The Remedy for the Pain is the Pain

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Sadness, Joy, Disgust, Fear, and Jangles the Clown

When I wake up in the morning I feel the consequence of my anger before I even swing my feet to the floor. My teeth ache from nighttime jaw clenching.

Anger is my go-to emotion of late.

Last week my children dressed up as four of the feelings/characters from the Disney movie Inside-Out.  Their choices aligned fairly well with their personalities. Note this: Nobody chose to be anger.

That is what Mom would be if she came to the costume party“, one of them joked.

It has been a week or two since I have owned and confessed to myself that anger is where I have set up camp  — and even though the campsite is hideous and barren, it seems that it is actually where I prefer to stay. I wake up here every day.

Anger is easy for me, I am the offspring of feisty people and I channel the very feistiest ones in my gene pool.

When sorrow or brokenness creeps in, I think of one of the things I am enraged about, one of the things that I do not want to forgive, and push the underlying painful things quickly away.

It has gone on long enough now that a friend and my husband (and apparently even my children) have noticed. They separately suggest there is a better plan, a better way, for me than this.

I believe them but I’m not sure I want to do the work to move to a new campsite.

After all, moving requires I tear all the stuff down piece by piece, pack it all up, move elsewhere, only to unpack it in new light and have to remember and review it all again. I know reviewing it in under new, less angry light, will bring the pain I am working so hard to avoid.

A Persian poet by the name of Rumi wrote, “The remedy for the pain is the pain.”

I read those words of Rumi quoted in Seth Haines’ memoir, Coming Clean.

With a notebook and a fine-point sharpie I list out everything that makes me angry. The list is long. It ranges from the petty and ridiculous, to the deeply disturbing and devastating. While listing it out I notice much of the anger is aimed at God and people who have disappointed me, people I do not wish to forgive.

The short and quick list includes (but is not limited to):

  • An October fourth hurricane hit the island hard, (while we all prayed it would not) people are suffering greatly. It will take years and years to recover. I am angry.
  • Yet another married couple we love has announced their split. This seems to happen every few months lately. I am angry.
  • Every appliance in my kitchen has stopped working properly. I am angry.
  • The mother of one of my best friends  has been diagnosed with a statistically improbable type of Cancer. My friend hurts. I am angry.
  • Yet another person entrusted with dollars and the confidence of many to help in Haiti has turned out to be a crook and an egomaniac. I am so angry.
  • Teams and more teams of matching t-shirts flood this place, they come and visit the ‘orphans’ for a few days. They leave. They come. They leave. Over and over. I am angry.
  • A little girl, age eight, comes to see us at our clinic. She has been sexually assaulted and her Mother doesn’t know what to do because in this place there is little that can be done. I am so angry.
  • A politician says things that are deeply offensive and his words hurt me and people I care about. I am angry.
  • A close friend is attacked viciously by her own faith community on the internet. I am angry.
  • The man in our neighborhood that abuses children continues to walk free. I am angry.

Small things. Big things. It doesn’t really matter.

I.Am.Just.So.Angry.

The anger keeps me from feeling the pain. I have decided I hate pain and my remedy for pain is staying angry.

Rumi can stick-it. I’ve found my own remedy.

~      ~          ~       ~

Over the past couple of months when, by some force greater than myself and my own stubborn rage, I begin to feel the sorrow creeping toward me, I very quickly do one of a few things. I bet you know and employ some of these tricks too.

  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with two glasses of red wine consumed in quick succession.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with sleep.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with mindless scrolling of social media on the internet.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away by cleaning and organizing and obsessing about household projects or chores.
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away by shopping on-line. (I have virtual carts full of beautiful things at several websites. To the relief of our pocketbook, I am able to stop short of hitting “purchase”. The looking and not buying distracts from pain as well.)
  • Pain and sorrow can be kept away with work work work, and if we call it “ministry”, better yet. Just stay busy busy busy.

Mostly, it can be kept away by doing anything and everything while refusing to sit alone in quietness and begin to feel.

I have refused for a couple of months.
Anger is my go-to emotion.
I am tired of me.
I am tired of the anger.

imagesBecause of this, God feels very distant to me. Unreachable even.

~       ~          ~       ~

I am reading Seth’s book again. It says, “Remember, Jesus abides with those in pain.” I stop and write that down. I wonder if I am alienated from God due in part to my anger and my refusal to feel anything more.

