This is the second part of a mini-series of blogs dealing with the subject of Forgiveness. (If you want to get caught up.. go back and start with yesterday’s entry.)
Yesterday I shared a memory tool (on 3 steps in the process of forgiveness) that I have appreciated over the years. I learned it from author Walter Wangerin Jr. He wrote a book called, “As for Me and My House” that probably saved Jana and my marriage early on. I highly recommend it. The first of these three steps he mentions in the book is this…
Okay. Let’s be honest. That doesn’t sound very optimistic, does it? But here’s the deal. You are not giving up on the relationship or on the attempt to communicate… and you are most certainly not giving up on the hope for reconciliation.
What are you “giving up” then? You are giving up the right to be angry. If you have been hurt, and especially if you have been hurt deeply, you are going to be angry. That is natural, and it is human.. and it is not “sinful” to be angry. (Jesus got angry, by the way.) It is what we do with our anger that will lead us toward health.. or… toward more hurt.
So… what are you giving up when you “give up the right to be angry?” You are giving up things like holding a grudge, holding your pain over the other person, using it for yourself as a soothing device or on the other person as a weapon. You are giving up all those things.. but mainly, you are giving up this feeling of anger in order to obtain something better and more healthy: a restored relationship (maybe), a common understanding (maybe) a peaceful state of mind (usually), a renewed ability to love (absolutely)… all good things that allow you to live better.
But this does not mean it is easy. Anger and pain… if the wound inflicted was deep.. …emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally… these can be difficult “pains and angers” to release. And, in many of these cases you SHOULD feel anger. Anger is a secondary emotion that tells you something is wrong.. that needs to be fixed.. like a warning signal on a dashboard. Anger CAN be a tool to better things. And in that sense, within God’s design of YOU… he wired you with the ability to get ANGRY.. in order to warn you to deal with whatever has happened… and to bring you back to a better and more healthy place.
But again.. this does not mean this “giving up the right to be angry” is going to be easy. It will hurt. It IS painful to die to yourself in the ways that may be needed to complete this process. It will certainly hurt.. and if the wound is deep, it will hurt badly.
So, how do we do it? It can help if we keep the goal in front of us.. .. and if we remember this giving up or ‘dying to” that pain or hurt serves the purpose of bringing us to someplace better.
Jana and I, in our marriage, have sometimes used a “thinking tool” that Wangerin Jr. suggests can be helpful in these moments. He suggests that you intentionally think of the relationship with the other person (a spouse, family member, friend, co-worker) in a metaphorical way… as a third party.. maybe even as your “baby” or “child” that you both brought into the world and thus, you are both responsible for taking care of and nurturing.
(Hang with me here.. I know that sounds weird. it will make sense in a second.)
Just like two people bring a child into the world and will do anything, sacrificially for that child.. so too, if two people are still longing to be in relationship with each other… they MAY be able to get to the point of “giving up the right to be angry” if they keep focused on the fact that they are doing so in order to preserve and protect this third party.. their “child”.. their “relationship.”
It may sound a little odd, but when we think of the relationship we long to restore as this third party or “child” we need and want to protect and nourish and grow.. this can depersonalize the conflict.. and help us get off our own woundedness.. and our own self-pity.. in order to think of the larger goal — namely, a renewed and reconciled relationship that is good both for the other person AND for ourselves.
It is not easy. And some relationships are so broken that we do NOT want to (nor should we, necessarily) seek fully restored connectedness to that other person. Sometimes it is not safe or healthy to stay connected.. for either party… and I will get to those realities in future installments of this series of blogs.
But for MOST relationships where forgiveness is required, this death to self… CAN lead to greater things… again… for BOTH the other person AND for yourself. You die to self.. for a bit.. so that you can be “resurrected” back to health and life afterwards. And here we find a great truth: There is a pattern in the world and in relationships that reflects the death and resurrection of Christ. It is there for a reason. It is always the path to fullness, restoration, health and life.
Let me be clear and say it again: It ain’t easy.. this dying to self thing… and I want to be very clear in saying that I have by no means perfected this. I am still growing in grace every day.. and have a long ways to go. But I can tell you that it DOES work.
When we “give up the right to be angry”… we are on the way… we have made huge steps towards forgiving the other person… but it does NOT mean that we have forgiven them yet. And it does not mean that we are suddenly not hurt and suddenly no longer angry. We may very well still be.. and likely still are. We have only given up the RIGHT to be angry… and this is only the first step. There are a couple more steps yet to take before forgiveness can be complete and lead to true peace and health and hope.
We’ll get to the next one next time…