I was raised in a victim-mentality family. In short, a person with a victim mentality rarely ever takes responsibility or accountability for their actions. People that choose to live in the victim mentality world will always fault and blame others for what is or went wrong in their life. As a child it did not matter what I did, how I did it, when, why, where, or the fact that my intentions were good. What was guaranteed however, was that I would undoubtedly without fail “offend” or “hurt” someone’s feelings. Once blame was cast I could then be accused of and responsible for whatever went wrong at the time. It took me decades to realize that I do not own any of the woes in my family. At the same time realized one of life’s most powerful quotes, “hurt people hurt people!”
Another favorite and powerfully true quote is; “we do not see things as they are rather how we are.” Whatever we carry around within ourselves is the lens in which we look at life. While some choose to view life through rose-colored glasses, others choose resentment, fear, animosity, anger and unforgiveness. Whatever resides in us, and we dwell on, will certainly skew our perception and interpretation of the world around us. I have learned a lot from my family including one of life’s most important lessons; you cannot change anyone but yourself. Attempting to change others is wasted energy and sure to bring frustration to both parties. Another great, healthy and important skill/lesson I have learned is the power and gift of forgiveness. This journey has been a long road and, at times, leads to frustration primarily because I am constantly forgiving extreme hurts when there is no responsibility, accountability or change in the lives of those I am forgiving. I am sure many of you have experienced the same exhausting and discouraging outcome.
From the time our brain understands and processes our surroundings (usually pre-toddler) we are capable of experiencing and remembering hurts. Because we tend to personalize hurts they eventually begin to chip and eat away at our self-esteem, self-image and identity. Unattended hurts are cancerous and often prevent us from reaching our fullest potential. These wounds happen at home, at school, in our childhood, teen years (graduations/celebrations), relationships, jobs, anniversaries, weddings etc. From important events and milestones to everyday living we are exposed to the potential sharp stab of hurt. If these jabs are not dealt with in an immediate and healthy manner they eventually compound. Before long these solidified hurts can turn any human into a walking tightly bound ball of anger and animosity.
So what exactly is forgiveness and how do we forgive? There are many definitions of forgiveness and in all honesty it may be beneficial to find or create one that is suitable to your personality. For starters let me tell you what forgiveness does not mean:
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean the offense is excused
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean the offense is condoned
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting the offense/offender
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean you are not affected or even (deeply) hurt by the offense. It does mean however that you are making a clear, confident decision that you are putting yourself first and refusing to carry the affliction any longer.
Forgiveness, to me, is “choosing happiness by releasing your burden to God.” Therefore the hurt and pain is no longer mine to deal with but is now in God’s hands for Him to deal with. When you no longer own something you no longer have any responsibility with or to it. Once you handover your hurt to God trust Him to deal with it. It is no longer yours to stress about and to do so would be a waste of time, counter-productive and just plain foolish.
So how do we forgive? In my opinion it is best to be proactive and walk in constant forgiveness. Hurt, anger, frustration etc. has a way of permeating our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Like quick growing weeds it spreads like wild-fire affecting and consuming us. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly hurt can change a person. This is why it is imperative to be proactive. The instant you feel hurt approaching talk to yourself (out loud if necessary) and say, “This will not control me. I will not be easily offended, and I will forgive.”
Intention vs. Behavior
Every single person in your life – no matter their role, involvement, or the frequency of your paths crossing has a good potential of hurting you. Either by words, actions or otherwise their behavior may cause you discomfort and possibly frustration/hurt. Often one of the key questions I ask myself during such times is, “did this person make a conscious decision to intentionally hurt me?” If the answer is no (which it usually is) I simply remind myself that, just as I am, this person is human and fallible. I then humbly put away my violin and leave the pity-party I selfishly threw.
Let me be clear that I am not advocating we become doormats or punching bags for the impulses and emotional whims of those around us. There are times – for our sanity – we must re-position ourselves, re-think our expectations of certain people, and of course even distance ourselves from intentionally hurtful and negative people. If, after much prayer and reflection, you feel it is best to do this it is healthy and beneficial to do so with as much love and forgiveness toward them as possible.
Years ago I went to visit my uncle in the hospital whom I haven’t seen or spoke with in years. While he lay on his death-bed I said these words to him.
“I want you to know that I earnestly and from the bottom of my heart completely forgive you for all of the sexual abuse I endured while in your care. I want you to be with God and soar with the angels. Know that what you did to me is completely forgiven, and I love you.”