Seth’s words again, “I know it’s time to begin turning in to the pain, headlong, rather than numbing it away. It’s time to go back. How? Simple practice. Begin with the last hurt and ask myself, What emotions do I feel? Are the emotions chaotic, disorganized? Are they like a tempestuous sea or a burning atmospheric reentry? Can I sit in those emotions and write them down? I’ll consider the emotions, confess them, find the truth in the moment. And then maybe I’ll move into the practice of forgiveness. Maybe. In the forgiveness, I wonder, will I find myself being made more like the Jesus I claim to follow? Is such a thing possible?”

Later, further into his memoir Seth says, “To pray through the pain, to live in it instead of numbing yourself to it, to subjugate your will to the will of God, even in the face of potential suffering — this is what it means to be like Jesus. This is what it means to yield to the mystery.”

~       ~          ~        ~

Reading these words I lament that if I choose to believe this is true and put it into practice, I have so much work to do. I have this huge campsite set up and I have gotten quite comfortable here. I am even a little smug about how well I function in my anger. Most people around me don’t even know I am this way. Only I know how bad my teeth hurt every morning. Only I know what I do to numb myself and keep from feeling pain.

I am writing this today as I consider the first steps I will choose if I want to change campsites, stop numbing and running.

If the remedy for the pain is the pain, I need to choose wisely. If Jesus abides with those in pain, I need to choose wisely.

If forgiveness and redemption are what I seek, they will also have to be what I offer.

What about you? Are you running to other things to avoid your pain? Are you stuck at some hideous campsite, your tent affixed permanently to that ground?

I leave you with a condensed and paraphrased version of one of the last chapters in Seth’s book. I leave you with this because it spoke to my anger, my refusal to allow the pain.

“We are an odd company, I don’t suppose I’m special among you, that I’m the only one who confesses the power of a risen Christ and drinks himself into the icy numbness. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who hoards hurts until well after the accusers have disappeared or passed on. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who has let the perception that God is dormant burn and burn.”

“You know this pain, yes? For some perhaps it’s the itinerant preacher, but for others, maybe it’s the runaway father, the dead mother, or the friend who’s disappeared. For some it’s a minor pain that’s allowed to fester — mine was — but for others it’s the unfathomable, unthinkable pain of abuse, rape, prejudice, or murder.”

“You feel it, don’t you? Has it upended your faith in God, in yourself? Has it driven you to self-soothing, to the icy numbness of sex or materialism or even theology? Has it created in you an agnostic heart, an agoraphobic heart, an alcoholic heart?”

“Perhaps this is all too mystical for you; perhaps you are uncomfortable with the simplicity of a Jesus who abides with the simplest faith-bearers — with the children and the forgivers. Maybe you’d rather find comfort in the cold adult numbness, the coping mechanisms: the booze, the sex, the chocolate, the systematized theologies that reduce God to a proper but cold equation. Maybe you’d rather build structures around your pain, tuck them behind protected and thorny hedgerows, hold them in a safe place of your making.”

“But I see through your drinking, your affair, your theological systems. I know all addiction is undergirded with pain, and when you strip the addiction away, all questions, doubts, and accusations are sure to come screaming to the surface.”

“Be honest: in moments of clarity, of stone-cold sobriety, do you ask how a good God could allow so much pain? Do you wonder whether Jesus is a figment of your imagination, whether God is real? Do you have fond dreams of dying — not of suicide but of dying? Do you see the prospect of death as release?”

“Perhaps you love your spouse, perhaps you don’t, but do you love yourself and do you forgive yourself the way God loves and forgives you? Do you wonder whether God will ever speak again, and whether he ever spoke in the first place? Do you wonder whether it’s just your noggin talking to you? Do you wonder whether God likes you? I know you ask these questions, that you hear these accusations and feel the pain. How do I know this? You are my brothers and sisters. We’re all human, aren’t we?”

“Perhaps many of us need to move from a place of addiction (any old addiction) to freedom. The process hurts, there is no doubt, and I know I’m not yet done. There is more pain to explore and more accusers to forgive. But if we are going to practice the forgiveness taught by Jesus, if we are going to find the freedom of reconciliation with our enemies, and in that find reconciliation with God, perhaps it’s time for a serious exploration of our pains and anxieties.”

~        ~          ~        ~

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I have five copies of Seth’s book to share.

