Nothing in life will invite us to more regret than parenting. There are so many times, that no matter how it plays out, you and I will be tempted to think about the 3 million other ways we could have gone. But what happens when you know you really made a mistake? I address that situation in this video.
It's been an interesting couple of weeks at my house. It seems almost every area of our life is in some sort of transition. The start of the year has been somewhat hard.
So last Saturday, we decided on a whim to go to a local eatery for wings.
The food was good, the service was extremely slow. This lead to a continuing conversation about conflict, fear and life.
My wife commented that she sees so many people who become the things they most said they didn't want to become in life.
In other words, the person focused on not being their mom, will often become their mom. My kids asked if I agreed with her and I told them that I did, without reservation.
They wanted to know why I thought this was so. I told them that I thought focusing purely on what you don't want to become is not enough.
You need something more than what you don't want to become. You need to know what you want to become, and why you want to become it.
If you have pain from someone else (and invariably, almost all of us do), you need to process it.
Ignoring it. Glossing over it. Embellishing it. Worshiping it. Getting comfort from it.
Anything other than processing it, will lead to becoming someone who transmits the same types of pain to others.
So, let's say a person focuses on not being their Dad and they choose behaviors that are the exact opposite of their Dad, but never forgive their Dad and process through the pain he caused them, that person will transmit that pain to those they love.
You need focus and forgiveness.
Without forgiveness, there will be little process. Without process, there will be little forgiveness.
You have to engage in both to truly experience change.
Forgiveness helps us deal with the past.
Process allows us to the focus on the future.
In focusing on the future, we shape our present. This is why we must examine what we are focusing on. If you don't focus on what you want to become (your future), you will become whatever you are focusing on.
Often, that is our past. Especially, when our past has unprocessed hurts.
So what about you? What hurts from your past have you not processed? Who do you need to forgive? What are you focusing on? Who do you want to become?
I'm always fascinated by the topic of forgiveness and how it works out in every day life. As a therapist, I can honestly say that it is perhaps the most troubling thing for many of my clients to face. Not their abuse, not their affairs, not their brokenness but the brokenness of others that has seeped into their lives like an infectious disease spreading and killing.
"I don't know how to forgive," is one of the most common phrases I hear every day in therapy.
"I don't understand what it means to forgive," is probably the second most common.
So of course, when my friend Wayne told me about a book he was reading, I had to borrow it. I'm now buying it. Here's a snippet. I am hoping I'll be sharing more as I read through the book.
"Forgiveness is centered in morality, which in its simplest form is concerned with the quest for the good. When people seek the good, they do so in relation to others. Thus, morality has an interpersonal sense about it. It is not a self-satisfying, hedonistic pursuit. To be moral does not imply that one must use certain language forms or behaviors to qualify as a moral person, but it does imply that the focus is on the relationships and other people, with good intentions toward them.
Two aspects of human goodness that are connected with forgiveness are justice and mercy, ancient forms of morality that at times seem to be connected in conflict with each other."
Enright and Fitzgibbons, Helping Clients Forgive, pp. 23
Tom sat in my driveway his car idling softly as he looked at me and poured his heart out about the rejection he felt because of his father. Tom was torn, he felt a natural desire to fix things with his father and something else.
He explained to me how his wife was mad at him because she felt that a letter that he had recently sent to his father detailing much of his frustration was not “hard enough.” When I asked him what she meant by that he said, well you know I was too...he paused to find the right word,
"You were too nice," I offered.
“No, no, no, nothing like that.” He seemed genuinely hurt that I would suggest such a thing.
A few days later we were talking on the phone. The topic of the letter came up again. His wife was still mad at him. I prodded, “What would be the point of sending a ‘meaner’ letter?”
“Well, don’t you think he should...” Tom’s voice trailed off.
“Hurt,” I left the question hang like a slow looping curveball.
"Tom, what do you think it would like to forgive your Dad? What does forgiveness mean?"
