QUESTION: I have a family member who has been seriously wronged. I’ll grant him that, but he refuses to forgive the other person, another man. I had a long conversation with him and told him that not forgiving doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts him. He just said that he isn’t ready to forgive and let go of the situation as yet. I also mentioned in our conversation that Jesus said to forgive 70 times seven, but that still didn’t do any good.
Do you have any advice about what else I can say to him? We’re cousins and I care about him. The person who wronged him (also a family member) isn’t going to change, so I’ve given up on him, although I do pray for him.
~ Caring Cousin
Dear Caring Cousin,
Forgiveness is a personal journey. Try as we may, we can’t make anyone see things our way, even if it’s with the best intentions to help them out. We can encourage others, but they have to make the choice to proceed with a new way of seeing things.
One of the first stages of forgiveness is having the determination to release from your mind the preoccupied thoughts of the wrongdoing that occurred and the hurt it caused. It’s important to remember that forgiving does not condone the hurtful act and it also doesn’t pretend that whatever wrong doing occurred is now okay. Whatever pain we experience that was caused by another – either deliberate or unintentional – is kept alive when we replay the incident in our mind long after the initial act was done. When we dwell on the hurt it impacts our life in ways we may not even be aware of by eroding our sense of trust and wellbeing. That hurt then becomes the lens through which we see life. We have to remember, we are always at choice. No one can make us think or feel anything unless we give them the power to do so.
When the memory of hurtful actions arises and you can’t stop thinking about it, that’s the best time to stop and make a place for God. Take a deep breath and remind yourself you’re letting God handle the situation. When you do, God will come in. You do not have to be concerned about “how.” You just have to show a willingness to release the thoughts of the past and trust. The moment that you do, the painful memories will begin to release their grip on you. Take your mind off the problem and put your mind on God – the hurtful thoughts will soon be replaced with a peaceful sense of wellbeing.
It has been said that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It is an act of self-love that allows you to release from your thoughts what does not serve your highest good and get on with your life. Pain may exist, but suffering is an option. Your cousin is very fortunate to have such a caring person in his life – keep it up!
Rev. Mary Morgan
Dear Caring Cousin,
Who can wound us like a family member? There are two sides to every disagreement but this approach will not help your cousin. He feels wronged. You said seriously wronged. I believe him. So let’s dispense with the need for investigation and fact checking and assume your cousin has a legitimate beef with his relative and just call him a truly offended cousin. Your offended cousin has options: 1) He can seek revenge. 2) He can refuse revenge but remain wounded. 3) He can claim amnesty for all, proclaiming public forgiveness while harboring bitterness in his heart. All of these are highly popular options (I have another which I’ll recommend in a moment).
Since you brought up Jesus, I’ll begin there. The gospel of Luke records these words from Jesus: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
Here’s the catch. When do those who sin against us ever ask forgiveness or repent? Not that often. Really almost never. We’re usually left to pick up the broken pieces on our own, courtesy of someone who thinks they’re right, we’re wrong and we had it coming. So really the question is, “What is my obligation when the offending party refuses to apologize and make things right? Where’s a Bible verse for that?”
I’ve found comfort in this, from the book of Romans: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Consider this for a moment: “Leave room for God’s wrath.” Could it be, Cousin, that this verse is true? That when your cousin was wronged it made God mad? Could God ever be mad on our behalf? Of course he could! But there’s more! He says, “I will repay.” Let that sink in. The Almighty God of heaven promises to repay those who sin against us. My goodness! What if he does? Who can take revenge better than God?
So here’s the option I recommend. For the sake of emotional health and faith in God, take that offender off your hook. Not the hook but your hook. Keeping them on your hook keeps you ready for revenge. It’s an emotionally exhausting way to live. Place them on God’s hook instead. And pray something like this: “Lord, you know what that dirty, rotten, low down, snake in the grass relative has done to me. I’m good and mad and I admit it! But I trust you. So here’s what I’m doing. I’m taking him off my hook and putting him on yours. I’ll turn over the right of revenge, the hurt, the anger, the resentment – all of it – to you. I’m putting him on your hook. You deal with him as you see fit. I’ll leave it in the hands of my God who said, ‘I will repay.’ And in the meantime, I’ll return kindness for evil. In Jesus’ name, amen.” Then life is new again.
Rev. Jon T. Karn
Light on the Corner Church
QUESTION: How does one regain inspiration and motivation after being knocked down again and again? I’ve had so much happen in the last year that my head is spinning. And, yes, I do keep trying to pick myself up. My mother passed away, and I had to put a beloved dog down. Eight months ago, my home was burglarized and many valuables including heirlooms were taken. Six months ago, the company I was working for moved its offices overseas, and I’ve been unable to find another job. Add to that, I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. I know this sounds like it can’t be real or true, but it is. I do go to church regularly and, while I’m there, I’m uplifted but a few hours later I’m depressed again. Does God really care about what happens to us?
I first want to say that I am sorry for your loss. Losing a loved one is a challenging experience alone. Add all of the other challenges you are experiencing and it is completely understandable that you feel and think the way you do. The first thing I would like for you to do is to reach out to a mental health professional. I believe you have experienced shock and trauma mentally and emotionally that requires treatment. If you need assistance there are free services available in our area to help you walk through your recent challenges. They will be able to provide treatment utilizing appropriate coping mechanisms for your ongoing search for employment and more importantly your breast cancer treatment.
God speaks very clearly to His children about seeking refuge during times of duress and difficulty. As you seek guidance from a professional you will find your spirit gradually released to live your faith in the way that you desire, with the sense of God’s caring compassion and presence. Although I believe God always cares about what happens to us it is a healthy response to ask if He really does.
The sadness in your letter is so heavy. The very name you have chosen for yourself tells a story of the feeling of abandonment. It is the kind of sadness that may be from not having allowed yourself to grieve properly for each of these very devastating events in your life. You say you have tried to pick yourself up. That is good to do, however, only after you have faced the devastation and let the grief run its course.
After you have properly processed the grief, only then can you begin to let it go. And even then we human beings tend to experience things in spirals of time and emotions. Happiness returns and then something might happen to take you right back into the grief. However, you can look forward to shorter and shorter excursions to the land of grief once it starts to subside. These many things that have happened in your life are not small. Yet, thank God you have avenues to find solace. Begin with taking care of yourself in every way you can in the near future. You must feed yourself fresh food that is nutritious and that you enjoy. Do some movement every day to stimulate your inner healing. Find a place in nature to spend some time in, whether it is Descanso Gardens or under a tree in the park. Find a place to enter into community where you can see people every day. In everything take baby steps and revel in every bit of progress you make along the way. Have compassion for yourself in this process and nurture yourself like you would a dear child who you were fostering to wholeness. A practical suggestion might be the YMCA. It seems an ideal choice for movement and chances to meet people every day. There is also continuing education. Anything that will bring a spark of fun to you, please pursue. Did you know the Y can be paid for through your medical insurance so it costs you nothing? I hope your new name for yourself will be, “Pursuing my best life!”
Rabbi Janet Bieber
Jewish Community & Learning Center of the Foothills