Forgiveness or Pretending?

Lately I’ve been thinking about forgiveness and how sometimes it is pushed as the cure-all for relationship problems. All of us have bad days when we grumble, snip, argue, or generally want to be left alone and do not act like ourselves. When these responses hurt others, they can be quickly resolved by asking for forgiveness and returning to joy (being glad to be together) with those whom we have offended.

But it seems to me that major hurts can easily leave us estranged from others if not addressed. How do we handle forgiveness differently when the hurt is major versus resolving every-day conflicts?

Trying to get through a major conflict without talking through what caused it and potential consequences from it is like being in a car wreck where there’s major damage to the car and then driving off and acting like the car’s alright. Would we ignore the hurt loved ones and just get into the car and try to drive away? Is it possible to think, “Oh, the car is messed up but it will be OK; it still drives.” I doubt many of us would respond this way. We would want to talk through the cause of the accident and the consequences it brings. We would not just “forgive and go on.”

So it needs to be with major breaches in our relationships. It can feel awkward and even scary to talk about the difficulties and to sit with others whom we’ve hurt or who have hurt us, but when major hurts happen they need to be discussed and learned from, not just forgiven. When we fear discussing and working through rifts, and decide not to talk it through with others who are involved, forgiveness can be more like pretending. It can be like getting in the wrecked car and driving away as if the pain from such an event doesn’t exist. Our fear over the potential conflict involved in working through major issues often keeps us from truly forgiving and reconciling. (For this look at forgiveness I am not ignoring the fact that some relationships can never be reconciled face-to-face and forgiveness has to take place in spite of never being discussed.)

Let’s look at this from another angle: How does forgiveness fit with identity? If we can see the other person as who they truly are in Christ, we can see that how they acted in the moment that caused us pain is really not how they want to act with us. It can help us overcome our fear of checking out causes and consequences together, and it can make resolutions easier. When major breaches happen, they most likely happen when we are not acting like ourselves. The hurtful behavior does not reflect who we are in Christ. Who we are, and who the other person is, is more important than what we did in the moment that the hurt happened. The relationship is more important than the problem. The problems get worse when fear is greater than the desire to return to joy (be glad to be together again). The questions are more like this: “Can I chance helping someone who hurt me see that their behavior does not reflect who they are? Am I willing to chance that they will blow up, attack, reject me, or not listen? Is it too risky to give a good shame message?” As we depend on God, He can work us through our fear so that relationships can be restored.

Like our car wreck illustration, if we look at the need to overcome fear of confrontation using a scenario where a child is being abused, perhaps it might be easier to consider what we need to do. This is not something that we would ignore or forgive and go on. If the fear is too great to speak up, we might need to get someone to help. Forgiveness is not a band-aid to make pain better without addressing the wounds. Big hurts are a big deal. Pretending is not the same as forgiveness.

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Experiencing Immanuel

For the last few years I’ve been learning how to practice the Presence of Jesus and also I’ve been teaching others this wonderful way to pray and live. In my small groups we do Immanuel Prayer at each meeting, asking Jesus to show us where He is in the room and asking Him what He wants us to know. As I have been learning and leading others to experience Jesus’ presence, one of my desires is that I, and others, will learn that turning to Him in this way can become a lifestyle—every day, all day, not just at our quiet time. I want it ingrained in my heart to turn to Him all the time, especially when I’m upset, and ask Him, “Show me where are You are right now” and/or “What do You want me to know about this situation?” Sensing and “seeing” Him in the room or car with me changes everything!

We can “sense and see” Jesus in various ways. It might be with words as an inner voice within our hearts, a knowing within our spirits, a shift in understanding, or a picture in our mind. We might have a feeling in our body or sense a memory. The important thing is to trust that we are hearing/sensing Him if what we hear is consistent with His character and the Scriptures.  And practice makes it easier.

I’ve noticed that some have a hard time sensing Jesus’ presence and so this week as I’ve been thinking about the Immanuel Lifestyle and reading a fresh book on listening prayer, some thoughts began percolating in my mind. There can be various hindrances to listening prayer, but for now I just want to look at a couple of them. It seems that our current Christian culture has been affected by past philosophers and their teachings that emphasize that we are to relate to God through our intellect (Descartes) or that we can’t find Him at all because there really was no incarnation (Kant). We may not know that we are affected by these beliefs and that confusion abounds from them, thus hindering our ability to practice God’s presence. Since I’m not a philosopher, I won’t try to analyze these beliefs, but after we look at another hindrance, I will simply speak to what might be a better way to approach a true relationship with the incarnate, risen, now-living-in-us Immanuel.