If you are like me, stuck in a angry (or insert your word) place but feeling the nagging need to move, please email me your name and mailing address at Livesayfamily@gmail.com and we will send you a copy in the month of November.

If you miss out on one of the gift copies, you can also buy it here.

MONDAY MID- MORNING UPDATE:  ALL Five books have been snapped up, hoping for all of us to keep figuring out how to work through anger and pain.

Conflict and Our Dustlikeness

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Conflict. If you’ve been in church work for long, you know what it’s like. People abound, and conflict happens. Then there’s the big blow up or the cold exit or, even scarier, the explosive exit. I’ve been in church work for a decade and a half now, and big blowups and bad exits seem to be the default setting for church conflict. I don’t like this kind of conflict. I run away from it – and from the scary people who cause it.

Kay Bruner likes to say that there are difficult people on the field. I say yes. Yes, there are difficult people on the field, and sometimes, they are ME. Sometimes I’m difficult, and sometimes conflict comes because I am difficult. Not because I mean to be, of course – but my good intentions don’t remove my propensity to offend.

I have a hard time fessing up when I offend, and my reason for this is two-fold. First, I don’t really like the fact that I’m still not perfect and that I still sin against others. The acknowledgement is still so cumbersome to me. But secondly (and perhaps more importantly), I fear I won’t be forgiven. Oh, I know God forgives me; I have full assurance of that. But I still don’t trust God’s people to forgive me. I’ve been in too many relationships where people said they would forgive, but they never really did.

Lately, however, I’ve had ample opportunity to seek forgiveness, and God’s people are proving me wrong. They are forgiving me and showing me the love of Christ in tangible ways. Receiving their forgiveness and their assurance of committed love is an almost sacramental experience. It’s a direct connection with my Savior: someone is sticking with me. Someone is forgiving me, giving me a second chance. That is Jesus in bodily form.

Receiving compassion for our dustlikeness helps us to be more compassionate towards ourselves – and towards others. It helps us to forgive ourselves, and in turn, to forgive others. Unmerited forgiveness is a gift we believers give each other. It points other people to Jesus and is because of Jesus. And while the usual take on conflict and reconciliation is usually “humility,” I think if we focus on that, we are missing the point. The point is, God can forgive, and God’s people can forgive, and wherever you find restoration and reconciliation happening, the Spirit of God is moving among His people.

In this way, conflict can be a conduit for grace. The only catch (yes there is a catch) is that the forgiveness, reconciliation, and move of God that I’m talking about only happen in community. And I’m convinced that one of the bravest things we can do is to stay in that community. When it gets hard, when it gets uncomfortable, when conflict starts to escalate, can we stay in relationship with others? Not in pathological or dangerous relationships, but in regular, everyday fallen relationships?

All of our relationships will have a degree of unhealth, because all of our relationships have people. Our relationships are not going to be perfect, and our community will disappoint us. And sometimes our community will be unhealthy because WE are unhealthy. Other times we will make allowances for other people’s issues, because they – and God – make allowances for ours. Let’s not make a cold or explosive exit too soon, for unconditional love is only proved unconditional when we stay.

So the next time you’re in conflict with someone on the field, think of me, the difficult one, and be kind. Be kind to your difficult person. Show them Christ’s love, and give them another chance. Or a second or a third or a seventy-seventh. If they prove to you that they intend to be difficult or abusive, then by all means draw some boundaries and don’t give them limitless chances to harm you. But maybe by giving them a second chance, you’ll prove to them what God’s love looks like, and they, like me, will recognize grace and be grateful — and you will have won a brother or a sister over.

Have you ever experienced God’s love in the midst of conflict?

An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids

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By Danica Newton

Dear Parents of MKs,

Hello. It’s me, an MK. I write this on behalf of other MKs who haven’t found their voices yet, who are still in the midst of constant transition, who haven’t sorted through the confusing and complex joys and sorrows that come with growing up MK. I write this on behalf of my own MK self, to say the things I didn’t know to say, things that were buried deep down and that, as a kid, I could only access through intuition, through approaching carefully sideways in order not to stir up the vortex of emotions. I speak as an adult MK, raised with one foot in Polynesia, another in Melanesia, and a hand straddled all the way over the Pacific, planted firmly in Texas. If the world were a Twister mat, we MKs would be pros at maneuvering ourselves into epic contortions as we shift right-foot-yellow to left-hand-blue.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Transition causes trauma. We know this from academic research across fields. Transition because of divorce causes trauma. Transition because of health diagnoses causes trauma. Transition because of death causes trauma. Transitions from village to town every six months, and then to the States every few years, definitely causes trauma.

