• Does Forgiving Demand Restoring Relationship?

    Over the years I’ve forgiven some rather unforgivable things. I hope you have as well. . . Wait – that didn’t come out right. Hopefully you’re one of those rare birds who have never had anything particularly unforgivable happen to you. But if you have had someone do something unforgivable, I hope that you have been able to forgive them.*

    One of the problems that people commonly struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is the issue of the restoration of relationships. Can you really say you’ve forgiven someone if you are unwilling to be in relationship with them? Does forgiveness demand that your relationship be restored? Or can you forgive but refuse to engage in relationship with the person who wronged you?

    Part of why I am such a big fan of forgiveness is that it’s a very empowering act. I cannot often control the way other people behave towards me, but I can control how I respond to it. Forgiving allows me to take back my power from someone who has injected pain, suffering and turmoil into my life against my will. I get to declare in the heavenlies when a person is bound or loosed from their sins. And forgiveness also props opens the door to healing from harm done.

    On the other hand, insisting that forgiveness must be accompanied by restoration of a relationship is just the opposite; it’s dis-empowering. It doesn’t allow for choice. It doesn’t allow for self-love or self-protection. It makes my own pain and struggle and needs completely irrelevant. And all too often, this insistence that forgiveness must go hand in hand with restoration of relationship is a tool of control which gets used against people who are already in a weak position.

    Being in relationship with other people always opens us up to being hurt. And if we refuse relationship with anyone who is dysfunctional or hurtful, we will be lonely indeed. Most acts of forgiveness should not be accompanied by a reconsideration of the relationship as a whole. Generally, we ought to forgive and move on freely. But there are those times when what is being forgiven does call the entire relationship into question. So how can we maintain our default openness for relationship while also being realistic about which relationships are simply too dangerous, unhealthy or dysfunctional to continue? Continue reading

  • THIS

    This is what God would want those who claim his name to hear today. Like really today. Right here in the reality that is June 2014. Don’t worry, I’m not claiming to have some “prophetic word” for y’all. Although maybe more people would pay attention if I did. I’m just repeating things God has made clear to those who put trust in his word. You know, all the stuff in between the 50 verses you can use to win an argument:

    God is God. God needs nothing from us. He takes no satisfaction in people who will make any sacrifice imaginable to protect the Christian faith but refuse to be moved by the site of despair all around them. Who claim that their way really is loving, no matter how much our neighbors say that it hurts.

    Really they are just refusing to be broken by the site of God’s suffering children. What kind of father is happy that his kid claims to be sweeping the floor as they’ve been asked while listening as their brother begs them to stop hitting him with a broom? What kind of Father do you think we serve? One who doesn’t give a crap about one of his children just so long as his orders are followed. One who elevates service to him above any other concern? If that’s what you think, either you are under the mistaken impression that God is far less good than you are or I feel sorry for your kids. Continue reading

  • Things to Say to Someone Who Is Suffering

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    It makes me sad/angry to see what you’re going through. You deserve better.

    It won’t always be like this.

    It’s OK to be broken sometimes.

    Not everyone could handle this with as much grace/bravery/whatever as you.

    Sometimes all you can do is get through the day and that’s enough.

    I know it’s overwhelming right now, but I believe in you.

    Tell me how bad it really is.

    What do you wish someone would say to you right now?

    Can I pray for/over you?

    Obviously, use discretion, but these are all things that you can say to someone going through the worst life has to offer. When dealing with someone in that position, resist the urge to try to convince them things aren’t so bad, to look at them more positively or to practice gratitude. Sometimes life really is that bad and your efforts to convince them otherwise will only highlight how hopeless they feel and make them feel even more isolated by their pain. Pep talks and positive thinking have their place, but in a society where everyone’s supposed to be happy all the time, it’s a gift to demonstrate loving acceptance of someone’s pain.

    If you want to lift their spirits, distraction is your best bet. Crack jokes, tell a funny story, let them reminisce about better times or share a bit of harmless gossip.

    For more ideas on how to be there for someone going through a terrible time, check out my post What To Do When Someone Starts Crying In Front of You.

  • The Bad Habit You Must Let Go Of

    Have you ever had the experience of telling someone that they are hurting you only to be met with hostility, accusations, shaming and ridicule? Yeah, me too.

    Have you ever been the person who responded to a hurting person with hostility, accusations, shaming and ridicule? Yeah, me too.

    There seems to be something very deep in us that reacts to even the mildest suggestion that we are less than completely perfect in all our ways by becoming defensive. I used to think that this was somehow related to being punished and shamed as children, but having been a mother to 6 kids for 19 years now, I’ve come to the conclusion that being defensive is our default position.

    I suspect the issue lies in the fact that we humans are so vulnerable to each other. We are vulnerable to our parents who may or may not have the skills to raise us without causing severe damage. If they are willing to raise us at all. Humans have a long, pervasive history of infanticide.

    We are vulnerable to those who we are in community with. If they tell us we are worthless, selfish, lazy and unlovable, we will absorb their ugly lies as our reality. Throughout most of human history shunning was a death sentence and our psyches still process rejection as a form of severe physical pain.

