this go? I have held a ministerial license of one kind or another since 1975. It was one of the things that defined me to others. Is there a way to feel differently or look more objectively at what appears to me to be a decision based on less than all the facts?
My third concern is my greatest. Two of my three children refuse to talk to me. Diligently I have sought reconciliation with them. I have written letters of sorrow, accepting blame and guilt, and asking for forgiveness. The efforts I am making to stay in touch with them are ongoing. I send them letters on New Year’s, Valentine’s, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries. They have chosen to not respond to my outreach. When I was diagnosed with cancer I thought surely they will contact me now, but it was not to be.
Both profess to be Christians, and one works at a Christian organization and travels in ministry almost weekly. One of the them says I am forgiven, but continues to shun me. Not only was I not invited to their wedding, but some of my relatives were not invited simply because they helped me in a dark and needy moment. They blocked me on Facebook from seeing their site and had their spouse do the same. That does not look like the forgiveness the Bible espouses and which I once preached and emulated.
Am I wrong to believe that forgiveness and redemption cannot abide with shunning? Is it too much to ask conservative, evangelical Christians to live up to the Bible they profess to believe in? Sure, I hurt and offended them. I was not a good father after my depression went clinical. Anger, isolation, and emotional distance were what they experienced from me for many years. They have a right to feel wronged – I do not deny that; however, “all have sinned” and yet God seeks to save and redeem the sinner.
Maybe the image of what I was is so seared into their minds that they seem unable to see the new man I have become. Perhaps they fail to see me as redeemable, and therefore are blind to the redemptive work that continues to make me a better man. It appears there is so much insulation about them that they cannot or will not allow themselves to trust me and be vulnerable enough to give me a chance.
Is it too much of me to expect a Christian to forgive and act like it? Will EMDR rewrite my brain in such a way that I can see their side of things and conclude that they are justified in their continuing behavior? Will I suddenly have an epiphany that forgiveness and redemption can be interpreted to exclude rather than include? Do I want to not feel so troubled, disappointed, and hurt?
The answers are not readily evident to me, thus I remain stuck. I am open to solutions, but if they involve escape, indifference, and/or distance, I am not sure I want to be a buyer. What do you think will help me get unstuck? Response are welcome.
Ten years ago this month a man walked into an Amish school in Pennsylvania and shot eight little girls, killing five of them. What happened next caused a nation to stand in awe of the families of the murdered and wounded girls. They forgave. Many of the families visited the man’s widow, parents, and parents-in-law to comfort them. It is reported that the father of one of the victims held the father of the perpetrator for nearly an hour as he sobbed. They attended the funeral of the man to support his wife and children and even set up a trust fund for their care. I watched in amazement at the behavior of the Amish community and wondered if I would have the grace to do the same.
Although my pain is nothing like that of those families, I still have hurts that need forgiving. As I write this, I find myself in a struggle to forgive. I have been planning this blog for several months, but only four weeks ago did I come face to face with my own festering grudges. I was talking to my counselor during our regular session when I heard myself speak about my frequent nightmares and how they relate to my past experiences. Bitterness was coming out of my mouth. Was that me? A man who believes in the fundamental importance of forgiveness within his Christian faith and for his physical, emotional, and mental well-being speaking with rancor? “I sound bitter, don’t I?” I whispered. She said yes and then proceeded to tell me that I was “stuck.” “Oh, God help me!” I cried. My unforgiving spirit had halted my march toward wholeness. It loomed as a catastrophic avalanche, consisting of a multitude of real and perceived hurts inflicted upon me by others, cutting off my path to peace.
The late poet, Maya Angelou, wrote that forgiveness is “one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.” According to an article written by the staff of the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness can give one “healthier relationships, greater spiritual and psychological well-being, less anxiety, stress, and hostility, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, (a) stronger immune system, improved heart health, and higher self-esteem.” That is quite a round of benefits. Tyler Perry affirmed, “It’s not an easy journey to get to a place where you forgive people. But, it is a powerful place, because it frees you.”
There are two passages from Matthew where Jesus taught on forgiveness that has always challenged me. The first is a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgive like God? Willingly? Unconditionally? Without justice? The second is Jesus’ discussion with Peter about how often we should forgive in a day and the parable of the ungrateful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus said our forgiveness was to be limitless because, how can I, with an unpayable debt to God, experience His forgiveness and then be so ungrateful as to refuse forgiveness to s/he who, comparatively speaking, owes me so little? How can I reach this standard?
(The following outline is loosely based on one given by Stuart Rothberg, but the comments are mine.)
Betrayal. Physical, sexual, and/or mental abuse. Bullied. Disrespected. Unfaithful. Forsaken. Forgotten. Abandoned. Character assassinated. Patronized. Demoted or fired. Little or no confidence shown in you. Crime against my person, loved one, or property. . . .
Forgiveness begins with recording your story about the person or thing that hurt you and its consequences. Who was involved? What happened? When and where did it happen? How did it and does it make you feel? Write an honest and comprehensive story.
