Can We Truly Forgive and Forget?

Ryan and I recently hosted a Blended Live on Facebook where we revealed that marriage and life in general has been difficult for the past few months.  Part of these difficulties stem from circumstances outside of our control: health, 8 kids, four teenagers, and a special needs son; part of them stem from our reactions to the issues – anger instead of joy – and part of it involves the very simple concept of forgiveness.  Instead of rehashing and focusing on the negative, offering forgiveness to the offender and letting go on the angst that accompanies an unforgiving heart.  I’m excited to have author Gil Mertz sharing on the topic of forgiveness today, AND, I have a copy of his book Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future to send to one reader! Simply comment here on this post or on Facebook for your chance to win.  Contest open until Oct 1st. 

Billy and Ruth Graham were married for almost 64 years and when asked for their secret, Ruth revealed that marriage is the union of two good forgivers. Forgiveness is vital for any successful relationship, marriage and family. One of the biggest challenges of forgiveness is trying to forget the offense and not bring it up over and over again. This not only threatens our peace in the present but our hope for the future. But is it possible to truly forget our past hurts?

We’re told that an elephant never forgets. Frankly, I don’t know where we come up with these funny expressions about animals such as sweating like a pig, eating like a horse, working like a dog or skinning a cat. I’ve never seen a pig sweat, a fat horse, a dog like mine work, and I don’t even want to think about skinning a cat, even those there’s apparently more than one way you can do it! But I know where the expression about elephants comes from.

Unscrupulous circus trainers needed to keep these massive animals stationary and so they would take them very young and tie one of their legs to a stake in the ground with a rope. The tiny elephant would soon learn that it cannot move if it is attached to the stake. A full-grown elephant that has the strength to knock over a tree will not test the stake in the ground because it thinks it cannot move. That’s because, an elephant never forgets.

Many of us are like this helpless elephant. We have total power and freedom to move on with our lives when we forgive, but our past pain is like a stake in the ground. We remain stuck because our memories are telling us that we cannot move forward. If we cannot forget, what if we could learn to remember in a different way so that we can manage our emotions instead of being overwhelmed by them?

The Bible says in Romans 12:2 “Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed.” (NIRV) Some translations call this the renewing of your mind, but it basically means to change the way you think. If we can change the way we think, it will change the way we feel and as a result, the way we behave. Advertisers spend billions practicing this biblical principle because they know if they can control your thinking, they can get you to buy their products.

Jesus said in John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So how do we get to the truth so that we can remember in a different way and find the truth we need for our lives? One way is a simple tool known as reframing your picture. All of us see our experiences through a frame of our own choosing. It’s usually limited to our own personal biases and when we’re hurt or angry, the picture can get completely distorted from the actual truth. But if we can reframe our picture by enlarging it to let more truth in, we can remember the past differently.

Recently I was driving in a car with my wife and I was upset because a driver at the intersection pulled right out in front of us. According to the picture in my head, this crazy driver could have gotten us all killed and I was upset. Then my wife gently reminded me that I was intending to turn right at that intersection and actually had my blinker going. At the last second, I changed my mind and decided to go straight. But all the other driver saw was my blinker to turn right and was unable to read my mind. When the frame on that picture got enlarged and I could see the truth, it changed my mind immediately.
Not long ago I counseled with a couple whose marriage appeared doomed. He had a short-term affair which was long over. He knew it was a terrible mistake and had pleaded for forgiveness. His wife didn’t want a divorce but she could not forget the deep pain that had been inflicted. Clearly what he did was wrong and forgiveness doesn’t condone, justify, or rationalize his actions. But as we began to work together to enlarge the frame on this picture, we learned that the wife had been married to her job for years. She was frequently home late and her divided loyalties left a legitimate need in her husband that he tried to fill through other means.

As she could see the bigger picture beyond her own pain, she no longer saw her husband as the 100% villain and herself as the 100% victim. Though she couldn’t change the past, she could remember the past in a different way which gave her peace. This time with empathy, understanding, and love for her husband who also was dealing with a broken heart. Today their marriage is thriving because they become two good forgivers.

If you find yourself struggling to forget your painful past, try to enlarge the frame on that picture by talking to people you love and trust who can help you see things more objectively. Here are some good questions to get you started:

• Are there any details I may be leaving out because of my hurt and anger?
• How might another person’s account of the experience differ from mine?
• Did this person specifically set out to hurt me on purpose?
• Is there any way that I could have misunderstood what was said or done?
• Have I made any attempt to reach out to this person for clarification?
• Do I consider myself more worthy of forgiveness than this person?
Don’t keep rehashing a painful memory and feeling that pain repeatedly. You’ll never learn anything new, it will never help you grow, and it won’t help you change. Besides, didn’t it hurt enough the first time? Holding a grudge is a lot harder than forgiving. Take it easy on yourself and forgive your way to freedom!

Gil Mertz is Assistant to the President at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He has been involved with full-time Christian service for nearly forty years and draws from a vast background of ministry with international missions, humanitarian causes, public policy, and consulting. Article is adapted from his book Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Permission given.

Adapted from Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future by Gil Mertz (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.

 

Letting the Shepherd Lead During Difficult Times

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

In 2004 I was told that my unborn child would surely die.

In 2009 I was told the same news about my husband.

My unborn child suffered a stroke in utero and five years later his father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Continue reading “Letting the Shepherd Lead During Difficult Times”

When the Almighty Flips Your Page – Holding on During Difficult Times

Last night I rummaged through our attic and came across this old calendar from 2010. Flipping through its pages I paused when I arrived at August – August 2010 – the most difficult month of my life, a tumultuous month full of overwhelming obligations and demands: work, Luke’s birthday, family pictures, doctors appointments, four children farmed out on a daily basis to anyone and everyone, the arrival of hospice equipment, nursing staff in and out, important phone calls determining life or death decisions, and ultimately goodbyes whispered and a funeral prepared for a young husband and father.

