If it Weren’t for My Faith

If it weren’t for my faith this would be impossible.
If I did not have faith forgiveness would be impossible.
Absolutely impossible.

At times, sweet Jesus, you have tested me to the end.

I am so angry, I feel so betrayed, I feel so completely let down.
Why? I know I try to never ask, but Why?
Why since the beginning did you send people into my life who’s “love” looked a lot like a big pile of dogshit?

Why should I forgive when “they have nothing to ask forgiveness of me?”
Why does this keep happening?

I’m not some passive, innocent bystander.
I’ve attoned for my sins, openly, clearly.
I know how to take responsibility, and here it is, again.

I would quit. I really would. You’ve “tested” enough.
I’ve proved myself worthy, I have finished the race, and I want to yell, ENOUGH!!

But here we are. Fucking faith.
You push me to be better.

“Do you really believe this?”
“Do you really believe all things are possible?”
“Do you really think if forgiveness is extended you will be better, feel better, know better?”

Okay, that last one really isn’t a question…

“Do you want to be made whole?”
God asks me.
Yes, Lord. Please, please, please.

Then you have to forgive.
Again. And again. And again.

Damnit, faith. Just, fine! but also damnit.

Pulling the Trigger

I’m not the first to say it, this election has been triggering. For immigrants, for People of Color, for women, for men of conscience. For, well, almost everyone.

Today was the latest scandal about Trump’s “locker room talk” in 2005. I won’t even bother linking to an article about it. It’s not worth it, if you haven’t read about it then don’t bother, it comes down to this, rape culture is real.

Several weeks ago something happened in my life that made all the triggers go off. Just about all of them. I was telling my therapist that I was already on high alert because every time I turn on the news I get triggered by something.

I was raw and exposed, again…

Being “triggered” basically means you have an emotional reaction to something that is from your past. It’s like PTSD only hopefully on a less severe level. It could be anything. Smelling old spice aftershave that my grandfather used to wear. Spelling the cologne your rapist was wearing.

The thing about being triggered is even the most self-aware people can be triggered and not know it for minutes, hours, days. Over time I have developed internal “check-ins”. “What’s bothering me?” Oh… that explains it.

Think… anything that comes out of Trumps mouth for the people he is talking about.

Anyway, I was talking to my therapist, “I’m tired of being raw, I’m tired of being exposed, I’m tired of being triggered by everything every time I turn around!”

In other words, I needed to have a little more control.

He asked me a very therapist-y question. “Is there any time in the past where you have had this happen and how did you handle it?”

Okay, fair enough, well played therapist man.

I told him a story of when I was in seminary and I had several issues of “serendipity” or “coincidence” and I decided to make a spiritual discipline out of it. It had happened so many times in a row that I felt like I was out of control.

I felt that these were messages from God that I was not paying attention to. So I chose a number, the trinity would guide me (remember, I was in seminary). If someone came to my mind 3 times in a short period of time I would call them. If I came across a book, movie, someone mentioned “you should do something… go somewhere… think about” if it came up 3 times, I would no longer put it off.

This is a spiritual practice I still do today and has become highly effective.

“So”, my therapist said, “Let’s try it.”

For the last few weeks every time I’ve been triggered by something I used it as an opportunity to release it and extend forgiveness for the thing triggered.

When I was 19 I read the book “Mastery of Love” by Don Miguel Ruiz. He said something about forgiveness that I have never forgotten.

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“When you can touch a wound and it doesn’t hurt,
then you know you have truly forgiven.”

It was damning to me. In fact, it was one of those things where I said, “That’s impossible.”

Years later, I know it’s not. It can happen. But like a wound a doctor heals, it has to be checked, and sometimes hurts more to look under the bandage. Sometimes the wound reopens.

When we are triggered we reopen a wound that has yet to be healed. And they’re everywhere. Elsewhere in the book he speaks of having a skin condition covered in wounds that have become “normal” and people without the skin condition are considered the freaks.

If I use his analogy to contemporary issues I could say that the people without the skin conditions are “woke”.

So for the last few weeks I have been trying to see triggering as a spiritual practice. It is time to change the dressing on that wound. Changing the dressing is the healthy way of addressing the wound.

I realized I had a choice, I could ignore it (and the past tells me it will reopen the wound and the pattern will continue) or I could address it. By addressing it, I could use the opportunity to heal to extend forgiveness.

This is what I know. (and yes, I am closely reaching my self-help cliche mark for one post). Withholding forgiveness hurts me more than it hurts you. Throughout the weeks as my therapist and I have talked about how my spiritual practice is going, I have noticed it wasn’t just about needing to be in control of my emotions, it was also about living into who I am.