I knew that Tom's faith was important to him so I asked him what role should his faith play into his forgiving his father. His answer is actually a rather common one.
The confusion palpable in his voice, he said to me "I know I'm supposed to forgive him, but I have stinking clue what that means! I don't even know if he wants my forgiveness." Tom's eyes darted around the car like small orbs caught in a magnetic vortex of pain and confusion. Forgiveness is a necessary component of any relationship that we are in and yet there is so little real training on how to forgive others. There is so little understanding about what it means to forgive people.
As relationships seem to fall like buildings being taken down by professional demolition crews, I cannot help but wonder if at least part of the reason is because we have not learned what it means to forgive. Joshua Straub has written
But problems are never really the issue. We all have more than our share. What we choose to do with the problems, makes all the difference” ~Joshua Straub
I think this quote aptly applies to our relationship problems. Over the next few weeks, in no particular pattern I want to explore this issue of forgiveness. I believe it will probably lead us to many other topics and it will probably be quite a bit of fun to look at deeply.
I have been hesitant to enter the Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman fray.
In my opinion, it’s just too emotionally charged to get into it online.
Sunday morning, I woke up before anyone else in my family and as is my custom, I checked my email, and did a few other things.
Then I checked Facebook.
This was my newsfeed:
Person #1’s Status: You’re not paying attention if you believe Zimmerman was innocent.
Person #2’s Status: You’re not paying attention if you believe Zimmerman was guilty.
Person #3’s Status: You can’t really love Jesus if you believe Zimmerman was innocent.
Person #4’s Status: You can’t really love Jesus if you believe
That literally happened in almost straight succession.
Now, I’m not interested in debating the merits of the case with you or anyone else online. In truth, the list of people that I would discuss it with in real life is probably short.
Unless you want to talk about what we can learn about us from this death, trial, verdict and reaction.
Not about George Zimmerman.
Not about Trayvon Martin.
I’m not interested in discussing the judicial system, or anything else about the logistics of the case.
I want to talk about what we can learn about you and me.
I want to talk about our response to this event.
Both sides are drastically concerned with one thing. What they perceive to be justice.
People on both sides have used totally inaccurate arguments. They have both stated things as facts that they were proven to not be facts.
For many people, emotions have run extremely high.
People have made cries and accusations about everything.
This angers the people on the other side.
Because both sides believe they have justice on their side.
I think our desire, our passion to see justice happen is a good thing.
The problem, I think in this case is that it is blinding each side to seeing the view of the people on the other side.
We want justice so badly that we have failed to stop and hear the opinions of those who disagree with us. We’ve failed to stop and ask how someone in another reality from us might see this case.
We want justice so badly that we fail to make sure we act justly to people who have done nothing wrong, besides disagree with us.
I am afraid that until this changes there will alway be another Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman case. The names will be different. Perhaps, it will be different races.
But it will happen again, because I am afraid we have become a non-empathy society.
In a society where have nearly been enslaved to political correctness, which attempts to force empathy, we’ve lost our way. As long as we fail to embrace our alikeness, and differences while admitting our yearning for justice in a world full of injustice, we will never actually heal.
We will always be enslaved to our worst of emotions because it will be more about stopping the pain than true justice.
Stopping the pain is never about true justice. When we just want to stop the pain, we don’t really care if we have to stretch a few truths, or tell a few lies to get our point across. We believe we can bend a few of our own morals in order to achieve the greater good.
Of course, then we’re the ones perpetrating injustice.
May God have mercy on us all.
Are you a slave?
It seems absurd to ask that question, doesn't it? Some may even think it seems too insensitive given the number of actual slaves in the world today. But let me explain.
I have seen countless people come through my office doors who are slaves. Some are willing slaves. Some recognize that they are slaves and want to get out but don't know how. Some actually know the way out but they don't want to pay the price that is required for freedom.
What enslaves them?
I cannot tell you how many people I have met who are slaves to their anger. They are owned by it. They can't get free of it.