This morning, eight years later, I bask in the warmth of the Tennessee sun, a beautiful fall day spent watching my rambunctious one year old daughter fill her little, red wagon with dry, autumn leaves as I hang freshly laundered clothing on the line. A day I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams in August of 2010. A day seeping with redemption, warmth, and joy.

The moral of the story? Circumstances can change in an instant. You may currently find yourself in the midst of an unimaginable hell, but hear me with this truth, hold on with every ounce of your being, hold on to him who is greater than he who is in the world, hold on to that last shred of faith in your soul no matter how unraveled or mangled or beat to crap it may seem, HOLD ON for goodness sake and for every other sake in the world for you have absolutely no idea what’s around the bend. You have no idea what may be in store for you when the Almighty flips your page, and you have no idea the blessing he may bestow when you “fight the good fight and finish the race.” You will have your peace again, you will have your joy; you will rise and have the crown of life bestowed upon your weary head, and you will hear those coveted words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” I promise – your faithfulness will win in this life or the next.

Just keep livin!

How The Church Can Care for the Childless

I’m excited to have Chelsea Patterson Sobolik offering a guest post today about being sensitive to the needs of the childless mothers.  She has also graciously given me a copy of her book Longing for Motherhood to give away to one reader.  To be entered, simply comment on this post.  I will draw a winner on May 24th.

 

Sitting in the pews of every church are men and women struggling with the excruciating pain of childlessness. For some, it might be infertility, trying month after month with no success, to finally get pregnant. For others, it might be a miscarriage, the death of their precious anticipated little one that’s left them heartbroken. Regardless of the particular circumstances, the trial of childlessness is one of the most difficult and devastating that someone can experience. Living in the nightmare that is infertility cuts to the very core of the way humanity was designed. One of the first commandments the Lord gave Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply. When a couple struggles to bear babies, they can quickly feel guilt and shame over their inability to fulfill that commandment.

I’m all too familiar with the ache to be a mother, but natural motherhood won’t come. With a tear stained face, I’ve entered into the greatest wrestling match of my life with the Lord. “God, I don’t understand!” I’ve cried out in prayer. “You’ve placed this longing on my heart, only to leave me with an unfulfilled desire!” Over the years, I’ve shared the cries of my heart with close friends and trusted companions at my church, as they’ve helped me walk through my sorrow.

The Church is God’s household, filled with God’s children. It should be a beacon of comfort and hope. A place where people will feel cared for, heard, understood and unconditionally loved. Christians know that they will face trials, and they must be armed and equipped to care for the wounded and the hurting among the Saints. Below are a few suggestions for pastors, elders, and church members on how to care for the childless in your congregations.

Remind People that Grief is Godly

Those grieving childlessness are grieving a dream deferred. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that hope deferred makes the heart sick. Come alongside the childless and grieve with them. Remind them that it’s okay to feel the hurt, pain and loss. That they don’t have to quickly “get over” their sorrow, but they have a Savior who’s well acquainted with grief, and was the man of all sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). Encourage them to take their grief, and press into the arms of the Beloved who knows their pain.

Preach Good Sermons

Make it a point to regularly incorporate the childless into sermons. Remember that the Bible is full of women that have struggled with the longing to be a mother. (Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth) Dive into these passages, and preach Gospel-centered sermons that will encourage the souls of the weary.

Pray With and on Behalf of the Childless

David was bold in his prayers before the Lord. He knew where to take his questions, his grief, his pain, and his longings – straight into the heart of his Father. Prayer should should be the first thing Christians do with and on behalf of the childless. In the Psalms, we see that David’s most trusted companion and friend was the Lord, but we also see that David wasn’t afraid of sharing exactly what was on his mind and heart. In Psalm 13, he bluntly asks the Lord how long he’ll have to suffer. David felt forgotten, and bent the ear of the Lord in his sorrow and frustration.

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)

Hannah, a woman who intimately knew the pain of infertility, wasn’t shy to bring her pain and tears before the Lord in prayer. The Bible says that “she was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly.” Hannah’s prayers were so fervent that Eli, the priest thought she was drunk.

We should take the charge to weep with those who weep seriously and come alongside the suffering with words of comfort and truth. Never underestimate the power of prayer.

Point Their Eyes To The Lord

The most important thing the church can do is redirect the gaze of the childless to Christ. Give them room to grieve the loss of their dream, or the loss of their baby. Please don’t feel the need to swoop in, and slap Bible verses on their suffering. Yes, the word of God is inspired and inherent, but shouldn’t be viewed or used as a quick fix. Learn how to sit with someone in their grief, and how to gently point their eyes to the Lord in the midst of their trials. One of the most comforting verses in the bible is found in Revelation 21:4, where the Lord promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes. Until that day, remember that the Lord is present as each tear falls. Suffering is inevitable while we live in a fallen world, but may we ensure that no one suffers alone.

Chelsea Patterson Sobolik is the author of Longing for Motherhood, and has worked for the U.S. House of Representatives on issues such as child welfare, religious freedom, adoption, and foster care policy. Chelsea was adopted as a newborn from Bucharest, Romania, grew up in North Carolina, and then graduated from Liberty University. She and her husband Michael live in Washington, D.C.

Written by Chelsea Patterson Sobolik author of Longing for Motherhood, Moody Publishers 2018