“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Louis B. Smedes
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future” – Paul Boese
About two years ago I had the opportunity to attend a seminar at my church on forgiveness. Being raised in church for the most part and a teacher (by calling), I have experienced my share of sermons, books and discussions on the topic. One thing that was significantly different for me this time was, I was the student versus the teacher. I can’t say I approached it like any other seminar that I have attended in times past, because my life had taken a severe turn just about 6-8 months prior. It was a devastating time for me. I had went through my second divorce and hurt someone I have known and loved for many years as well. Although I had forgiven myself and asked the people I hurt for their forgiveness, which I believe they had, I just needed something more to better understand and gain the clarity that I needed to move on with my life.
So there I was, in a two-day seminar trying to understand better what I thought I already knew fairly well, until that time that is. The pastor took an interesting approach for his introduction. He had an apple in his hand with a knife. I’m a visual learner, so this was great for me. He then took the knife and sliced a small section out of the apple. The apple represented our soul/emotions and the knife represented the sins/offenses against us. He demonstrated how we are impacted by the offenses of others and depending on how deep the cut, slice or sections taken out of the apple, the deeper the wound to our soul. It was quite traumatic to see this. He even showed how some offenses can have life long impacts, by slicing the apple in half or cutting a large piece out of it. (Picture that for a moment) He then began to share the role that forgiveness has with our healing.
Now, understanding that we all have our own choice to exercise our faith and beliefs, you have to decide what direction you personally choose to take for recovery, healing and ultimately moving on with your my life. Some may choose a 12-Step Program, counseling or seeking help from a higher power. As a Christian, my personal belief system is trusting God, through Jesus Christ. I’m not here to speak on that, but it’s important for me to state this so you understand my actual process to heal and recover, specifically with forgiveness. So for me this was a three-step process, first starting with confession.
This is the act of stating what you did, essentially owning it and having the courage to tell someone else about it.
If this can be the person that you offended, that will be even more impactful, if not, make certain they’re trustworthy and honest, because this a time for authenticity and truth and nothing short of that, even if it temporarily hurts your feelings.
Next, we must repent.
This is the act of truly acknowledging what and who you did wrong and making the decision to go in a different direction, a direction that brings forth healing to you and the one you offended.
This may require support from a professional, so don’t be ashamed to get the help. During this phase, you must be patient and allow who you offended to voice their pain and how what you did made them feel or impacted their life. This phase is not for the faint of heart, so be prepared to take accusations and criticism from the one you hurt and anyone that loves them. It’s a critical step for the actual healing process to occur, because it’s allowing how you actually hurt them to finally come to the surface without hearing any excuses.
The next step would be to forgive. This could mean you forgiving yourself first.
The act of forgiving is to release someone for how they offended you, and to no longer seek retribution or revenge.
Keep in mind it is their choice to forgive you or not, but it’s imperative that you forgive yourself during this time if you haven’t already.
It is important to clarify that forgiveness will not fix the problem necessarily, heal a physical wound or return money back into your bank account that someone took from you. It doesn’t even guarantee that you will be friends again, (in some cases it may not be wise to be) but what it will do is release you from the bondage of the one that did you wrong. Unforgiveness has a picture. It looks sort of like someone in a straight jacket bound in a cushioned room, with the room representing your place of pain and the straight jacket representing what you haven’t released. Can you picture this person? Bound, tormented with a desperation for freedom, but with no idea on how to achieve it, while the anger continuously fuels the desperation. Who wants to remain in this place? It’s imperative that we release ourselves from the anguish of what others have done to us and what we have done to others by the sheer act of forgiveness. I know that many will say, “You don’t know what they did to me, I cannot ever forgive them!”. I understand this and empathize with the thought, however it is the quickest way to remain bound with poison in your heart.