I am not a person who withholds forgiveness easily, especially people I love and have ongoing relationships with. Triggers are an opportunity to live more fully into my scarred, but healed self.

Funny how God works sometimes…

 

Rationalization: the Disingenuous Apology

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You’ve done something wrong (just try to imagine this scenario) or something that happened lead to someone else’s feelings being hurt, or the topic was insensitive, or whatever, it actually doesn’t matter, one party is hurt and the other needs to apologize. This could be intentional or unintentional, I’m not sure it matters.

“I’m sorry but I thought/didn’t realize/was trying to…”

There are so many things wrong with this sentence I don’t know where to begin.

Yes, yes I do.

There was once a saying going around that said something like the “but” negates everything that came before it, I don’t think it negates it, in my experience, it lessons it. The need to rationalize, the need to explain ourselves, the need to somehow be a little “less wrong” than we are needs to stop. As if they somehow understood your position their feelings would magically go away. There may be a time for explanation, but in the moment of the apology, stop the urge to explain yourself and just apologize, please, it will go a long way, I promise.

People need a genuine apology and to hear that their feelings matter. When we jump to rationalizing we are telling the person that their feelings or experience is not that important. At times, it can even be shaming. “I didn’t mean it that way” can translate to a hurt party to say, “you’re crazy and you are the one over reacting” or “that was all in your head” or “I am more important than you.” Listen to the person, listen to the pain and have compassion, instead of jumping to your own defense.

We don’t like to be wrong, even when we know are. It’s a tough world out there, I get it, stress levels are high and sometimes we snap, or speak without thinking, or make mistakes by simply not knowing. When someone tells you you’ve done something that hurt them, you feel guilt or shame, and that feels bad. We want that feeling to go away, so we rationalize even to ourselves and perpetuate the hurt. The funny thing is, if the person feels heard and receives a true apology then they it will be a lot easier to extend grace and forgiveness. Allow forgiveness a chance to occur… “I was wrong, I’m sorry” and stop, when you rationalize, especially when you feel hurt in the process the cycle of pain continues, instead of stopping and giving an opportunity to heal.

Sometimes we’re not necessarily “wrong,” but still need to apologize. This is a common occurrence when the “thing that happened” is taken out of context. Or possibly they thought it was “for your own good.” Perhaps it really was a misunderstanding, but you probably could/should have handled it differently. Even if it was “the right thing to do” fall back on the golden rule here, treat others as you would want to be treated. Apologize for not extending them a decent courtesy of treating them like a valued person in their lives, and if it’s personal, don’t act and ask for forgiveness later, be upfront and honest.

Apologize first and reengage in the situation (if it’s absolutely necessary) later. Reconcile, know your limits, check your emotions. Allow time for the apology to sink in and for forgiveness to open the heart and the mind. Ask them before you “explain yourself” if they are ready to talk about it. If it’s too soon, it’s too soon. Remember, rationalizing is trying to make you feel better, not them. But talking through the situation can be helpful, give them insight into their process, not to excuse feelings but to foster open communication. “I bottle things up and then explode.” “I thought I was being open about what my needs were, but obviously I wasn’t, what would be helpful next time?” “I really didn’t see things that way, but after knowing how hurt you were I will make sure to check with you/come to you first.”

The “I’m sorry” is just the beginning, not the end of an issue, remember, healing takes time.

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Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Yesterday, through my great powers of manipulation, a small miracle, or perhaps just dumb luck, I somehow convinced our Director of Christian Education to preach on Rally Day (the day Sunday School returns). Because she is a people pleaser and cannot say no to me, (and because she somewhere must have a deep seeded need to be punished for something she did in a past life) Katie said yes. As if she didn’t have enough to do that day…(FYI- Katie is our Christian Educator, she is a Pastoral Counselor, and has the voice of an angel)

Anyway, Katie, a double PK (meaning both of her parents are ministers) did a beautiful job, really. And as she preached about forgiveness and reconciliation Using Matthew 18:15-20 she preached about how to be the church together, how to be communal. On one hand I felt proud of Katie, I felt happy for the congregation, and I admit, it was also nice to hear a word from our pulpit that is so similar to one I would have given, but as she preached, I felt myself being moved, being preached to, being “fed” by the word. (yes, “fed” is problematic for me, but it’s the only word I can come up with- hold on, I’ll get more coffee).