They're angry at their parents or their spouse, or an ex something or other.
Anger consumes them.
It infects their body.
It literally changes them for the worse.
It started with legitimate hurts. Oftentimes, a series of prolonged hurts. This isn't about diminishing those hurts or pretending they don't exist.
This is about being free.
The problem is that anger becomes something of a friend. It literally keeps them warm during the day. The thought of giving it up terrifies them.
They are slaves.
Their life is not their own.
The very thing they are trying to keep (control), they give away for an illusion.
What about you? Are you a slave to anger? Do you know someone who is? How have you dealt with hurts that lead to anger in your own life? Let me know in the comments below.
Recently I had a conversation with a friend from another city. He essentially said, "I want to forgive, but how do I forget?" This is a comment lament when the conversation turns to forgiveness. How exactly am I supposed to forget the hurt that has been done to me. We've all heard the trite statement,
"You just need to forgive and forget."
That is usually easier said than done. I once heard someone say it to a rape victim.
Then I started thinking....what if we're not supposed to forget? What if we can't? What if remembering is actually a key to forgiving?
Most people that I meet want to forgive but they are unsure how they forgive. We are not sure what it means to actually forgive anyone. Yesterday on my Twitter account, I asked "define forgiveness."
The answers were all wonderful. One friend told me to forgive is to forget because "that is how God forgives."
But I'm not God. Neither are you. I'm human. While I believe that is how God forgives, I wonder if in our broken world there isn't a different way forward for you and I.
I think we often come to the place where we look at our hurt and we think, "If I forgive this person, it means my hurt will go away." But this isn't true. Most of the time, we can purpose to forgive someone and the pain is still there. The hurt rears up like a geyser shooting from the deepest depths of our hearts. Pretending that isn't there will not work.
I think this is the greatest moment of opportunity.
What if forgiveness isn't forgetting but is rather choosing to care for/love the person in spite of remembering? What if not forgetting isn't a requirement? What if choosing how we act in spite of how we feel is actually the act of forgiveness?
I think this is an incredibly important distinction because if we choose to move forward in building a relationship with someone who has hurt us in the past, we are going to have to act in ways that go directly against our feelings.
Forgiveness is often a process not an event.
If that is true, then forgetting is not a requirement for forgiveness. Remembering is an involuntary act. It is the same as breathing, you don't think about it, you just do it. However, we can choose what to do when we remember. Do we choose to fixate on the pain, or on the fact that we are choosing to forgive? Do we turn the hurtful event (events?) over in our mind again and again or do we replace those thoughts with the remembering that we have chosen to forgive?
"Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head-on." (10)
Alice Duer Miller
I wrote earlier this year about the idea of being the one who wronged someone. That post can be found here. That post deal with five specific things that someone who has wronged another can do and some issues to be aware of during the restoration process.
But what about the person who was wronged? What can you do to help restore the process when you have been wronged and your heart hurts despite the fact that you want to forgive and restore? The following is an incomplete list of ideas.
- You have to commit to forgive the person. Too often we think that forgiveness is something that magically happens. This magic suddenly takes away our hurt and anger toward the person. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forgiveness is almost always something that happens over time. You could be cruising along doing fine and something will be said, or done that brings up new (or old) anger and hurt. It is at these times that we must remember our commitment to forgive the offender. Without this commitment, forgiveness rarely happens.
- Don't expect a linear jump from point A to point B. Moving from point where we are today to where we want to be tomorrow is rarely, if ever, a strait shot. It usually takes time moving back and forth with small successes and little set backs. This is normal and to be expected.
- Set strong boundaries. This is one of the areas where I see people go too far one way or the other. Either they tend to make it impossible for a person to actually build a relationship or they simply let the person have complete access to their life. Both are unhealthy. Setting strong boundaries is great way to protect everyone. Boundaries are all around us in life, keeping us safe. They need to be a part of our relationships as well.