My personal story of forgiveness is one full of personal anguish, however equally amazing love. I will share only a part of it now, and one day soon the entire story will become a post on this blog. My story, being the act of the very God that I believe in coming to my rescue through a person to restore me and love me unconditionally in my time of tremendous need. A true friend that I have known for years had the courage to come along side me when so many others had abandoned me or simply didn’t want to hear my side. My heart was like that apple (broken and punctured with deep wounds), and so was hers (my friend). You see she was someone who I had equally hurt during this time and I could not believe or understand why she would come to my rescue, believe in me or even choose to be by my side while I was attending this seminar. Just the act of her courageous selflessness brought a type of healing to my soul that I pray I can return to her one day. I tried to understand it, but I couldn’t. I tried (even now) to articulate it, but my words fall way short of the true depth of love exemplified to my soul on that day by one human being. I can only chalk it up as amazing grace. Truly amazing! Next to the love of my mother, I cannot say I have ever felt that type of love from another human being towards me, especially when I deserved it the least. Sigh…
I am so grateful for the example that Christ has left for me to forgive. I am so thankful for the strength of one person that I hurt the most show me what unconditional love really looks like.
Today I am thankful for Monique.
You are truly God’s vessel of honor and I will always be thankful for what you gave me during that time. God chose you to set me free through forgiveness, and you had the courage to actually go through with it. I love you dearly.
Coming full circle, the final step in this cycle of forgiveness is reconciliation, for those that are blessed to experience this, where the broken relationship and heart is restored and made stronger than before, if you can imagine that.
Where is your soul in the area of forgiveness? What apple truly represents the condition of your heart? Are you bound, or do you still hold on to the pain of what someone else has done to hurt you, whether last year or from your childhood? Are you ready to forgive them and be free, finally? I pray that you are.
I have always loved this song. And like so many of us, as a kid I had no idea what I was singing about, but the melody sure was nice. Now as an adult I can appreciate the words, along with the melody. I think of love, good and not so good relationships and how each one has uniquely impacted me. I ponder on what lessons I took away as the result of my divorce, my poor ability to truly communicate with my partner or our mutual agreement to part ways. I reflect on my mental and emotional state during that time? Did I feel broken, depressed or rejected? Did I own my feelings or attempt to pass them off as someone’s else’s fault? (I confess this was the case more often than not back then) However, with my personal desire to get better and to be better as my motivation, and my hope to experience real wholeness, along with much prayer, I challenged myself with several questions. These questions were often bounced off one or two close friends that were willing to tell me the truth in love, and sometimes even a trusted counselor. Most of my questions were actually statements that my friends would call me out on and cause me to look in the mirror. Painful, but ultimately very helpful. This was the process (my process) that inevitably helped me to grow. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing with the steps I took. I did indeed learn from them.
A friend that will swear to their own pain, is a true friend.
They say hindsight is 20-20, and if I knew 10% of what I know now about most things, my life would have taken a different course, at least I think so anyway. The million-dollar question is would my life be better having more knowledge without the experience or the wherewithal to know any better? Selah. I will say I believe our steps are perfectly ordered just as they are, poor decisions and all. That can be a hard pill to swallow when you consider all the jacked-up things that can happen in our lives, but I will qualify that statement with…you don’t know what you don’t know. Therefore, our choices are based on what we do know and what we attempt to understand through our faith, experiences, up bringing, etc., and even that does not guarantee we still won’t make poor choices, but we have to step out on something at some point.
When you reflect on the less memorable relationships you have been involved in, or after you have went through your own healing process, hopefully you can take away that all of it wasn’t in vain, additionally all of it wasn’t only your partner’s fault. Imagine that. Every bad relationship hopefully wasn’t COMPLETELY bad. Ultimately there should be something we can learn from the ugly stuff? If you say there is not, you are more likely to relive bad memories, even if you’re with a different person.
Life lessons must be learned or your past will indeed define your future.
Some of that which we wish to forget has equally and undeniably forged us and made us who we are today. It’s just a part of the cycle of life. Embrace what was meant for you to learn and move closer to the better you. If you don’t take responsibility at some point, you will live in a vicious cycle of pain, anger and regret, fruitlessly blaming others for your circumstances. From your parents to alleged soul-mates. I’m convinced we spend too much of our precious time studying, reflecting or listening to well-meaning friends on what we did wrong, who we did wrong or who wronged us. This is NOT the type of truth I have been referring to. There has to be balance with this. My point is get the lesson however you need to receive it, and move on! Otherwise become a professional recipient of pain, anger and regret. My counselor, Dr. Adams asked me a poignant question at the end of my sessions. He asked, “Henry what have you learned through all this? You can’t go through the amount of pain you did and not learn one thing that will prevent you from returning to my office for the same issue.” As much as he appreciated my business (as a paying customer), he was not seeking repeat clients, due to our perpetuation of the same problem. I was grateful for his therapeutic philosophy and followed suit, as I do today. My blog, as much as I enjoy writing, is a part of my continued therapy as well. It causes me to reflect on my thoughts regularly and keep them close as I share them with you. Additionally, it also helps me to remain accountable to them.