During the London Blitz, children were trundled off to the English countryside for their own safety. The philosophy of the time dictated that children were better off not knowing what was happening, that more information would be detrimental to them psychologically. In fact, some of the advice to parents was to tell their children that they were going on holiday to the country, or even, not to tell their children anything about what was to occur. This may have helped the adults not have to struggle to find explanations for the changes their children were experiencing, but it wasn’t helpful for the children experiencing the change. The problem with this way of approaching necessary transition, in short, is that it stems from the perspective and needs of the adults, the ones who already have power and control in the situation, the ones who already have a voice.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your children are not experiencing the transitions you take them through in a vacuum. Just because they may not be verbalizing the trauma, or expressing it in ways that are easily understandable, does not mean they are not experiencing trauma from the transition. When I was sixteen, I stayed behind in Texas while my parents and younger siblings went back overseas. I remember that time as confusing and dark.  But years later, adults who were close to me at the time have told me things like: “You seemed so mature,”  “You handled it so well,”  and “We had no idea it was so hard for you, you seemed fine.”

I seemed fine because at that point I had spent the majority of my childhood in transition. Moving from village to town and back again. Moving from town to America. Moving from America back to town, back to village. Every transition required that I assume the cultural mores, dress, language, and customs of the place I was moving to. By the age of sixteen, I was an adept cultural chameleon. But how was I able to put on a new skin for each new place? I became an expert at compartmentalization. I carefully packed each place, with its friendships, food, smells, sights and sounds, into its own suitcase in my mind. Into the suitcases also went my feelings connected to the place. My love for the people. My pain at the heart bonds being broken. My anger at having no control. The compartmentalization is why I presented as so mature and well-adjusted to the adults around me.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your MK may look like they are doing well.  Your MK may even say they are doing well. Please consider that your MK may be very adeptly doing just what MKs do best – assimilating the culture they are in. The culture that says all things happen for the good of those called according to His purpose. The culture that counts it joy when hardships are faced. The culture that counts everything as loss for the sake of following Christ. The culture that celebrates the leaving of father and mother, the leaving of brother and sister, to follow the Call.

Your MK may look like they are doing well. They may even say that they are doing well. But please consider how long they have been in transition. Consider that it’s only when we feel safe, when we have been stable and settled for an extended amount of time (for some, it takes years) before we can begin unpacking the suitcases and examining the emotions that were previously too difficult to process. If your MK moves every few months or years, they may still be in self-preservation mode. Like it was with me, they may not be able to examine the trauma of transition except by carefully looking sideways at it, from an emotional distance.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know.

Your child needs you. They need you to listen, with no judgement or defensiveness, to their feelings. They need you to lay yourself low, to make yourself nothing for their sake, to humble yourself even to the point of death of self. They need you, as the person with all the power and voice, to create space for their fledgling voices. They need to be able to say, “This hurts me.” They need to be able to say, “I don’t want to leave.” They need to be able to say, “I miss _____.” They need to be able to mourn, to be angry, to rage against the dying of the light.

I’m going to say something now, Parents of MKs, that you probably don’t want to hear. But what I share with you, I share from my own experience, and from that experience I can reassure you that although this will be difficult to hear, there is hope for redemption.

My parents’ choices brought me pain. I didn’t know how much pain until I found myself, sobbing and unable to breathe, in the grips of powerful flashbacks that hit me out of nowhere and threw me in a little ball onto my bedroom floor. All of the goodbyes and hellos, the shifting and the changing, all of the transitions and the leavings, finally caught up with me.  This breakdown precipitated some conversations with my mom and dad, who are still on the mission field.  Conversations that had to wait until they could get to me. But once they got to me, my mom and dad presented me with the greatest gift they could give.

That gift was listening.  They listened to me, with a complete abandonment of self and agenda. I had years of loss to deal with, and my mom sat with me on my front porch, twin cups of coffee steaming in our hands, as I cried and talked and she cried and listened. She never once tried to justify her choices. She simply acknowledged my pain, and acknowledged that it was caused by the life she had chosen for me. My dad listened, too. We took long, cool walks through the expectant predawn stillness, him quietly receptive by my side as I poured out the pain in my heart. He apologized for the pain his choices had caused me.

