Today, Robin May shared her story of expectation and loss, identity, and anger, as she dealt with the abandonment of, and subsequent floundering relationship with, her father. Ultimately, two paths diverged in a yellow wood, and Robin took the one less traveled: the road of forgiveness. Here are 7 thoughts from her talk, with a bit of explanation.
Robin wrote off her father with an angry phone call, and thought that was it—an end to the pain, and his getting what he ultimately deserved (the very medicine he had doled out): desertion. However, unseen bitterness took root, followed by anger, and Robin began to realize, years later, that one cannot simply write off the author of the affairs. You see, she wasn’t writing the story; she wasn’t in control. Her past circumstances were, and they were wreaking havoc on her present tense and threatening her future hopes.
We all have the propensity to stuff things away, or deal only with the front burner while the back burners sizzle away, threatening, at any point, to boil over.
Awareness is key. How are things affecting us? And not in a cordial or show-a-brave-face way. Like really. How are relationships and circumstances weighing on us, and at some point are there tensions being left unresolved due to neglect?
Forgiveness is messy. But unforgiveness—even that which lies in hiding—is far messier. We need to assess our hearts often to be sure we are at peace with God and others.
2) Own your end of things
Let’s be honest—most conflicts are two-sided. Your side might only be a smidgen of the problem, but that does not excuse it. To extend forgiveness also means to own your part in whatever strife has occurred. Usually it is best to own your part, ask for forgiveness, and then extend your forgiveness. This takes humility, and sometimes humility takes another set of honest eyes to dig into your own foibles, and help you plot a wise course of action.
3) Go in love/Receive in love
If the goal of your forgiveness is to gain control of someone else, well, sorry, that isn’t actually forgiveness—that is just wanting to gain control of someone else. So we need to activate our efforts for forgiveness/reconciliation with love in our heart, and with love behind our motives. We also need to have that same heart of love when the person we are extending forgiveness to may continue in the same pain-causing manner. Our role in this is A) releasing them from emotional debt we feel they owe us and B) ceasing to be controlled by said emotions. It is very little about changing them, other than by showing them love and kindness that will hopefully soften their own heart at some point, but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Our role is for our side of things, and striving for right action therein.
4) Check expectations at the door
Forgiveness scenes aren’t typically straight out of the movies—now they’ll repent, we’ll hug, we’ll kiss, we’ll skip through the posies singing The Beatles songs and jump-roping rainbows. In actuality, the person will often be relatively stoic and unreceptive. And that is okay. Again, this is about living free, squashing bitterness, and moving on. This is not about behavior modification—especially someone else’s behavior . . . because that pretty much never works.
5) Let it go (in a non-melodic way)
To forgive isn’t necessarily “to forget.” We should always learn from our pain, and we should live accordingly. You can forgive someone for abusing you, but that doesn’t mean you should skip into a vulnerable situation with them again—that is asking for trouble and neglecting lessons from the past. But we can learn from pain and choose not to remember aspects of it. We can truly let go of the strong emotions from the situation, and retain a more even-keeled, soft-edged perspective on the ordeal: it happened; I learned from it; I’ve moved on from it; it is forgiven.
The tendency is “to forget” until the person wrongs you again, and then dredge up all past misdeeds. We throw them back in the person’s face, which reveals we never really forgave—we just used it as a tactic for change. Also, when we do this—go through the motions of forgiveness, but not the truth of letting things go—we store away destruction for later. It would be like hiding mines in your own yard . . . they may be out of sight, but at some point you or someone you love will be harmed by them. Once dealt with, these situations need to be hauled to the curb and removed for good—only the lessons and strength we gained kept behind, like trophies on a mantle.
6) Be responsible for tending your end . . . cultivate the field of forgiveness
When we don’t maintain our yard it grows. It isn’t so bad at first. Then it becomes slightly unruly. And then it is an eyesore, fit for a jungle, not a neighborhood (just ask my wife!). The same is true with our fickle hearts. If we don’t constantly remind ourselves “I let that go. I forgave him that.” then the weeds and thorns and brambles and ivy and clover—all that nasty stuff—will crop up.
I learned this from mowing this year too. This is the first time I’ve had my own lawn to mow, and I realized that if I wait two weeks to mow it takes around two hours. I have to bag the grass, the blade gets choked, the pace slows. If I mow every week, it takes 45 minutes. I fly across the lawn; the blade whirs away contentedly.
It is much the same with life. We must constantly be tending our minds and hearts (and allowing the Spirit to do the same) in order to keep things manageable. It may seem like more work upfront, but in the end it is a timesaver, a stress reducer, a lifesaver. It also will grow our faith, enhance our relationships, and make us to be more apt at helping others—for our own mess is under some semblance of control.
7) Get help
When you decide to walk the road of forgiveness, get some walking companions. Sure a good walking stick is great—that is like some good books one leans on. Nice shoes help—that can represent diet and sleep and other helpful habits when taking on tough challenges. But nothing compares to friends and their prayers when faced with the obstacle of forgiveness. It can be a long road. It can be a rocky one. Don’t go at it alone. Trust in Christ and the provision He provides (community!) to travel the road toward peace.
Last, there is a verse in the Bible that says, “But God demonstrates His love toward us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is a great picture of forgiveness. God did not wait until we were cleaned up enough to serve/forgive . . . 1) it wouldn’t have ever happened 2) that wouldn’t have required much love. Who doesn’t want to forgive and make peace with someone who is really, really great? God came to us at our worst and died for us in that state.
With forgiveness, it is this way too. We go to someone—even when they’ve hurt us deeply—and we put something of ourselves to death: our pride, our rights, our ideas of vengeance or revenge. We stake that piece of ourselves to a cross—like Christ was staked to a cross—and that is why forgiveness is so difficult. We are losing something “great” we deserve and giving the person who hurt us something great they don’t deserve. This goes against every fiber of our being.
We would never do this if this were the final story. But it is isn’t. Christ rose and conquered death. His death ushered in new life.
In the same way, our forgiveness—putting something in us to death—allows for us to truly come alive. Relationships are resuscitated, rest is had, release is found, and freedom is entered into. It is a picture of the gospel.
We forgive because God forgave–all acts of love originate from that source. And it is through forgiveness we have life. When we mirror that initial life-giving act, it awakens that deep yearning for life within us, and gives us a microcosm of how the world was meant to be and how the world will be; it is a glimpse of peace, like a postcard from some future perfection.