Another topic worth discussing is our negative thoughts and how they need no help getting inside our psyche. They find a way all their own to wake us up in the morning if we allow them to. They can flow off the lips of our best friends and haters with the greatest of ease. The question is how we choose to respond to them. It’s in those moments where, what we are and who we’re becoming falls in the balance. It’s no longer just about the strong words we declared, but the actions that follow these declarations. Will you get entangled in futile discussions about what you were or defy the naysayers with silence, and purposeful, authentic progression? The choice is truly ours.
My choice is to fly and rise above every negative thought!
So like the song states, let’s learn to fly again and ultimately soar like the eagle across the literal abyss of what held us down. The abyss of emotionally destructive decisions, self-perpetuated victimization, manipulative or controlling behaviors, impulsive attitudes, fear-laced thoughts and anger-infused decisions. Nothing positive has ever derived from these characteristics, actions or mindsets, only more pain. You can do more than you realize with broken wings, disappointment and even a broken heart. The great truth is you can heal from these when you choose a better path for yourself. You are more than the situation you are in. Figuratively (and possibly literally) you may have to walk with a limp for the rest of your life, in other words, some circumstances may have life long consequences, but don’t allow even that to become a crutch or an excuse to your progress. It’s always easier to quit, put forth no work and complain about why your life is so miserable. I’m sure you’re quite aware how that story ends and hopefully you are tired of those results.
Many years ago this song was just a set of words with a nice melody, but now as I have grown and matured, I get it. I will, “learn to fly again, learn to live so free”.
Sometimes I’ll watch my children from afar and pretend to not be listening to them. I’ll hear my youngest asking her older siblings a question or simply calling their names. Mind you, they are in ear-shot of her, but you would think they were on another planet by the amount of times she has to call them before they finally decide to answer, if they do at all. By that time I’m usually yelling at them to answer her. This scenario caused me to reflect on the times I have felt like my youngest, as an adult. Like no one is listening to me or my voice seems to not matter to those around me. As she feels discouraged from being ignored, so do I, so do we. How is that we can become so dismissive to people, especially to the ones that we love and in turn give our best to others that may barely know us? We’ve all been guilty of it. I can recall having a long day at work, then an equally long commute to get home. During the drive, any energy that remained in me was typically zapped away by the time I pulled into the driveway. If I did not make a conscious effort I would disengage and my family received the leftovers from my day.
The song attached to this post, (if you should choose to listen) by Gaelle, “Fade Away” captures a real place we can be in our lives at times. Sometimes we want to become that piece of wood that blends in with everything and impacts nothing. We want to hide, silence ourselves due to the circumstances we face or like my daughter we simply get tired of no one listening to us and ultimately we make the choice to “disappear and fade away” as the song states. After my first divorce I was so ashamed of the failure, that I didn’t want to speak to anyone. My voice was shut down (by my own means) and any words of wisdom I once had regarding relationships were kept inside out of sheer embarrassment, feelings of defeat and self-doubt. I had deduced no one wanted to hear me and my words had become worthless and it was best that I just remain quiet. Essentially go into my corner. I became my worse enemy.
What life situation has silenced you? What happen to those dreams you once had as a child or young adult that was placed abruptly on the shelf? I have seen some of the most important people in my life stop believing in the dreams and purposes for their lives. This was especially important to me because their purposes affected me significantly and when they stopped – something in me stopped as well. I am not saying that people should become our idols, but someone is believing in you and counting on you to do what you say you will do. Why have you stopped? Failure, you screwed up or let some one down that was important to you or did you simply get tired? We all have, I know I have in many ways. Did the failure teach you anything? This can be the key to your renewal, essentially getting you back on the saddle, but you have to make the choice to try again. You have to believe that you matter enough to yourself.