The other hindrance to experiencing Immanuel’s presence at which I want to look lies on the opposite extreme of Descartes’ teaching that we can only know God through our reason or intellect—the pitfall of worshiping an experience rather than God Himself. Many of us find ourselves on one extreme or the other: I have no experience of sensing that Immanuel is really here with me—I live only by faith with hardly any feelings. Or—I have lots of experiences full of emotion and unusual phenomena but my eyes are so focused on my experiences that when the emotions are gone or temporarily absent, I’m lost and believing I‘m alone. With either focus—reason or emotions—we fail to experience His presence.

So where is the balance, the middle ground, the path to experiencing Immanuel? Intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures plays a part and emotional results of touching the Invisible play a part, but neither of these can take the place of Jesus Himself. Not even serving Him can take His place. He lives in us, with us, around us, as us. He has given us the means to hear and see Him with our hearts. Either we haven’t learned or we have forgotten how to hear and see Him. Maybe we don’t believe it’s possible. Maybe we settle for less because something is blocking our way to experiencing His presence. Maybe we are stuck in old beliefs that it is “strange or wrong” to think we see and hear Him with our hearts. Like any other valuable lesson, experiencing Immanuel takes practice and that spark of faith that believes we can learn it. We can believe we are perceiving Him and hearing Him when what we see and hear fits who He is.  And we might be surprised to see how playful He can be.

I challenge you to turn to Jesus, to pray with the intent to listen instead of talking the whole time. Ask Jesus to show you where He is in the room right now. Ask Him, “What do you want me to know right now?” And after several times that you have “seen and heard Him” with your heart, dare to tell Him that if there is any dark place in your life, (bad memory) that it’s OK for Him to bring His light there and heal your wound by showing you where He was when that happened. Practice turning to Him all the time. He is always there, always loving, always wanting your best, always kind; always strong enough to handle whatever comes your way. Look at Him, see Him, sense that He is with you no matter what.

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Addictions and Attachment Pain

What do you turn to for comfort when you are hurting? Sugar? Drugs? Alcohol? Chocolate? Food? Sex? Excitement? Activity? A bad relationship? Did you know that these things we turn to when we hurt are substitutes for what our brains really want? Our brains were designed by God to thrive on joyful, relational connection to Him and others. God made us to long for someone to be glad to be with us; to be the sparkle in someone’s eyes. Our emotional brain is wired to be in joy-filled relationships. When we are not in relational joy, it hurts.

Babies arrive with this longing for relational joy and someone to meet their needs in a timely manner; to synchronize with their cries for help—or their smiles for love. When those around us do not connect with us when needed, we feel great pain. That pain is often left forgotten as we grow up, but the wound is there. Along the way, we figure out ways to dull the pain of cries–and smiles–left unheeded. Later, those things we turn to for temporary pleasure become monsters hounding us to be fed long after those early years are far removed. The pain we felt when ignored, neglected, dismissed, or even abused is called “Attachment Pain,” the worst pain we can feel. Those things to which we turn for temporary pleasure that cover the old pain are called “addictions.” The cure comes by learning how to quiet the monsters while experiencing joy-filled relationships with God and others who want to be with us.

Quieting monsters is not done by will power. Quieting monsters needs help from others who have better trained brains; people with trained brains that know how to quiet themselves, how to keep their relational circuits on, and how to pass their skills to others in attachment pain. The wounds that made the monsters need to be healed by Jesus. When unresolved wounds and attachment pain roar and relational circuits are off, bad things happen. It’s impossible to solve a problem when the RCs are off.

When our relational circuits are on in our brains, we see people as people rather than as a problem to solve. We care about their perspective, their feelings, and the possibility of working through something and keeping the relationship. When the RCs are off the opposites are true. We just want the person or problem to go away. We get defensive, attacking, and/or blaming. Quieting and restoring RCs go hand in hand. When we can quiet ourselves, get the RCs back on, work through an issue relationally, and be glad to be together in the distress, the monsters stay small and more manageable. In the process we are giving our brains what they want—relationship, connection, togetherness, belonging. These are the opposite of attachment pain and much more satisfying that the temporary pleasures. Healthy, joyful connections with others satisfy. When we get healing from our unresolved wounds and learn new brain skills for quieting and relating, those monsters will be overcome. The need for temporary pleasures to dull the pain will fall away. Authentic, joy-filled relationships in community are what we are craving.

Click here for another blog on addictions and the brain.