I talked to God, too. My parents’ empathetic response to my pain opened space for me to be able to voice the very scariest thoughts that I kept buried deep, deep down. One day, heartsick and angry and alone, I looked up to God and shook my fist in his face. “Why, God?” I asked, tears sticky on my cheeks. “Why did my family have to suffer? Why did you make MY family suffer for YOUR gospel? Couldn’t it have been some other family? Why, God? Why MY family?”

As I sat, raw and trembling, I felt his warm, gentle touch. I heard him whisper so sadly and kindly to me, “I know. I’m sorry. I hear you. I’m here.” And that was enough.

Parents of MKs, this is what I want you to know. 

You need to check your defensiveness at the door. You need to acknowledge that your choices brought pain to your child.

When my parents came to me, and acknowledged the trauma my siblings and I had experienced, when they apologized for the pain they had caused, they did not negate the Good Work they have done. They did not negate a lifetime of service for the Kingdom of God.  They did not negate the fruit they had harvested for the King. Instead, they further confirmed Christ to us. The humble Man of Sorrows. The One who laid down His life. The One who sought out the voiceless, the weak, and lifted them up.

Even though your choices to answer the Call of Christ have caused trauma for your children, and believe me when I say that they have, your choices to give space for their pain can make way for their healing. I ask you, on behalf of my fellow MKs both grown and still growing, to give this gift to your child.

Sincerely,

Danica Newton

(an MK)

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13161296_10156874097135022_561442390_oDanica is an MK from the Solomon Islands, who now has found her own little village in the mountains of New Mexico. She lives there with her husband and three children, three goats, two dogs, and an assortment of chickens. Danica has a degree in special education, and is currently working on a master’s degree. When she’s not writing papers for school, she enjoys playing mad scientist in her kitchen, rereading her collection of LM Montgomery books, and working on her yoga moves. Danica sometimes finds time to write about her experiences and feelings, at www.ramblingsofanundercovertck.blogspot.com.

Angry, Mean, and Redeemed

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I lost my mind this hot season. Became unglued. Went a little nuts. Whatever you want to call it. Yes, everyone’s crabbier and more uncomfortable this time of year, and it would be mighty convenient to blame my meltdown on the heat. It would also be unfair, for I can’t in good conscience blame the external temperatures for my roiling internal mess.

I’d been angry at some disappointments in my life for a while, and it was spilling out into irritability and rudeness with my husband and children, who did not deserve my unkindness and snappiness. I refused to talk to God about these things because I was convinced He couldn’t change any of the circumstances anyway, and I didn’t want to be even more disappointed by His lack of intervention. So I just kept getting angrier and angrier, more and more irritable, and more and more distant from God.

One Sunday morning I hit a breaking point. I sat down with the question, “How did I become such a whiny witch?” (You can substitute more colorful language if you want; it would still be true.) I actually locked my door so my kids couldn’t walk in on me. I got down on my knees — something I rarely do while praying — and confessed and repented to God.

Then I did something I hadn’t been able to do for weeks, because I’d been staying too angry: I cried. I cried and cried. I lamented the terrible person I still am, how ugly my heart still is, how much sin I still have, how badly I was reacting to seemingly everything. I implored God, “What are you going to do with me??” His immediate reply: “Forgive you.”

Forgive me?? That’s what He was going to do with me?? He wasn’t going to give up on me? He wasn’t going to punish me? No, He said He was going to forgive me. But I suppose there’s nothing else to do with a sinner like me, but to forgive. I almost couldn’t believe how badly I needed absolution. When I received forgiveness, I suddenly found I could forgive those who had sinned against me. And my evil attitude toward my family dissipated.

In the end, I found it was unforgiveness that was keeping me from God. I had been avoiding the pain of repentance. Feeling the weight of my own sin hurts. I’d rather stay angry at someone else’s sin. But I was continually frustrated by my angry outbursts towards the people I wasn’t actually angry with. I kept asking myself, “Why can’t I get it together?” The answer was simple: because I hadn’t gone to God.

Going to God was such a relief. It’s the only thing I can describe it as. It was a relief to know that after all these years when I act like a witch for weeks on end, God still forgives. A relief to know my sin was not the end of me. A relief to know that no matter what, I can go back to the Cross, back to my Savior, back to my Lord. I got off my knees a forgiven person, lighter and freer, and ready to live again.