I use to believe that never making a mistake was best, but now I believe that brokenness is. Brokenness is what has caused me to slow down, take deep breaths often and reflect on my choices regularly, even the simple ones. Brokenness has revealed the holes in my life, my heart and in my beliefs and ideas. It’s the one thing that has forced me to see myself authentically. That can be an alarming discovery if you have never truly stopped to reflect on you, and only you. This was a sobering season in my journey, but once I accepted who I truly was versus who I was portraying to be, it literally set me free, with my holes an all. So today I no longer look to disappear and fade away. I have a voice, a voice that speaks courageously, profoundly and with authentic truth.
Although it can become quite comfortable to remain living a life in the shadows, we have to force ourselves out. Figuratively speaking, we have to open the curtains of our hearts and minds and allow the sun to warm our souls and renew the vigor we once had, or perhaps for some, for the very first time. We have to find our voice again and choose to shout it at our mountain tops. One day at time we can begin to live vibrant lives that display all that we are, perfect and imperfect, no matter the circumstances. One thing I can learn from my youngest, is she never quits when her siblings ignore her. She will go to where they are and say, “did you hear me calling you”? She is relentless. That is a great characteristic to have. One that causes her to act with resilience and sometimes downright indignation. She will not be denied. She realizes that she matters. I realize that I matter as well. Do you?
Please take the time to leave a comment and share your thoughts on this topic. If not for you, maybe it’s for someone else. Thank you.
So if you read my “About Me” page you will recall that I have been divorced twice. Not something I am proud of, but equally not something I am ashamed of any longer either. I cannot say the second marriage was a mistake, but more importantly a decision I made that I was not fully ready for. The signs were clear, but I ignored them, plain and simple. I wish I could go deeper and say that it was something more profound, but it wasn’t. In my spirit I knew better, and like so many of us I ignored the obvious signs. So there I was, at the altar committing my life to someone I loved, before God and witnesses, but equally knew that I should not be getting married. It was a teachable moment in the making. Boy was it! God must have laughed and cried at the same time wondering and knowing what was in stored for his foolish son. On with the story…
She was a good woman (not perfect) that had high hopes for our marriage. I thought I did as well, but in the background lied a real past that was unresolved. That past would come back to teach me one the most significant life-lessons ever. (That specific lesson will be discussed in another post soon) Indeed it was one of the most difficult ones as well. I was broken and distraught that I had hurt so many people during this part of my life journey. It was not until one Sunday evening that I came to grips with the real pain that lied deep within me. A pain of hopelessness, shame and abruptly being alone. I was overwhelmed with the feelings of grief, death and loss. I’ll never forget that night. My children were at their mother’s and I was upstairs prepping for the work week with a heavy heart and it hit me like a ton of bricks, suddenly. I fell to my knees, cried out to God and yelled, “How am I going to make it, I mean really come through this”!? I wish I could tell you it was a simple process that suddenly became easier, but it wasn’t. It actually became harder before it got better. Quite honestly it was my faith in God that brought me through and my decision to confess my part to myself first then to a few trusted friends. From that point my healing slowly began. It was a journey that took me more than a year to fully recover and feel better about myself and my walk in life. Along this journey I took a trip back east to visit one of my best friends. Ironically, I was served with divorce papers that same week, so a trip was just what I needed to process my thoughts. Prior to leaving, I placed everything that represented my marriage in a metal box in my room, figuring I would deal with it when I returned home. During my visit my friend tried his best to cheer me up, after all it was my birthday weekend, to add insult to injury. Honestly, all I wanted was some quiet time in a different atmosphere, and to not see one happy couple while I was there. Unfortunately I was not obliged with this simple request 😉 . We went to a restaurant that turned into a club. I walked around and saw all these happy couples dancing. Ugh, was my first and last reaction! So I sat down, ate my dinner and wanted to leave as soon as possible. Just then, while minding my own business, a lady asked me to dance. Really!?! (No one ever did that to me) I looked at her for what felt liked an hour, contemplating no, but finally saying yes. It was actually painless, but I was ready to leave after that and we did.