This is an interesting thing as a preacher. I preach to myself most often. It just happens sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. But I am preaching the word God is wanting me to hear. I often get comments on the way out the door like “You can stop talking directly to me now!” or “How did you know?” or “That was exactly what I needed to hear.” These are high compliments as a preacher, but what I really want to say is, “Yeah… that’s great, but that word the Spirit was bringing, it was for me too.”

But then Katie preached, and I heard the gospel in a new way, I asked her to send me the sermon, she did some good exegesis that I wanted to share:

In the Old Testament there is salach, which most of us would understand as pardoning or freeing from the constraints of guilt. Salach is the forgiveness that God offers as it is exclusively used in instances where God is the subject. Kipper or atonement is related to the journey from sin to forgiveness, again usually between a person or people and God. And then there’s nasa’, which is used in the context of expelling sin from the individual, usually by way of communal sacrifice.  Did we catch that? Individual sin, communal sacrifice. The remedy for one person’s wrongdoing is reconciled within community.

community prayer

Did you catch that? I talk a lot about community here on this blog, it is vital to my faith. But think about this: The way to be reconciled to God, to yourself, to your neighbor is through a communal act. Individual sin. Communal Forgiveness.

We do not sin alone, even if the sin is to ourselves. Say I self hate, that still effects the community. Think about what self hate does to my work, my children, the people I encounter at the checkout line in Target. “Working on myself” is a communal act. We need the community to be free from sin. This is even easier to understand if I sin against another. Then I don’t just effect my bubble, I effect another’s as well.

It was a beautiful message, one worth sharing. One my heart needed to be reminded of, and one that we all need to remember. There is hope for me, me who tries to make it all happen myself. There is nothing wrong with needing others, needing them in order to reconcile with God, with my neighbor, and especially, with myself.

Thanks Katie, and Thanks be to God!

Integration

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How do you forgive, how do you heal?

This is a question that I not only have asked myself many times over in my life but people ask me on a regular basis. Forgiveness and healing are often at the root of why people turn to or against faith. I had a beautiful morning with a dear friend and this topics was discussed between us.  Here are some thoughts I have.

I cannot heal myself, neither can you heal me. The power of forgiveness and then the healing that comes from it can only be extended by God. Yes, you give into the healing power, but only God can actually do the healing and forgiving.  This of course begins with prayer, various forms of prayer and time. This is not to make you feel helpless, this is just a reality.  I am a smart woman, and I have a large ego, but there are some things I cannot will into existence.  I cannot command myself to forgive. I may go to therapy, talk to every person I know, do every exercise possible, but until I understand that healing and forgiveness cannot be achieved on my own, I will be stuck. (This is a lesson I have to relearn on a regular basis, by the way…)

Time is essential.  I was once told that I knew I had forgiven someone when I could think about the person or situation without negative feelings arising.  At the time I truly thought that was impossible. Years later, I can begin to see that is true. Time does not heal all wounds, but over time this “thing that just happen to me” shaped who I am.  Hopefully for the better, and that integration can be healing and should not be rushed.

Accept that you are changed. There are things that just happen to you. Shit happens, it doesn’t always have a purpose or a meaning, sometimes it’s just shit.  However, it changes us, each and every experience we have changes us. Accept this, incorporate it into your life, learn from it, grow from it, or express it. Don’t hide, let the secret out, don’t be ashamed, it just is, even if “it” is something you did wrong or are embarrassed about.  Talk, write, sing, jump, kick it out. Bottling these feelings of shame or joy will only eat you alive. Curse at God, love yourself through it. Know that you are different physically, emotionally, and spiritually from every relationship you have. Ones that are good and ones that cause harm.

Stay in relationship This is the hardest of all. If possible- let me repeat that- IF POSSIBLE stay in relationship with the person or people.  Healing comes through relationships. There is a reason why atoning for ones sins is in the 12 step program. The person may never know or understand how they have harmed you and that can be almost as, if not more, painful then the act or acts that took place. This is not possible with everyone. Some sins are harmful to your person and you need to break the relationship off. Then do it. This harm could be physical or emotional. Or the person may have died, or you don’t even know who they are.  This happens, healing can come from it, but in my experience it is harder. I hate that it is, but it is. Life may be “easier” by not being in relationship with them but at what cost? You have to decide this for yourself, is the weight of holding the hurt larger or smaller than the weight of being in relationship? This is not an easy question to answer and may take multiple trials and error.  

Essentially there is no easy answer (and I certainly don’t have them), healing is complicated, because it comes through love, the love of God. Forgiveness is an extension of mercy and again, only comes from God. So if there is something you are in need of healing from or for, let yourself off the hook to “fix it” as soon as possible, and open yourself up to the healing powers of grace. May it be so for you and for me…