I was visiting with a friend recently. The conversation turned toward a person in my life who had done me wrong and I’ve been working on forgiveness and trying to move on. My friend says she has forgiven but that she hasn’t forgotten. I didn’t know what this meant and after further talking I decided that my friend was, in fact, still eating her own poison on the matter. Frankly, I don’t believe she truly understands what forgiveness even is.
So I turned the table a bit. I said, “Don’t you think when I took this particular action to protect my heart that it may have hurt her? I mean, I didn’t intend for her to be hurt but if I turn the tables I know I would have been hurt by my actions.” My friend turned it back the other way, justifying my actions and further pressing on why there is only one victim in this scenario and that was me.
I disagree… because in broken relationships, everyone is a victim and there are no winners, only losers.
I have been thinking, for nearly a year now, about times when I’ve been hurt by someone else. Did they know that I was hurt? If so, do they even care? Was I in the equation at all or was it a protective/coping mechanism? Was it retaliation against me? If so, was there something I unintentionally did to provoke it?
In all of my current relationships that I would call “broken,” I cannot rightly answer these questions. These are chicken and egg questions. These are questions that assume you know the depths of someone else’s heart and pain.
It had me thinking further… if we are ALL victims of someone else’s hurting, either intentionally or unintentionally, what do we do with that? Because, here’s the thing – ALL OF US are on one side or the other of this equation (sometimes both) in some of our relationships. So, if we are all dealing with this, shouldn’t we have more compassion and empathy for people we encounter who wrong us? Can we take a step back and have some empathy and compassion as we attempt to make boundary adjustments?
Our relationships rank as one of the most important things in Jesus’s eyes. The second greatest commandment he gave us is, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” His statement alone speaks to our selfish nature in that we know how we want to be treated, we know what love feels like and we know what rejection feels like. So, if we had it our way we would never feel rejection, pain, insults, turmoil, backstabs – we would only feel love from everyone else. So, if He’s telling us to treat others the way that we want to be treated, we should always take the road towards love.
No. Matter. What.
Because we are human, the apostles were still dealing with this topic long after the death of our savior.
Romans 15:5 calls us to live in harmony with each other. Further, in verse 7, Paul calls for us to accept one another.
May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus. Then all of you can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. – Romans 15:5-7
The rub for us is that it’s not our natural tendency to take a step back and think on when we are wronged. Our natural reaction is to want to repay eye for an eye. However, we are called to go against our natural tendencies. We are called to something bigger and better.
In Ephesians, Paul says,:
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:31-32
Paul wouldn’t just tell us what we are to do but he also tells us how. Earlier in chapter 4 He tells us that we need to let the Spirit renew our thoughts and attitudes. In chapter 5 he goes much further.
But, we are human. We will slip. We will be moved by greed or jealousy. We will let our tongues ruin us. Hurt people who hurt people…
Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. […] among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. – James 3:2 & 6
I wish there was some guidebook for us to follow past this, but there’s not. What I DO know, however, is that every single person who has hurt me was because 1) they were hurting themselves and they took it out on me, 2) they were retaliating because of something I did to hurt them (intentional or unintentional), 3) they were establishing new boundaries with me and I didn’t like it or 4) they did absolutely nothing and I interpreted the action (or inaction) the wrong way.
I know for a fact that all of your broken relationships have roots in one of those four places. The antidote for these problems is love. How do we love someone who has hurt us?
I’m far from an expert here, I’m still working on it frankly. I do know, however, that the first step in getting to forgiveness and love is to take a step back and do some analysis. Be empathetic. Be compassionate. Be honest about yourself and your own actions.
Another thing I’ve realized is that in order for me to move past a place of hurt and pain and irritation I had to quit venting to people who would fuel that. I needed to quit seeking out people who encouraged my victimization. I had to quit needing people to be on my “side.”
Instead, the first things I try to do now is pray on it. Pray hard. I also journal. Sometimes the two work hand in hand. It is quite refreshing to put down on paper what my feelings truly are. It allows me to name the feelings and also gives words for me to tell God about how I feel. Feelings hurt and to not be able to name them makes it even more difficult for us to work past them into a place of healing. To mask over them or shove them under a rug just adds to the hurt, we dismiss our feelings and are more prone to sin if we don’t appropriately handle them.
If I am still struggling or I need more prayers, I reach out to solid individuals who I know I can count on to pray the right way. These sisters will pray for my pain, pray for the situation, pray for my eyes to open, pray for my heart to heal and be open… and they teach me how to pray for the other person the right way.
I grew up being taught “forgive but don’t forget.” While there is some very valid reasons for this we have to be very careful about how we go about not forgetting. Not forgetting doesn’t mean we carry a torch for some old grievance. Not forgetting doesn’t mean we carry a grudge around, “protecting” ourselves. Protecting our heart doesn’t quite look like that. In fact, that’s hardening our heart. A hardened heart is not a badge of honor, it’s poison and it keeps us from experiencing the peace of God.
They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. – Ephesians 4:18
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. – Proverbs 28:13-14
This is not easy work, people. Some of my blog posts have been tiptoeing on this topic for years now. This is the crux of our relationship problems. ALL OF THEM. Right here. Try it out, think about it. Think about the first time you got soured by a friend, what happened? They hurt you, either intentionally or unintentionally, or you misinterpreted their action(s) and you had/have a chance to react. ALL of it, it all boils down to this.
Recognizing this is the easy part, the next steps are the hard part and there are no easy answers really. There’s just not. Life is messy. BUT, Jesus gave us an easy answer. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I don’t know what this looks like for you. I know what it looks like for me but it is hard because I hurt. Because I’m human.
Still, great things are ahead for us if we would only try. I’m cheering for you, please do the same for me.