It was on my six-hour plane ride home that my breakthrough would come, like an epiphany. I finished a great book I had started back home, entitled Kingdom Man, by Tony Evans. There was one sentence in this book that I will never forget. Evans said, “most men are unable to move on with their lives after suffering emotional damage because we remain tethered to our past”, with the key word being tethered. Even after life has seemingly moved on for us men, something keeps us back, whether bad memories, guilt, people or ourselves. Maybe it’s our innate desire to fix things. I’m not quite sure what it is actually, but it was in that moment that I realized what I needed to do when I returned home. It was as clear as the stars were in the night sky from 30,000 feet in the airplane I was in. I’ll never forget, my plane landed at San Francisco International Airport after midnight. After the normal routine of obtaining my luggage, catching the shuttle to my car and making the forty-five minute trek home, I finally made it there about 2:00am. I can still recall the energy I felt inside for what I was about to do. There in my room lied the metal container of memories that I had mentioned earlier from my now defunct marriage. Before I left I had no idea what I would do with these items, (that truly represented my state of mind and feelings) but now at this time I was clear, confident and certain with a strong sense of peace, courage and hope. I grabbed the metal container, took it outside to my barbecue pit, poured some lighter fluid on it and burned it. (see the photo). I called a dear friend to share my moment and I watched it burned until the flames went out. During that time I felt a release, a sense of letting something go that no longer wanted or needed to be a part of me anymore. That night I made the decision to press the play button with the rest of my life. I left for the East Coast with the pause button pressed, wondering what I was going to do and how I was going to fix my current circumstances. I realized that I could not or need to fix anything. What I needed to do was let go, move on and free myself from a past that could have potentially ruined any future that I had left to live. That was my new beginning. Today I am no longer defined by my past nor tethered to any emotional guilt associated with it. My past now only helps me to make better decisions for my present and my future. My freedom came in the fire, even if it was only symbolic.
What are you still holding on to? What act was so bad that you cannot seem to let go of, or you constantly feel compelled to apologize for? How many, “I am sorry” does it take to feel better? When are things finally over, how do we make amends with ourselves so that we can live freely again? For me it was through the fire, literally and figuratively, owning my part (truly owning it) asking for forgiveness and having a deep remorse for my actions. This along with my faith set me free. The remorse was painful, almost suffocating to my soul, but I pressed through it with much prayer, a great friend or two and the will to be better, versus bitter. Do you realize that you can be better? Are you able to see yourself living a whole life again? The journey is one day or night at a time. “Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. (Psalms 30:5 KJV). As I reflect on this photo that I took that night, I recall the moment my past truly became just that. Something behind me that no longer had the power to wreak havoc on my heart, relationships and most importantly my hope and courage to believe that I actually deserved to love and be loved again. I had finally released my past…
This journey continues for me. I’m interested in hearing about yours. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on how you have had to release something or someone in your life that represented your new beginning, or send me an email.
Although my Blog doesn’t officially launch until Monday, I felt compelled to share a thought today. With all the negative news in the world, specifically about the Michael Brown case, I wanted to offer a perspective that fosters hope and suggest alternative solutions to a tragic epidemic. Living a life with violence in the community, poverty and fathers missing in action (just to name a few) is not uncommon for a significant part of the world. I ask, “is there any hope”? I believe there is and for every negative story there are families, (mothers & fathers, sons & daughters, aunts & uncles, grandfathers & grandmothers, cousins & communities) overcoming tragic obstacles that they face daily. Today I want to emphasize this and ask you a question. What are you doing to rebuild Ferguson and the Ferguson’s around you? Can anyone lean on you, or count on you to come through with hope, love, finances or support of any kind? Do you see yourself as the catalyst that can make significant impacts in the lives of others? Can anyone lean on you? Are you offering hope through educating your children on how to live by the golden rule (treat others as you want to be treated)? Are you a single father that inspires and takes care of your children? Can anyone lean on you? Do you “own it” when you’re wrong and try to make it right by offering what is needed in real-time ? Can anyone lean on you? It’s easy to instigate negative emotions in this situation, but my message will be to offer hope in the midst of darkness. This does not exempt anyone from suffering from injustice, but it does suggests alternative ways on what we do with that energy, like the pictures I chose suggest. There is a quote in the Bible that says, “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. I deduce from that, that burning my community down will never make things better, selling drugs to my community does not make things better, perpetuating violence does not make things better, abandoning my children does not make things better, stripping my community of its natural beauty and resources does not make things better. Who can lean on you to do what is better for someone else, not just yourself ? When we become this person, (this people) we become a part of a greater community that offers good news to the down-trodden, water to the thirsty and hope to the defeated. Who can lean on you? Do they know they can? Click on the song and see the pictures below.
I hope it incites you to do some good for your family, your community, our world!