I did not wait for nor want a response. I walked out of the room and prayed he made peace with his creator. The next time I saw him was in his coffin. I refused then what I refuse to this day; to let the actions of others steal my joy, happiness, and prevent me from being all that I was created to be. If I were to let the actions of others affect me by unforgiveness it would change who I am ultimately robbing me from reaching my fullest potential. How unfair to me, my creator, my spouse, children, and the world I live in. You and your loved ones deserve a free, whole and complete you!
I was recently reading a research article where leading doctors agreed that the number one factor in advanced aging and health problems is stress. Unforgiveness and stress go hand-in-hand! Unforgiveness harbors tension, frustration, anger, hurt and is a complete joy-thief. Let’s not forget that unforgiveness also makes it difficult and challenging to love people we want to love. Joyce Meyer put it best in her New York Times bestselling book Power Thoughts, “I was very angry and bitter toward my father for abusing me and I ended up mistreating my husband who had nothing at all to do with it.” (pg 138) All unforgiveness, resentment, bitterness and anger does is rob you from being all that you were meant to be. Why would you give anyone that much power? Not to mention, for us believers, forgiveness is pretty much a mandate. “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 KJV).
For believers reading this, do you remember the parable in Mathew 18 of the unforgiven servant? Bottom line Jesus forgives us constantly. Every day we wake up forgiven, a completely new slate. Jesus also has an answer for how often we need to forgive, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:15-22). Jesus made it very clear; you don’t forgive others, I cannot forgive you (Mathew 5:24). As believers we have a direct life-line to our creator. Our heart cannot function optimally when our arteries are clogged. Similarly we cannot function optimally when our life-line is. Choosing forgiveness leaves our life-line healthy and spotless for blessings to flow. There is redemption however for those reading this and feeling completely walked on from others who have, or continue to, mistreat you. “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 NIV). Simply put it is no longer a matter of will this person get dealt with, but when! Once God (our spiritual attorney and redeemer) has our case it is no longer our business and we need to stay out of His courtroom.
For the purpose of this blog I asked a dear friend of mine how they would be confident they had in fact truly forgiven another. His response was quite fitting, “Forgiveness has taken place when you can remember the wrong that was done without feeling resentment or desire to pursue revenge.” Although I completely agree with this great response I want to add that it is okay to fake it till you make it if necessary. Again, if someone is truly unhealthy to be around than it is your duty to keep your sanity by placing distance between you. Other than that forgive, and forgive often. You were not designed to be weighed down, rather to live free. As Bishop T.D. Jakes states, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison hoping the offender would die.”
Recently I took our toddler to the local duck pond. He was having the time of his life tossing corn into the water and watching the ducks dive after it. His laughter warmed my heart and while enjoying our bundle of joy and our bonding time I noticed something. I noticed that every time water landed on a duck it immediately ran off. The water did not even get a chance to bubble or the need to be shaken off – it simply rolled off as soon as it touched the duck. It was almost as if there was an invisible shield around the ducks body. I thought “this is precisely what people need.” We need armor where hurts, pains, anger and frustrations roll off before having the chance to even penetrate our skins surface. This armor, should we choose to wear it, is forgiveness. It would be what I stated previously; walking in constant forgiveness.
Walking in constant forgiveness is especially vital for us who are gay. Unfortunately we have a thousand arrows approaching on our left and ten thousand on our right – at times, daily. Sadly it is usually the names of family who hang from those daggers. One of the reasons ducks do not drown is because water cannot weigh them down. It is our personal responsibility to ensure we do not emotionally or spiritually drown as well. Do you need duck feathers?
Being hurt, afraid, frustrated, angered etc., are all natural and healthy emotions. You are supposed to feel these things (I’d be concerned if you did not). However, these are emotions that should not be allowed to vacation in your soul. Time does NOT heal all wounds. It is what you choose to think about, and do with your time that will depend on healing (or not). There will be times when unforgiveness feels good. After all unforgiveness gives us a false sense of power because when we hold onto anger we feel powerful. Anger however is a FALSE sense of power. When we are angry we are actually at our weakest.
Do not sell yourself short by putting conditions on your forgiveness. You give yourself the gift of forgiveness regardless of the other party. Keep in mind some people are too ashamed to apologize or view apologizing as weak thus they feel vulnerable. When you combine the feeling of vulnerability with low-self-esteem (and any other crosses many wrestle with) it’s no wonder why some resort to anger instead of apologizing. After all anger is an easy and justifiable way to allow us a (false) sense of empowerment.
I want to conclude this blog with two quotes that I believe are appropriate. Before I close this entry however, let me remind you that the holidays are quickly approaching and what better gift to give yourself than the gift to forgive. God bless you now and always. “The more I think about it the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others.” Vincent Van Gogh. “Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, because hate in your heart will consume you.” Will Smith