A couple months ago I went to a forgiveness seminar. The room was filled. I looked around and the average age of the attendees was probably forty, or dare I say, fifty. That told me all I needed to know right there: forgiveness is a hard concept to understand. You see, forgiveness is not a logical thing. Although people act like it all the time. People treat forgiveness like they treat people who have depression and anxiety. They get told “just stop worrying and get out of bed”.
Wow- thank you Karen I'm all fixed now.
Its just not that simple, and implying that it can be may end up pushing people further into guilt and shame. People are so eager to just tell people to forgive and move on. Do you know how dangerous that can be? Its like slapping a coat of paint on a moldy wall and calling it a day. It is dangerous for that person and it is dangerous for anyone who comes into their house. If you have ever had to remove mold in a house, then you know that it can be a long and painstaking process. Sometimes, you may not even know the extent of the damage until you remove the dry wall and take a look inside. Similarly a person can not work on forgiving if they do not emotionally take down some walls.
During the seminar the lecturer had us pick a person whom we felt we needed to forgive. The letter had a format and in that format she had a list of words that helped us describe the emotional impact the person’s actions had on us. This section was called the “Assessment of the Hurt”. To assess something means to “evaluate or estimate the nature, quality, or ability of someone or something”. Assessing something that is damaged not only means you have to accept that it is damaged but also accept that there is a cost to repair it.
The assessment sheet had several items that we had to scan for. Some examples:
Disappointment - "I felt let down by this person and therefore could no longer rely them."
Betrayal - "I felt that this person lied, cheated, or hurt me. This experience left me feeling a lack of respect for this person."
All of these assessments left me feeling like the first three letters of the word "assessment."
As I moved through the list, one of the assessments left me feeling extremely angry. When I read it, I froze. My body locked up. I re-read it again and again. The tears welling up in my eyes told me I could no longer ignore this.
The assessment read “Abandonment - I was left behind, physically or emotionally. This experience left me feeling fearful and insecure about the future”.
See I felt that the word attached to the sentence was dramatic. Like when you take your car into a mechanic to get an oil change and then they tell you, you need a new alternator. I was not prepared to repair the damage. Heck, I wasn’t even prepared to admit I had been damaged.
My mind went to its usual defensive state- No way was I abandoned. No way was I left behind. No way am I insecure about the future because of this.
I looked closer.
Oh wait. Yes. I am. Because if I was good enough, I wouldn’t be this lonely. If I was good enough I would have more friends. If I was a better Christian, if I had given more grace to this person, if I had been more forgiving, if I had just stayed out of the way, if I had just shut up or hadn't shown up… then maybe I wouldn’t have been abandoned.
Ladies and gentleman, I present to you my “Assessment of the Hurt.”
That story is the mold growing in my head. This is how I would feel when I would show up at parties and events. I didn't just not do anything about the mold on the wall. I abandoned the house and I abandoned myself because if someone could do these things to me then the quality of this house was not worth repairing. Who I am must surely suck…
The story in my head was this “People in your life have evaluated the quality of you and the results are in, you will be abandoned, you will be left behind”. See it wasn’t what had been done to me that hurt the most it was the emotional and psychological damage that I felt couldn't be undone.
However, that is like sitting and staring at the mold on the wall wondering why it is there. It doesn’t change that it is mold. Wondering why people did what they did to asses your own self-worth or even your future is allowing someone else’s actions to rule your life. You have to deal with the mold. You have to do something about the hurt. That is the gift of forgiving. Taking that assessment, removing the hurt, and filling it with the grace God gives us. Not the assessment others give us (or even we give ourselves). The person who created you has already assessed you and HIS actions and words have already paid this cost.
Replaying and ruminating on situations didn't undo the damage. It just made me sick and insecure. I even told myself "well I can prevent this from happening again." But that isn't true because you can not be responsible for other people's actions. I can only be responsible for my response, my healing, and trusting the one who paid the real cost.
Forgiving is a process. Not a check-box. Sometimes mold does grow back just like old memories and feelings can pop back up. I wish I could say that forgiving took away all the pain and the hurt but I have a brain and I remember things. Forgiving is more like reminding myself time and time again, I removed the mold once and I can do it again and even faster this time. The tools that were utilized for this process involve action, discipline, and grace.
For action, the lecturer had us write letters and then burn them so that we couldn't re-read the hurt. She had us write that person's name on a sea shell and cast it away from us. This serves as a reminder that we are not carrying the situation any longer. We removed the moldy wall.
For discipline, when old hurts pop back up we have to remind ourselves we have already made the decision to forgive. Capturing your thoughts means no longer staring at the wall. The mold is gone. If some mold pops back up you can manage it by quickly removing it not wondering why it is back.
The third one is tough and needs to be practiced. Giving grace to the person who hurt you can only happen from a position of strength. Reminding yourself that you have everything you need, they do not owe you anything, nor are you in debt to them. You do not need to ration the love you give because you have an abundance given by God. You just need to go to the carpenter for the materials.