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Relationship Ingredients for All Ages

Recently I was talking to a friend about some struggles she was having with her 10 year old daughter. My friend, who is a wonderful mom, was worried that she had messed up too many times and because of her own struggles with being open, would not be able to build the things with her daughter that she wanted in their relationship. Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged when we are so conscientious and long to do all things well in our parenting. We bring our own issues that we’re working on to the table and worry that God won’t grow us fast enough to help those we love and live with. Even after our kids are grown, it can be easy to look only at our regrets and forget the good things we did and how God worked in spite of our lacks. But in reality, each of us has to walk our journey with God, family, friends, and self regardless of what bumps we have in life, and kids without perfect parents will need Jesus. Focusing on the positives instead of the lacks and remembering that mistakes make good lessons helps keep me encouraged.

As I was talking to my friend, I had a little “aha” moment. It occurred to me that relationships work pretty much the same with all ages. So if we are working on relational skills and cooperating with God as He works on our issues, we can be assured that we will grow–and our relationships will flourish regardless of age. Yes, we are going to mess up, but repairing ruptures and returning to joy are part of those skills we can practice in any relationship.

Here is what I told my friend in an email:

“It is definitely not too late for anything with your daughter.  She is young.  Wanting to be with her friends is fine and normal.  It’s what you do when she is with you that matters the most, not just the length or amount of time. Keep being relational through all the periods of her life as much will change, but being relational is basically the same with all ages.  She will respond to your humility and vulnerability as you confess when you mess up and share inner things with her.  You will have lots of bumps in the teen years, but the foundation you are building now will be good and that will help.  Treat her somewhat like you do your girlfriends, in the sense of relating, but not necessarily sharing the same things as age appropriate.  Openness and vulnerability and authenticity and humility work with all ages.  You know these things.  (Interesting, I don’t think I have ever put this into words like this before. I think I’ll write a blog about it.)”

And I did.  So think about how these ingredients for a great relationship fit for most age groups: Being open, vulnerable, authentic, humble, approachable, kind, interested, accepting, loving, joyful.  The list can go on. . .

 

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The Impact of Validation

There is a relational skill that is so vital, so important and essential–yet often difficult to incorporate as a habit.  This skill changes how people feel, how they react to upset, and how they grow. For the last couple of years, remembering and practicing this valuable tool has been one of my goals.  It doesn’t come easy all the time. Jesus has to remind me. It’s something I want to do and something we all need.  When someone remembers to love us in this simple way, we want to be with them and see what God is up to instead of hiding from our hurts. When this action is missing, we feel deep emotional pain; we feel misunderstood and the upset feels worse.

This simple, important skill that I want to talk about is validation, that is, helping someone sense that we believe their feelings are valid, although their feelings may not be true. Their feelings are their feelings at the moment and it helps if someone can validate and comfort before giving truth.

I cut my spiritual teeth on the idea of helping others find the truth so that they would feel better, but I’ve been learning that there is a time for finding the truth after first validating how a person is feeling.  Going straight to the truth and trying to “fix” someone is a hard habit to break.  In order to validate, we have to be willing to sit with the person in their pain and help them feel cared about more than we want them to be OK–so we feel OK.  I’ve written about that in the blog dated 7/12/2013.

Sometimes things happen that trigger feelings and we don’t act like ourselves when under stress, when sad, when upset, or when we are tired.  Feelings that might ordinarily be easy to handle are amplified when capacity is low.  Observing such an event makes us tend to want to chastise instead of validating feelings or trying to find out why someone is “out of it.”  As I am learning to validate, I want to remember how much it hurts to be misunderstood so I can better remember to ask someone, “What’s going on right now?  You don’t seem to be your usual self?” I want to remember to say things like, “I bet that hurt (or hurts),” before I start telling someone God’s truth. I want to be sensitive to what others might be going through that I can’t see or don’t know about.

Validating and comforting are part of synchronizing with others–sharing their energy, being on the same wave length, sharing minds. When we remember to validate and comfort, it brings joy–we are glad to be together.  And when we are glad to be together, if there is a bump in that relationship we want to repair it and get back to joy. (See blogs 8/14/2010 and 8/17/2010)

These simple but powerful relational skills–validating and comforting, bringing joy, and repairing ruptures can make all the difference when someone is upset or just not quite acting like their usual self. I want to remember to see as Jesus sees and consider others’  perspective as we work through the common bumps of life.

For more extensive information on these and other relational skills see my book  Joy-Filled Relationships.

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I Am With You Either Way

What do you do when you get worried?  What do you do when you get bad news—or anticipate sad news? We who know the Lord Jesus know the answer to those questions: we turn to Him.  Sometimes we turn to Him quickly and other times not so fast.  For the last few years I have been working on turning to Him more quickly by practicing the Immanuel Process. (You can get more information about this from some of my older blogs or at joystartshere.com )

Recently when I was fretting about some possible sad news, I turned to Jesus.  His response went deeply into my heart.  You know when He tells us something, it’s more effective than when another person tells us.  That spark of the Holy Spirit’s voice in our ‘’knowing” is far more significant than words on a page or a friend’s admonition.   Practicing the Immanuel Process is one way that has helped me hear Jesus more clearly.  I practice the simple physical exercises that calm my body when I feel upset. (See blog 9/17/12) When I ask Jesus, “Where are You in the room (or car, etc.) right now?” I sense His presence and “see” that He is with me.  Then when I ask Him, “What do You want me to know about this situation?” I hear that still, small voice in my thoughts.  His presence and His voice change everything.