And so it was that this spring I experienced the truth of an old Keith Green song:

 

My eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard, my prayers are cold

And I know how I ought to be, alive to You and dead to me

 What can be done to an old heart like mine? Soften it up with oil and wine

The oil is You, Your Spirit of love, please wash me anew in the wine of Your blood

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Forgiveness After Genocide

“Ongoing Forgiveness is key to the Development of a Nation, Overcoming Horrors of the Past.”

I recently spent some time in Rwanda. Both Rwanda and my home nation of South Africa had history altering events happen twenty years ago.

The Rwandan genocide saw two tribes kill over one million people in just a few short months.

South Africa saw Nelson Mandela released, the end of apartheid, and a new democracy established. The media predicted a war which never came.

  • Both nations experienced historical events.
  • Both nations used forgiveness as a tool to move forward.

Rwanda enacted many laws and engaged in forgiveness-based exercises. They outlawed the use of any “tribe” or “ethnicity” on public documents. Many of the genocide participants reconciled through revealing the location of bodies of their victims to the surviving family members.

South Africa, led by Bishop Desmond Tutu, embarked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which provided forgiveness and amnesty to anyone bringing full disclosure of crimes to their victims families.

Both used forgiveness. There is one difference in my observation.

Rwanda’s efforts have been ongoing while South Africa’s have been largely a thing of the past.

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A quick Google search shows many events and organizations in Rwanda which are still promoting the message of forgiveness and reconciliation twenty years on.

South Africa has buried their pain under the surface of hosting a World Cup and a more modern infrastructure.

The “New South Africa” has begun, but is still yet to emerge fully for the world to see.

While being more developed than Rwanda to begin with twenty years ago, South Africa may have fallen behind the East African nation in many ways.

  • Rwanda has the fastest growing economy in Africa.
  • The nation is largely crime and corruption free.
  • Even down to the cleanliness, you can see the transformation forgiveness has brought.

These are merely my observations, and I am no expert.

But as I compared these two nations who had significant events happen literally weeks apart twenty years ago, the comparison proved interesting.

What stories do you have from your nations which demonstrate the power of forgiveness, or lack of it, in moving a nation towards transformation?

 

Photo credit: Dwelling via photopin (license)

Seventy Times Seven, Conflict and Forgiveness

 

The conflict in mind as I wrote this piece was not related to a team conflict issue.

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I used to think that when Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven times, he meant that people would be so mean, so sinful, that they would keep sinning against me (and I against them) and I should forgive each new transgression as readily as the first. And forgiving them looked something like accepting their apology, shaking their hand, or kissing their cheek and hugging, and saying, “I forgive you.”

That seemed challenging but easy enough. I could offer a limp hand or a sideways hug, mumble the words in a quiet voice, and move on. One sin against me, one forgiveness offered, voila, the scales were balanced. And vice versa.

Until this method stopped working. Until a friend hurt me so deeply I couldn’t breathe. Until mumbling, “I forgive you” didn’t erase the anger, bitterness, and sick feeling. Until she bolted so quickly there was no time for shaking hands and I couldn’t accept an apology that has never been offered.

What does forgiveness look like then? Was it a one for one deal? Was I supposed to recall each lie, deception, angry word, hurtful action, and pronounce over them, one by one, Forgiven?

When I tried to do that, I simply ended up in the bathroom crying. Remembering didn’t help, it only increased the clenching in my gut and the raging desire to scream. This didn’t feel like forgiveness.

Probably because it wasn’t.

I had twisted the call to forgive into an opportunity to keep a record of wrongs. In the name of forgiveness, I let my heart grow bitter as I felt, fresh, each wrong against me.

I had to learn that seventy times seven doesn’t mean one for one, every time someone sins against you. It means every time you feel angry about that one single sin, forgive it again. It means forgiveness is on-going, a lifestyle, something that must be revisited and redone. Forgiveness is not a one-time event, shake hands and it is over. It is a state of being.

I drove by my friend’s house and felt angry again. So I stopped the car and addressed my heart and forgave her. I heard her name and felt angry again, about the same thing, so I addressed my heart and forgave her. I stumbled across a photo of her and felt angry again, about the same thing, so again I forgave her.