    A spouse that rejects us could result in the loss of position, community and even our ability to survive. Being turned out by family can cost us relationships with those we depend on and even an inability to care for our own children.

    All in all, it’s really no wonder that there’s something very deep in us that recoils at the possibility that we will be condemned or rejected. In fact, it’s one of those automatic responses from our reptilian brain, much like fear, anger and shame. All it takes is someone pointing out that your shoe lace is untied and you find yourself launching into a ridiculous litany of explanations about how you like having your shoe laces untied because unlike the sort of person who goes around pointing out untied shoe laces, you aren’t a brainless sheep.

    The problem, of course, is that when we allow our reptilian brain to send us into a self-defensive frenzy, we hurt people. Continue reading

  • Forgiving Is Hard, Not Impossible

    One of my many idiosyncratic beliefs is that Africa has a special role to play in God’s upside down kingdom. For so long, Africa has been last which according to Jesus’ words, means that the day is coming when they will be first. I suspect that we will be looking to them in order to understand God’s kingdom rather than assuming that it is our job as westerners to hand out the kingdom like a goody bag to the rest of the world.

    I bring this up because, as you might know, it is the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which 1,000,000 people were killed in 100 days. It was a remarkable spasm of violence and hatred such as the world has never seen before. Truly unspeakable things happened during those 100 days. Rarely has humanity’s capacity for evil been put on such lurid display.

    One startling and fascinating thing about the Rwandan genocide is that in the early 80s, there were a series of Marian apparitions which took place in Rwanda. Three different youth were given horrific visions of the genocide which took place in 1994. The apparition of Mary in Rwanda is one of only three Marian apparitions which has been given approval by the Roman Catholic Church.

    In one of her messages, Mary said, “Today, many people do not know any more how to ask forgiveness.” Now, on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the people of Rwanda bring an astonishing testimony of forgiveness to the world.

    I hope that we will take their witness seriously and allow their example to inspire us to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged and to forgive those who have wronged us. The witness of the Rwandan people shows us that whether we are dealing with conflicts between neighbors or between nations or groups, the seeking and giving of forgiveness are the only way forward for humanity.

    Below are images and quotes from Rwandan perpetrators and their victims. You can find more pictures and quotes, along with an explanation in this New York Times story “Portraits of Reconciliation”: Continue reading

  • Being Kind Without Being Hurt

    My mother always taught me that you can never go wrong being kinder than necessary. I believe that this is true and have tried to live my life with that perspective. However, this outlook can also leave you vulnerable to being mistreated. It’s why a lot of people are hesitant to be kinder. However, if we’re all focused on avoiding being hurt, it makes it very hard for being kind to become normal rather than exceptional.

    Avoiding being hurt is a legitimate concern, of course. Jesus told us to love other “as we love ourselves”, not “instead of loving ourselves”. It is not good or healthy to extend kindness to others at the expense of our own mental and emotional wellbeing. And yet, unless you want to continue living in with the results of human being protecting themselves at the expense of other human beings, we must learn to do a better job extending kindness.

    I have a simple trick I use which allows me to take the risk of being kinder than necessary or called for without leaving myself open to being unduly harmed in the process. Before I take a risk or extend kindness and forgiveness to someone who may not deserve it or be trustworthy, I do a quick gut check. I simply imagine the worst case response from the other person and see what my gut level reaction to the idea is. Hopefully I’ll realize that the worst case scenario isn’t so bad after all. I can take the risk of being kinder than called for, confident that I can deal with whatever result I get.

    On the other hand, if do my gut check and realize that I’m unwilling or unable to deal with the worst case scenario, I respect my own limitations and refrain from taking the step I was considering. Of course, there have been days where I have decided not to make phone calls simply because I knew that I wasn’t up for dealing with the possibility that the person I’m calling would ignore/refuse my call. Which is healthy when your emotions are particularly fragile. But as I said earlier, the goal isn’t simply for us to self protect. The goal is to be kinder than necessary without doing harm to ourselves.

    So, if I do my gut check and realize that I’m not up for dealing with a negative outcome, I consider why that would be. And if there’s anything I can do about it. Sometimes I just need to give myself a little pep talk. Sometimes I realize that I have an unhealthy attachment to the other person’s approval which I should be doing something about. Or maybe I have a fear I need to hand over to God. On occasion, I’ve just had enough of someone’s crap and am perfectly entitled to take a break from dealing with it.

    Ideally, I would be out in the world just spreading kindness with the joy of the Dali Lama and not a care in the world. If I’m not able to do that (and I’m not. Neither are you), that’s a sign that I’m still a work in progress. There’s room for growth and healing. Being conscious of when kindness is a struggle rather than something I do with ease actually increases my ability to be kinder than necessary.

    Sure, this approach means that in the short term, I may hold back more than I ideally would. But it also creates a safe place for me to expand my boundaries. And I’m not going to find myself in a position where I’ve been so hurt or traumatized by someone who responds to my kindness by being a jerk that I’m hesitant to try it again. So, who knows? Maybe one day I will be able to go around spreading kindness without a care in the world. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world filled with people like that?