So what happened when I went to Immanuel in my fretting a few weeks ago when I was feeling the fear of losing someone I love very much?  As I turned to Jesus, telling Him how I was feeling, I heard Him say in my heart, “I am with you either way.”  I can’t describe in words how His peace blew away my fear. How can one describe the peace that passes all understanding?  How can one talk about how a simple phrase can be so real and life-changing?  How is it possible to explain how a truth that all of us know in our heads—Immanuel is always with us—suddenly takes away dread and fear?  Since that day when I heard Jesus say, “I’m with you either way,” I have applied His words to several other situations where I could dread an unknown outcome.  The same peace washes over me.

Fear is not of God, but we often find the feelings arising anyway.  Our stomachs knot up, our necks hurt, or our thoughts race.  Truth seems to go out the window. I encourage you to practice His presence through the Immanuel Process and learn the intimacy of His voice and experience His presence with you.  Take those worries and fears about outcomes to Him and learn, “I am with you either way.”

“Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You, O Lord.” Psalm 56:3

See kclehman.com for information on the Immanuel Approach, and my book Joy-Filled Relationships.

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Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes

This week I had a deep experience with Jesus when I went to Tennessee to help with my elderly parents after my mother fell and broke her leg. She is 90 years old and Daddy is 94. There are not many people my age with both parents still living and healthy, and facing losing them was quickly becoming a possibility. They are both sharp and fairly healthy and have been living alone with just a little help. By the time I got up there she was in rehab and working hard to learn her new skills using only one leg until the other one heals. She has a good attitude and is determined to go home. That was good news, but I arrived with a guarded heart that was prone to remember past struggles I’d had with her instead of seeing through Heaven’s eyes.

Right after the accident, I struggled for a few days not knowing what my role would be with helping them because I live four hours away. I decided that I would go up after my other sister from Texas left to go home. I was somewhat resistant to be gone very long because of my life here at home, the drive, just plain being a homebody, and those difficult issues we all have with being with family too long. So I left with my heart slightly closed, more or less going out of obedience to the Lord.

Upon arriving, I went to the rehab center and saw Mother. My heart was broken to see her so helpless. But fear about the past struggles kept a piece of my heart still closed. I was relieved to see that Daddy was able to do more for himself than we all thought he could. Other family who live there had set up a schedule for different people to stay with him at night and keep the household going and drive him around. As the days passed, I could see that Mother is in a good facility and that they would be taken care of until we see how she is when she comes home.

On the last night I was to be there, God began to work on the rest of my slightly closed heart. I had a connection with Daddy like none I had ever had as an adult. He opened his heart to me and I was barely able to hold it together until I could get to my room and cry. He was so vulnerable and kind and sweet and scared. As I prayed and pondered the whole situation, I realized how tender hearted I am and that keeping my heart closed was not like me, not like the heart that Jesus gave me. The crack widened. The next morning as I was about to leave the rehab center to come home, I could no longer keep back the tears. I saw my mother through Heaven’s eyes and my heart was again flooded with His true love for her in spite of anything she had done in the past or might do in the future. I wanted my last years with her to be open and full of unconditional love. I didn’t want to leave. I went to my car and called Jodi so I could get calm enough to drive. It was time to go home, but I knew it would be easier to come back the next time.

God is the one who worked this out in me. It just kind of happened. Listening to a CD for four hours on my drive up there was partly what He used to work it through. Click here to see CD. Seeing others through God’s eyes changes how we see them—and it changes us. It does not diminish that they have done wrong things or that they have hurt us, but seeing someone as God sees them opens the possibility for His love to pour through us. When His love pours through us, not only do they benefit, but we benefit, too–from being the conduit.

After I was home and had some time to process everything, I saw Jesus kneeling before me—so loving, so proud, so glad to be with me; so glad I wanted to live from the heart that He gave me—a loving, nurturing, bonding, tenderhearted heart like His. His presence was more real than the chair I was sitting on.

NOTE: If you have been badly abused by someone, I am not saying you need to be in a relationship with them. I am talking here about the regular difficulties that we have with others who hurt us and can be difficult to be with sometimes. Always listen to Jesus about those to whom you might open your heart.

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