At first, these moments of anger and forgiving came at me fast and constant. As time passed, they sprang up with less frequency and after a few years, I rarely felt angry anymore. But still, once in a while and at unexpected times, a surge of memory and bitterness tries to stake claim and I have to forgive again.

This is seventy times seven. Over and over and over, the same sin, the same hurt. There is no mumbling here, there is no limp handshake. There is a wrestling and a battle and an acknowledgement of the pain. And then there is a canceling of the debt that is owed, a canceling of the right to run down a list of wrongs.

I’m thankful that God does not have these same issues. For God, once a sin is forgiven, it is forgiven. He harbors no bitterness, no anger, no need to revisit the pain and forgive again. I continue to sin against him and seventy times seven becomes a pouring out of grace. For each sin, forgiveness is available, and I drink it in, soak it up, feel the cleansing.

Then I turn it around and offer it, again, to my friend.

Expatriates can’t avoid this issue but I don’t want the comment section  to turn into a nasty place to rat out the dirty deeds of others. So, with wisdom and tempered spirits, what has been your experience with team conflict?

*image via pixabay

On separation, grief, and forgiveness

Livesay 2013

 

Inevitably, moving away from friends and family means changed relationships. Pray, plan, and try as you might; things still change. We have hated that fact, fought against it, deeply grieved it, been angry, and attempted numerous times to make it untrue … To no avail.

When people ask us, “What is the hardest part about living there?” The answer is easy. It has nothing to do with tropical illnesses, bugs, heat, or lack of bacon, milk, and strawberries. It is not the daily interaction with heart-breaking poverty or the front-row seat to see the devastating consequences of it. Those things are certainly hard, but for us, they are not the hardest.

It has everything to do with wanting to stay connected to the family and friends we deeply love and left. It has everything to do with feeling guilty for letting them down, for missing big things in their lives, for being physically and emotionally distant and different and sometimes hard to relate to or understand.

It has everything to do with knowing we are where we want to be and knowing that it hurts some loved ones. It is painful to make a choice that hurts people you love.

On the flip side, there can sometimes be a gross sense of self-importance. In our first few years abroad you might have overheard us saying, “Why are they so mad at us? We are just doing what we think God led us to do. They are selfish. That doesn’t even make sense.”

True or not true, we missed our opportunity to empathize with the pain our close friends and family were feeling. We were defensive about their grief and that wasn’t fair to anyone.  One of my favorite posts at A Life Overseas is this post about grief, and the necessity of allowing it  – no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.

That article closed with these words:

So please, allow grief in your own heart and in the hearts of your family members.  If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief (or your own), you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief.  If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it.  Begin talking about it, slowly, with a good listener.

Things have become easier in recent years. The grief process is long and we have been gone a long time. It seems that we have all mainly moved into acceptance phase.  Because grief is anything but linear, we know that tomorrow things could change.

The newfound peace and the less-stressed long distance relationships are the result of choosing to offer grace and choosing to offer forgiveness.  That has meant a new way of communicating with our loved ones. Instead of dreading interaction, we crave it.

I need forgiveness for blowing off and refusing to understand how my parents felt watching us remove the grandkids from their day-to-day life.  I need forgiveness for being too uncomfortable with their grief to sit with them in it.  I also need to extend forgiveness for things that have hurt me during this long adjustment period. My family and friends are not experiencing the things I am and I cannot expect them to always “get” me.  Grace goes a long way in bridging those gaps in understanding. An habitual attitude of forgiveness goes even further.

At one point I thought, “I will never be as close with these people as I once was.”  Today, eight years into this overseas adventure, I can honestly say that projection is not holding true. None of us were supposed to know how to live far away from one another and still make each other feel valuable and loved and important.  It took time  (a lot of time) to figure that out and all the mistakes along the way need to be released completely, keeping only the parts that taught us something.

Corrie Ten Boom wisely observed:

“If you have ever seen a country church with a bell in the steeple, you will remember that to get the bell ringing you have to tug awhile. Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing. Forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell keeps ringing. Momentum is still at work. However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.”

 

Have you struggled with relationships with the loved ones you left behind? 

What (if anything) has worked for you to begin to mend those things?  

I hope for those of you in the middle of difficult adjustments that this offers some hope for the future.  

 

Tara Livesay works in Maternal Health in Port au Prince, Haiti

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay