Tag Archives: forgiveness

Let’s Forgive But Let’s Not Be Stupid Either

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repentance direction change church leaderA man in an authority position with a  track record of abuse and anger management issues has vowed to change. He told his community that he would be a different kind of leader from here on out. 

That’s an important step for anyone who has made mistakes. We can all relate to a guy who wants to change. We all have our baggage that we’re trying to unpack, sort out, and leave behind. 

I don’t have anything to say about any one person in particular. I just think this situation is a great time to talk about forgiveness and stupidity. When an authority figure apologizes, we can fall into two extremes: skepticism and naivety. The skeptics won’t believe anything that person says, while the naive take everything said at face value and leave themselves vulnerable to be hurt or disappointed in the future. 

This could apply to a pastor, but it could also apply to parents, politicians, bosses, and any other authority figure who wounds others and tries to make a change. 

For starters, we are free to even forgive people who don’t understand the harm they have caused. We don’t have to wait for an apology, since we can forgive and move on. However, whether or not that figure has apologized, we shouldn’t move on with complete disdain or belief in what the leader has promised. 

Forgiveness doesn’t hinge on a leader’s authenticity or future actions, and that’s why it’s so critical to stay alert and engaged in a leader’s restoration process. Here are some things I’ve been considering lately when it comes to restoring an abusive or troubling leader: 

 

Did the Authority Figure Actually Apologize? 

There’s a world of difference between an authority figure who makes a mistake and wants to avoid making the same mistake because it caused real harm to his reputation and an authority figure who feels genuine empathy for the harm he has caused to others through his mistakes. The latter has moved beyond his own ego, accepting that it’s not all about him. 

It’s pretty awful to pick apart someone’s apology in order to determine whether it’s worthy of acceptance, however, we all know that some carefully chosen words can sound apologetic without actually acknowledging culpability. An apology owns up, and if a leader is dancing around the facts with phrases like, “I’m sorry if you were hurt” or “I’m sorry you took my words that way,” we have every reason to demand a real apology that “mans up” to the harm caused. 

 

Does the Authority Figure Have Set Patterns and Habits?

It’s great to see an authority figure repent of wrong-doing, but even if he’s sincere, that doesn’t mean he’ll be capable of making the changes he desires. Habits and patterns related to control, abuse, and manipulation are tough to leave behind. 

When an authority figure with a history of abuse and anger management issues repents, we should recognize that act for what it is: Apologizing for sin is only an apology. Nothing more. Nothing less. It does not promise different actions.

Perhaps we have some residual Calvinism impacting our relationships: In order to have a healthy relationship, one must actually treat people in healthy ways.

Declaring that things will be different does not make them automatically so. 

That declaration is an important first step, but there’s a whole other set of steps that follow–the steps where a leader actually lives differently. Repentance goes way behond a declaration. 

 

Abusive Authority Figures Do Not Get a Free Pass

There is forgiveness, but forgiveness does not grant authority figures a free pass to jump right back into their relationships as if nothing has happened. The victims of abusive leaders need time and space to heal even after forgiving these figures.

Restoration is not a free pass that restores every relationship to where it used to be immediately. Some damage to relationships may never be repaired.

When people have been hurt and abused, they will need time to be restored as well. The last thing they need is an uppity “repentant” leader screaming in their faces and demanding total and immediate restoration. In fact, the “repentant” leaders sometimes accuse their former victims of withholding grace, completely overlooking the fact that cleaning up their messes may actually take time. 

In addition, we’re talking about a restoration process in the first place because abusive leaders have to overcome their habits and patterns that caused all of the problems in the first place. There needs to be counseling, prayer, accountability, and lots of frank conversations in order to overcome these ingrained habits. 

 

Hope Doesn’t Turn Off Our Brains

If I hear that a leader with a history of abuse wants to make any kind of positive change, I’m 100% for it. That’s the very thing we should all hope for. We’re supposed to hope for the best in everyone after all. Heck, we’re even supposed to love our enemies, and one of the worst enemies in my immediate context is a church leader who hurts people and alienates them from the love of Jesus. 

Hope is precious and wonderful. We should use it, but we shouldn’t waste it on people who deep down either have no intention of changing or possess no capacity for change. 

Let’s keep our eyes open and minds engaged every time an abusive leader confesses and repents. We certainly hope and pray for health and healing for all parties involved, but neither will happen if we have unreasonable expectations for a statement of intent. 

May God give us the grace to forgive, the wisdom to protect ourselves, and the patience to see complete restoration for our leaders and our communities. 

Guest Post: Forgiveness is Not The End!

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I’ve had a chance to watch my friend Renee Fisher overcome some major obstacles as she pursued a career as a writer and have seen her writing grow and really take off over the years. Her personal story is quite dramatic and powerful, and I’m delighted to share a guest post from her today about her new book that I hope you’ll check out: Forgiving Others, Forgiving Me.

Forgiveness doesn’t have to be the end of the story. In fact, it’s actually the beginning. But we jump to conclusions or the obvious “Sunday school” answer–that Jesus died and rose again so that our sins could be forgive–let’s dig a little deeper.

Quote 2 If you attended church for more than a few Sundays like I have–there’s a pretty good chance you’ve been hurt by someone in the church.

Maybe your pastor committed adultery and left your church hanging (this actually happened to me). Maybe someone on staff at church called you names and sad ugly things about you (this also happened to me). Maybe a spiritual mentor or father figure abused you.

It reminds me of the story of Job in the Bible.

In my new book “Forgiving Others, Forgiving Me” that releases today I write, “Like Job, God can handle your questions, your misinterpretations, and even your anger (62). If your faith journey is confusing, painful, or hazardous (as Ed would say), don’t stop–keep going!

Forgiveness will see you through.

But, you might be asking how?

I don’t know your story, and neither have I walked a mile in your shoes. But we do have another example to learn from. What I appreciate most about the life of Job is that he wasn’t afraid to duke it out with God and his friends who claimed he was guilty.

“These men–Job’s friends–had offered correct statements about God (yes, sometimes God does allow us to suffer as a result of our straying from His law), but none of them led Job to a place of repentance or a greater acknowledgement of God” (59).

Whoa. Just whoa.

I can’t take credit for this thought, actually. My husband Marc is the one who pointed out this little tidbit. We can be correct about God in our thoughts, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t in danger of His anger.

Yes, God can handle our anger.

No, forgiveness is not the end–a greater knowledge of God is.

No matter what hurtful situation you are experiencing–the truth will ultimately be revealed. I want you to know God still speaks out of storms. When you and I are tempted to give up, curse God, or believe what everyone else is saying–just wait!

As C.S. Lewis says, “Nothing less will shake a man–or at any rate a man like me–out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover himself.”

Let us remember: We discover our true self in the hard times.

Even when it hurts.

Even if it feels like the end.

As my husband says, “We’re getting by with murder, casual hellos, cheap amens and hallelujahs, singing a few choruses while filling a bucket or collection plate and looking religious on Sunday. Only God knows your true condition as He sees it, not you. He knows the truth of your life, your marriage, your morality, your thoughts, your secret dealings; He knows you perfectly” (60).

If you’d like to read more about how forgiveness is not the end, please feel free to order your own copy of “Forgiving Others, Forgiving Me” for around $10 on Amazon or Barnes and Noble!

Renee FisherRenee Fisher, the Devotional Diva®, is the spirited speaker and author of Faithbook of Jesus, Not Another Dating Book, Forgiving Others, Forgiving Me, and Loves Me Not. A graduate of Biola University, Renee’s mission in life is to “spur others forward” (Hebrews 10:24) using the lessons learned from her own trials to encourage others in their walk with God. She and her husband, Marc, live in California with their dog, Rock Star. Learn more about Renee at www.devotionaldiva.com and www.forgivingme.com.

First Draft Father: Stupid Things People Say on Hikes

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Colorado2013 201There’s a law of hiking with a child that I discovered during our recent trip to Colorado:

If your child is sleeping in a backpack while you’re hiking, someone walking by and shout, “WHAT A CUTE BABY! LOOK AT HIM SLEEPING! AWWWW!”

As you may have guessed, such remarks inevitably wake up your child who now has only gotten a brief cat nap and will be comatose for the next two to three hours.

I suppose it’s one of those things that people can’t help doing. I often take notice of cute children now that I have one of my own. However, I would hope that we could get a little solidarity with fellow parents who must understand the value of naps.

I’ll say this: If I saw a couple hiking with a child sound asleep in a hiking backpack, I would consider going off the trail and hiding behind a tree if I thought it would help that kid take a long nap.

Sure, I may sneak a peak at the kid.

I may even stuff a bandana in my mouth to keep myself from saying something.

And even if people resist the temptation to shout exclamations of joy at the cuteness of your sleeping child, there will always be other stupid things that people will say.

The kicker for me came when a big macho dude saw us walking by with Ethan strapped to Julie’s back. We’d been taking turns with him that day, but his lack of knowledge wasn’t going to stop him from shaming me.

“No offense dude, but shouldn’t you be carrying him on your back?”

No offense. Right. I stifled what I really wanted to say to him and snapped back, “We take turns. We have an equal marriage.”

I wasn’t exactly the nicest guy at that moment, but compared to what I wanted to say, I let myself think that he was getting by pretty easy.

In both the case of the loud gawkers and the shaming macho man, I didn’t say too much. But let me tell you, I was calling down curses in my mind. I was praying that bears would tip toe out of the woods and chase these people off.

“What’s wrong with these people???” I asked no one in particular.

But then, I also had to think about what’s wrong with me.

Even as I called down curses on the nap killers and backpack shamer, I was muttering some really stupid things on our hikes. I was so focused on what I wanted that I didn’t give them the very thing scripture asks me to give: blessings.

Who knows what good things stirred inside those people who saw Ethan sleeping? Maybe he was the perfect bright spot in a rough week.

Who knows what kind of insecurity that macho man feels every day?

I sure don’t. I didn’t want to care either.

But then such a selfish outlook is quite stupid for a follower of Jesus.

As it turns out, I said some of the stupidest things on that hike.

The smartest thing I said to myself was, “Forgive me for being so selfish. I forgive them. Bless them Father. Bless even even the noisy ones.”

Belonging: Life Isn’t a Final Draft

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I want my life to work out after the first try. Who needs the mess that follows when I can’t get my work, my chores, and especially my relationships right on the first try? I sure don’t.

The power outage this past weekend really threw me for a loop. I got a lot of things wrong. My routine fell to pieces, including the parts where I pray and read the Bible. We started the weekend trying to help some friends move, and two afternoons in the heat did a number of me when I couldn’t go anywhere to cool down.

New chores were added, such as moving the rabbits to the basement, buying ice for the food that didn’t spoil, washing all of the containers that had spoiled food, washing clothes by hand, setting up an air mattress in our living room because the bedroom was too hot (especially for my pregnant wife who is due in 2 weeks), and even packing our bags to sleep at a friend’s house on a hot, muggy night. Sleep has been limited to say the least for both of us.

Each extra plate I had to wash. Every trip up the steps to our steaming upstairs. Every time I sat on the couch and couldn’t cool down. Every chore I couldn’t complete for our soon to arrive son. It all added up.

The meltdowns were small and quiet, save for the time I broke a glass container after washing another mountain of dishes.

I’ve had zero creative reserves. I keep thinking about the list of things I wanted to do in the nursery. I keep thinking of the essential parts of my routine that I’ve been skipping. I keep wondering when I’ll feel creative and able to think again.

I know I’ve been short with my wife. I had zero capacity for small talk at church or at our church’s picnic. Even the little things around the house take on ridiculously enormous significance when you’re sweltering and trying to plan for a baby and to get your freelance work in order before one of the most important moments of my life.

I wish I could have done a better job on the past four days. I want to take them, crumble them up, and toss them away. I see a ton of failure, aggravation, and confusion. I’ve never struggled to write like I have over the past four days.

I think I tend to treat these kinds of weeks like a first draft. I lament that I’ve failed, that a new chapter of my life has been written beyond repair. The reality is that we get second and third drafts in life. The failed drafts hurt, but they are drafts, not finished works.

There’s nothing all that pretty about the past few days. I hate to think that I’ve failed others. But I’m not done. God’s not done.

There will be lessons learned, new opportunities, and another morning to sit in prayer, to worship, to

New adversities will come up, and I’ll have another chance to get it right, to bless when I want to curse. Maybe I’ll be able to see past my own worries into the pain and struggles of others rather than just moping around like dead weight.

I’ll pick apart that horrible draft from the past four days, and realize how much I tried to carry on my own. How I struggled to be kind to others. How little I trusted God.

It’s the nature of God’s forgiveness and patience to review our failings, to smooth out those crumpled drafts of our lives, and to bring out a fresh, clean page where we can begin a new draft that will be stronger because of the weakness of yesterday.

Strength in weakness is a ridiculous concept in my eyes, but perhaps I can only accept God’s strength after failing on my life’s first draft.

Remembering When I Was Terrible

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1601005P CORESTATES CENTERWe have been sorting through some old pictures as we try to downsize our boxes before moving next week. I’ve flipped through albums that were literally nothing but shots of Flyers games. We had pretty good seats, but I still can’t believe I thought that each picture I took would look all that different from the twenty others I had snapped.

Other pictures document parties in high school, family vacations, and odd college outings such as our disco bowling night. A lot of these pictures feel kind of awkward to me, perhaps digging up memories of insecurity, uncertainty, and turmoil in my family.

It makes me glad that I didn’t have a digital camera that would allow me to take 80 pictures of every single event and then shared with hundreds of people at once on the internet.

I catch myself in a kind of retrospective self-loathing when I look through old pictures.

That’s when I didn’t understand how to listen to Julie.

That’s when I judged people for listening to secular music.

That’s when I was stupid enough to have a crush on a girl who was completely wrong for me.

That’s when I didn’t feel accepted.

There’s a temptation to hate myself when I look back. If I’m not careful, it can creep into the present as well.

Heck, I may as well dread how awful I’m going to be in the future while I’m at it.

This self-absorption in my self-perception is a never-ending downward spiral that will not only make us miserable, but will also alienate us from others. It’s not rooted in reality, even though I’m sure I was sort of a tool at times.

As I look back on my friends, I don’t remember any of them as terrible people. Even the ones who wronged me have been forgiven—we’ve moved on and made new, better memories. I have grace for my friends, and therefore I’m pretty sure that they have grace for me.

OK, maybe there’s still someone who has it out for me. It could happen!

By digging up my memories of the times I was terrible, I’m acting like someone who can’t forgive and forget. I have to keep digging up the terrible stuff from my past in another doomed attempt at making things right. I have to remember what kind of person I really am.

I can’t forgive myself some days. And yet, God is fully capable of forgiving me.

God takes the terrible out of us. He has conquered the power of sin and death, and that includes the guilt of our past and the dread of the future. He rewires us by lavishing his love on us—and I don’t use a potentially cheesy word like “lavish” lightly. This is the firehose of God’s love (UHF reference).

To not only know but to experience the depths of God’s love is to experience radical acceptance that will not tolerate excuses or caveats. The past is healed, and the future is hopeful.

I can still bury myself in those old photo boxes and lament that I’m a terrible person. I can move away from God’s love.

However, his mercies are new every morning. He takes terrible people again and again. For those who are willing to sit in his presence, to wait for his deliverance, and to walk throughout their days mindful of him, there is love, peace, joy, and the end of all that is terrible.

When we abide in God, we can remember that we are loved people.

How I Misunderstood Sin for Most of My Life

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chainsawI’ve been thinking a lot lately about sin. To be honest, I think I’ve completely misunderstood what sin is and what it does for most of my life.

I’ve probably posted about this before, but some things finally clicked for me last week and over the weekend. It was like I finally understood with some degree of personal certainty what sin is and isn’t.

Sin as a Chainsaw

There’s nothing like a head full of Bible verses to freak you out when you sin. I catch myself wondering if I’ve used up my sacrifice for sins or have somehow exhausted God’s mercy. I mean, is there a point where we’ve decided to cross God one too many times before he gives up on us?

I don’t think so, but then again, I’m really good at finding Bible verses to convince myself otherwise.

I tend to think of sin as this chainsaw that cuts me off the vine of Christ. I think of myself stuck on the ground, separated from God, and in need of a long, drawn-out restoration process.

My general approach has been to wallow and beg for mercy, which has some serious issues. I’ve been learning over the past few years how wrong that view really is, but it all came together last week.

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Does Forgiving Someone Make Things Worse?

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When someone close to you offends you or causes damage to your relationship, offering that person forgiveness in person may not always be possible. Perhaps this person becomes abusive whenever you are together. Perhaps this person doesn’t believe that he/she has offended you in any way.

While we should certainly try to reach reconciliation with those who have hurt us, sometimes verbally forgiving someone is not an option.

I hit this point in one particular situation, and I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Was I stuck with my bitterness?

I knew that offering forgiveness to someone who couldn’t understand the impact of his/her actions would only make matters worse. How in the world could I take a redemptive, constructive step forward?

Rising Above the Offense

My wife usually suggests that I deal with anger or an offense by praying for the offender. It forces me to see that person’s perspective and to, more importantly, stop looking at myself. Once I break the cycle of nursing my wound and replaying the offense, I can take constructive steps forward.

“Unforgiveness” can lead to stress, anger, and set us on edge in our other relationships. The sooner we can break away from our internal dialogues and commune with God, the sooner we’ll be healed. Only God can heal our wounds, though an apology from the offender would certainly help.

Forgiveness without Words

Even if we can’t verbally forgive someone, we can still step away from the offense and count that person as forgiven, not owing us anything. It’s hard to forgive someone without hearing an apology first. It’s not the most satisfying path forward.

However, if our only alternative is holding on to the offense, letting it eat away at us, and giving our offender power over us, we’ll only find ourselves stuck. Forgiveness does not need to be a conversation in order to be powerful.

Forgiveness While Dying

I’m reminded of Jesus forgiving the Roman soldiers as they crucified him and the Jewish leaders as they hurled insults at him. I get worked up enough if someone leaves an angry comment on my blog—enough said.

They were not ready to apologize.

And yet, Jesus used one of his dying breaths to plead with God for them. He could see their ignorance, and though none of us could blame him for spending his time asking God to stop his heart to end the pain, he was still concerned for them.

Jesus modeled radical forgiveness. It wasn’t satisfying. There was no reconciliation. Nevertheless, Jesus refused to let sin and death win. The love of God was stronger, even at that moment when all seemed lost.

Jesus would rise from the dead, but even in his moment of greatest “weakness” and vulnerability, he displayed God’s power and love in a way that few could understand or appreciate at the time.

Thursday Faith Jam: For more insights and stories about forgiveness, check out Bonnie Gray’s post, “Forgiveness Doesn’t Come from Vending Machines.”