- Give the offender opportunites to earn your trust back. I get push back on this one from both sides. Relationships build over time. They don't spontaneously combust. Relationships need to be rebuilt the same way.
- Offer real hope/Check your ego at the door/There needs to be an end. One way or another there needs to be another. No one can force you to be in relationship with them so if you choose to be in a relationship with someone you have to offer real hope that eventually there will be an end to the "rebuilding phase." This means you'll have to check your ego at the door as well. That will be hard because you will have the burden of righteous anger in your belly. If you decide that this person cannot be trusted again enough to be in a relationship than be honest with them. Tell them. If you think you can be in relationship with them but you will never be as close as you used to be, then tell them. The key here is communicating what you are thinking. Giving out confusing signals usually happens when we do one thing but say another. This often happens because we're hoping against hope that something that has never changed will change with little to no intervention. Life typically, does not work that way.
- Look for a new normal, not the way things used to be. Things will probably not go back to the way they were before the incident. They may turn out better (I have found this is often true when both parties commit to reconciliation). Things may never be close to the same. Relationship grow, change, and die. It takes two people to reconcile. I believe we all have a responsibility to forgive but we do not have to put ourselves in a position to be constantly wronged again and again.
One of the common issues that I deal with in couples counseling is related to the aftermath of mistakes.
A spouse cheats
A spouse uses painful words like a scalpel to cut as deeply as possible.
An angry outbursts scares the bejezus out of a spouse
A secret offense is brought to light.
The list is quite long, and I am sure you could probably add two or two hundred things that you have experienced or heard of happening.
Invariably, the question posed to me is, "Why can't she get over it?" or "Why can't he just move on? I said, I was sorry. I feel bad about it."
Often this comes across as defensive to the offended spouse and even to me as a counselor. The following are some steps that I believe are helpful in repairing broken relationships.
1. Leave all the but's in the barn.
You've heard this one before, "I am sorry, I feel bad that I did that, but...." Invariably, an accusation or degradation for the spouse follows that but. Here's the problem, when you say I'm sorry but___________, it sounds like you aren't really all that sorry. It sounds like you're wanting to make sure that your spouse gets some of the blame too. It sounds like your saying the adult equivalent of the four year old, "She did it too" defense. It's silly. It's shallow. And it is not helpful. If you messed up, own that. Don't try to deflect blame. Don't try to pass it off to your spouse. Just admit that what you did was wrong. No one made you do it. We control our own actions. What is interesting to me is that when someone commits to this idea of actually owning their own mistakes, thier spouse will often start admitting their own errors.
2. Double down on your patience level
If you have done something that has damaged trust in the relationship there is absolutely nothing you can do that will "fix it." You may have to answer a lot of questions. You may have to answer the same questions more than once. You may have to answer questions that don't seem relevant to you but matter immensely to your spouse.
3. Check your ego at the door.
I suspect that I get the most push back on this one. If you are the offending party, you gave up all of your "rights" by acting out. No, I don't think you'll need to pay for the rest of your life but I find that most people don't want to pay at all. Too often they want to just act out and hit a reset button. That only works in video games. Marriage requires that you die to yourself. When you are working on repairing a marriage it requires it all the more.
4. Invite Accountability
If you cheated, your life now becomes an open book. If you lost your temper, whatever find someone who can help hold you accountable. Not judge you but truly hold you accountable. Help you come up with a plan for the next time this temptation comes your way. Set yourself up for success.
5. Get the help you need.
This will allow you to understand what is really happening. What are the issues behind the issues? There is no weakness in admitting we need help and if it helps us to save our marriage, to have relationships that truly excel, we must pursue it. One of the best ways to ensure that a behavior will be corrected is to seek professional help regarding it. To really lean into it, examine it and make changes you may need someone to help you.
I think this list is a good start. It's not the end all. It's probably not complete but it's definitely a start.
What about you? What would you add to the list? Is there something you would take away?