  • When You Can’t Agree

    It is one thing to oppose what you think is messed up; it’s a whole other thing to be and live the alternative. ~ Jim Palmer

    At some point, you have made your best case and your opponent has made their best case. You still disagree and are certain your opponent fundamentally misunderstands reality. Any further discussion will quickly devolve into “unuh”, “uhhuh” levels of discourse. Repeating the same set of arguments over and over is a good sign that you’ve entered into this stage.
    When this happens, resist the urge to have the last word and wrestle your opponent into submission. Instead, devote yourself to living out your vision of the truth.
    Trying to explain and argue your vision of God’s truth to someone else too easily becomes a substitute for taking action. Often, before God is able to use you, needs you to give up the arguing.
    Stop trying to win the approval of your opponents. Instead, focus your thoughts and energy on creating something which is good, in and of itself, and not just better than the way you have rejected. There’s the off chance that you and your opponent with find your way into unity.
    But that’s not why you do it. You do it because God does not reveal his truth to us so we can win arguments. He reveals his truth so we can live out of it. This is how we become great. It’s how we stand tall as the trees, stronger than the storms and with a beauty that all of heaven loves to see.

  • The Hardest, Best Spiritual Practice I’ve Ever Tried

    Learning how not to judge has been the most demanding, arduous and painful spiritual discipline I have ever undertaken. It’s also been the most fruitful. I could probably write books and books filled with stories and lessons I would never have encountered if I had not made a commitment to practicing this discipline.

    While most people probably don’t think of not judging as a spiritual discipline, this is exactly how I’ve practiced it. It’s something I do out of obedience and discipline, even when I don’t feel like it or it seems pointless. It’s a conscious practice I have chosen to engage in and must make an effort to do.

    Not judging is like loving unconditionally in that people who have never really tried doing it assume it’s an easy, comfortable and safe thing to do. The truth is it’s unbelievably challenging. Most people can’t even manage it when someone cuts them off in traffic. Continue reading

  • Christians and Interracial Marriage

    Guys, what is this world coming to? Aljezeera America recently used the parable of the talents to explain current events. Christianity Today, the flagship publication of conservative, Evangelical Christianity, is promoting interracial marriage. And discussing racism. And even relying on the voice of a black women to explain the theology of the whole thing. The world’s going all off kilter here. 

    I know the rest of the world (and many of us) find it ridiculous that the church still struggles with these things. But we are a people whose founder said he’d go back for the one sheep dumb enough to get left behind. So perhaps it’s part of being church in the world to be a sanctuary for those who just can’t keep up with the pace of change in the world. That doesn’t mean they need to become the sanctuary’s leaders and spokespeople, of course. It’s still a work in progress.

    But look at this fruit. Doesn’t it make your heart sing?

    God abhors racism. Miriam’s skin was turned “leprous, like snow.” Her punishment was directly related to her sinful prejudice against the dark skin of the Cushite people. I did a quick search to examine the effects of leprosy. (Not recommended.) Her punishment would change the way peopleviewed her. It would not affect the way they thought of her per se, but the way they looked at her. As Miriam once looked at the Cushite woman with distain, she would now know exactly what that was like.

    What Miriam forgot, and what so many others still forget, is that all people are made in the image of God, we are all from the same Adam, and now we are all redeemed equally through Christ. Interracial marriage isn’t merely acceptable; it reflects the beauty and glory of the gospel.

    Through the gospel, we are reconciled first to God, then to one another. We are made brothers and sisters in Christ. We are counted as righteous. The gospel breaks the barriers that once divided us.

    You can read the whole post by Trillia Newbell here. Her book Union can be purchased here.

    For the last several decades we’ve heard that we ought to accept interracial relationships for two reasons. One is that we can’t tell other people what to do or who to love. The other is that all races are equal. And those are fine things. Except “everyone should be able to do what they want to do” is something a 7 year old would say. And equal does not mean the same. We still have to figure out how to deal with those differences.

    On the other hand, Newbell’s vision of interracial marriage is built around reconciliation and our true identity. She challenges us to see interracial marriage not only as an acceptable thing, but a good thing. A reflection of God’s Kingdom, in fact.

    Perhaps this is why research has found that among people who attend highly segregated churches (read: among people who attend church), those who report praying and reading their bible frequently are more likely to date outside their race. Wouldn’t it be funny if being in an interracial relationship started being on of those easily recognized markers for being Christian? I mean, we can be induced to wear cheesy and often offensive T-shirts as a way to show what super, duper, committed Christians we are. Picking a dating/marriage partner from another race in order to look like a good Christian could become a thing in our hypercompetitive church culture.

    Of course, wearing a t-shirt doesn’t grow or change you. Interracial marriage most certainly will. So maybe we should start spreading the word that interracial marriage is a thing that super committed Christians do. It’s got to be a better plan/witness than a “God’s Gym” t-shirt!