The person or thing that causes you to feel like a victim will always control you until you take charge of your feelings, emotions, and thoughts. Stop defining your life by your pain. Give up expecting something from someone that they are unwilling or unable to give. Determine to be an over-comer.
You may never meet the person who hurt you again. S/he may not even remember you or think about what s/he has done to you. Waiting for an apology or an explanation keeps you trapped. Take back the keys of your heart and mind and release yourself from the jail of the victimized.
“Justice” is an abstract idea that may never happen and may never satisfy you if it does. Revenge may taste sweet, but it sours the stomach. As a boy I waited the whole week of junior camp to take revenge on a boy who hit me. All week I befriended him. We went everywhere together. The time came and I reared back and hit him with all I had. He looked at me with a look of betrayal and crumbled into tears. I did not feel anything like I thought I would. I felt awful and our friendship did not last.
Let the legal system or God be the avengers. Release the right to personal revenge. Forgive the debt owed to you by your offender.
What prompted my own crisis of forgiveness was a phone call. Several months before I sent a letter of apology to an individual taking responsibility for my role in the decay of our relationship. I think I had expected a reciprocating letter taking responsibility for their role, but no. What I got was a justification for their actions and no acknowledgement of wrongdoing. All the hurt came back like a flash flood. I thought I had forgiven, and perhaps I did, but the conversation brought back all the old feelings and I indulged in the bitterness and anger. I allowed a root of bitterness to be planted, nursed, and grow all over again. Now here I am repeating the process that I thought was finished.
The peculiar thing about forgiveness is that it has to be repeated, often for the same offense, the same offender, and throughout the same day.
My pastor preached on forgiveness a couple of weeks ago. He did not need to get my attention because I knew God had my number. The sermon was going along fine until he said the true test of forgiveness is when you, “Give up the right to tell others (your story).” He went on to say that on those occasions when you do tell your story, “It does not sound like it happened just yesterday.” Ouch! I am not there, yet.
The act of forgiveness is an event that can be dated and timed, but getting relief from the pain is a process. It is a daily journey and we may have to repeat one or more of the above steps as we go along. Give yourself time to get there.
Forgiveness does not condone the wrong. It may not even require reconciliation. In some cases reconciliation is impossible or inappropriate. Forgiveness is more about you, your peace, your well-being, than it is the offender. “Forgiveness,” someone said, “is a choice for the brave and the courageous.” Well, I must be off to forgive again . . . and again . . . and again . . .
People diagnosed with depression are roughly three times more likely than the general population to commit violent crimes such as robbery, sexual offenses and assault.
The story continues of one such man who went to jail for committing crimes while seriously depressed and paranoid. His marriage of 33 years was essentially over. His wife announced she was going to leave him after seven months of an attempted reconciliation. He completes his story in his own words.
My paranoia took control at this moment. I overwhelmingly felt the urge to get them out of the house. It was either they leave or I would die. My walking stick was close and I opened the bedroom door with it in my hand. “O, look, he has a stick in his hand,” I heard one of them say jeeringly. Then they started taunting me and laughing at me again. I retreated to the bedroom, but with irresistible force, the paranoia pushed me to make them vacate the premises. If they did not respect me, I thought, nor my walking stick, maybe they would respect my shotgun.
It was totally and completely wrong, but I was driven to make them leave. My life was in danger, or so I thought. When I came out of the bedroom with the shotgun in hand they retreated, but not without taunting me more. Like a desperate man I followed them out the door (a felony) to make sure they left. All the way to the SUV they taunted me and laughed at me. As they drove away, or so I am told, I pointed my shotgun at them (another felony). I have no recollection of pointing the gun at them directly at any time, but there is a video that shows that I did.
I was too weak, too emotionally drained, too mentally spent, too sick to walk away. I broke one of my fundamental principles – do not fight over material things. Too tightly did I hang on to the loaves and fishes and missed the Christ passing by. It begs the question, did I own my possessions or did my possessions own me?
After they left I put away the shotgun and sat down on the front porch until the police arrived. Three police cars drove into the driveway and my estranged wife and our daughter were right behind them. I jumped off the porch, pointed my finger at the two of them, and shouted, “Get them off my property.” An officer grabbed my arm and twisting it shoved me back onto the porch. I told him he had no cause to manhandle me in that manner. Another officer joined him and asked me to sit down, which I did. I started telling him that they were violating the “status quo” order. He aggressively replied that he had been on the force for 14 years and had never heard of a “status quo” order. I said that he had better go down to the courthouse and educate himself. With a glaring eye and a stern voice he barked that if my estranged wife and daughter want to go in the house and take everything out he would make me stand aside and watch them. It seemed many of my fears were becoming reality with the blessing of the police.
I have only flashes of memory for the remainder of the incident. The police report says that I stood up from my chair and hit one of the officers in the face with my fist. It continues that during their attempt to take me down I had put both officers in headlocks, one under each arm. (Two more felonies.) An officer escaped my grip and tased me. It had the effect of having an ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatment. I regained consciousness.
After spending the night in jail I checked myself into the hospital. Besides the severe depression, I was diagnosed with an episode of dissociative amnesia, defined as “a precipitation emotional trauma charged with painful emotions and psychological conflict” (Synopsis of Psychiatry, pp. 676-678). “Depression and anxiety are common predisposing factors.” Localized amnesia is the most common type and lasts for a short time. In laymen’s terms, I had a blackout.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) some “people may lose control of their emotions or actions during a dissociative event and can do things that are otherwise quite uncharacteristic.” “Almost half of adults in the United States experience at least one depersonalization/derealization episode in their lives, with only two percent meeting the full criteria for chronic episodes.” (NAMI.org) “Disassociation arises as a self-defense against trauma.” “The symptoms of dissociative amnesia usually terminate abruptly, and recovery is generally complete, with few recurrences.”
My episode lasted only a few moments during which time I did a very terrible thing by which I am horrified and have profound regrets. Without the disassociation, the assault would never have happened. The last time I had lifted my fist to hit someone, I was 10 years old. Without the paranoia, my shotgun would have never left the closet. Never had I pulled a gun on another human being. My last visit to see my psychiatrist was just a few days before the above incident. I walked into the office in a severely depressed state. The receptionist looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you need to go to the hospital?” I told her I would be all right. The psychiatric nurse practitioner asked the same question. I gave the same reply. On my way out the appointment secretary called me by name and said, “Are you sure you don’t need to go to the hospital?” You would think a long time professional clinical counselor would get the hint, but I foolishly repeated my previous statements. I missed the warning and paid the price. I was charged with seven felonies and two misdemeanors.
About four days after being released from the hospital I went back to court. I asked my lawyer to plead me not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. He said that it was nearly impossible to prove in the state where I resided even if I was howling at the moon. The prosecution offered a plea deal that involved dropping all charges to misdemeanors and 360 days in county jail. Upon the advice of my lawyer I accepted the deal and started serving my time the same day. It was my first arrest and the first time to go to jail other than for a visit or to minister and/or teach.
Jail became my salvation. I used the time to be spiritually restored and grow in grace, and put behind me the demons of my past. For the first three weeks in jail I spent nearly every waking hour reading my Bible and repenting. I confessed materialism, sins of the flesh, pride, inconsistencies, wastefulness, anger, being a poor husband, being a poor father at times, tendencies to nurse my own views, resisting the good efforts of others, discourteousness, expecting too much of others, and a less than healthy relationship with God as my Creator, Savior, and Guide. At the end of those three weeks I sensed the forgiveness of God and a restoration to fellowship with Him.
Restitution was next. I wrote to the prosecutor, police officers associated with my case, and my boss asking forgiveness for my behavior and bringing a reproach on the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ. People from my church congregation came to see me; I wept and confessed my sorrow for tarnishing the name of their church. To family, friends, and whoever would listen I attempted to make things right. My oldest son came and I wept the longest and confessed the most with him. He was gentle and expressed concern for me, especially my spiritual condition.
Several days were spent forgiving people who I perceived had wronged me. In one particular writing I recorded 38 wrongs and wrote “forgiven” by each one. I was determined not to let any root of bitterness spring up in my heart. When wrongs came to mind I dismissed them with, “I forgive.” (This is a practice I continue to this day.) Someone gave an insight regarding Jesus charging Peter to forgive 70 times seven. He said it was not simply for the person who sought forgiveness, but also for the thoughts that try to take residence in our consciousness. As often as they come for forgiveness, as often as the wrong comes to mind, forgive! Lewis B. Smedes says it well, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
I began a devotional routine that included reading from the New Testament, the Psalms, and Proverbs daily. Devotional readings included, “Our Daily Bread,” hymns from a Presbyterian hymnal, and whatever Christian book I could find in the jail library. Quiet time was hard to come by so I began staying up after morning meds at 4:30am until breakfast at 7:00. Before I read I prayed that I may hear, understand, remember, and practice the Word of God.
After reading one particular book I began to pray in a systematic way. My prayer list included confession of my dependence upon God; submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; that I may love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength; a longing to know God as much as I was capable and in the manner He has revealed Himself in the Word. I prayed for wisdom, for strength in trials and temptations, to grow in grace, for holiness, righteousness and purity, for humility, for my anger to be controlled, and for my depression to be stabilized.
Confession of sins, faults, and shortcomings was included. I prayed for reconciliation with my daughter and youngest son. (That prayer continues.) Prayer was made for others and thanksgiving to God was given. Time was spent praising God for His character and attributes, and His works of creation and redemption through Christ Jesus.
Chapel was available every Sunday and there was a Wednesday Bible study. Rarely did I miss. The “Walk to Emmaus” organization lead us on a four day spiritual journey.
In jail I found peace with God and myself. When I emerged from jail I was healthier spiritually than I had ever been. I continue to cultivate the spiritual practices I learned in jail. To God be the glory! His grace is amazing.