Are we Herod at Advent?

This week I’m passing along a blog post that moved and challenged me, instead of writing one of my own. I’ve been noting recently a lot of angry conversations online, ones that are devoid of grace, humility, and attempts to understand one another – even among Christians. And that saddens me, even as I know I too have committed those sins. Continue reading

TZ news & memes

This isn’t ‘finance advice,’ it’s more a series of loose thoughts on money, challenging all of us (me included) to re-think how we spend our money in light of Christ’s coming. (And there’s some fun stuff at the end.) Last Sunday I heard a sermon on remembering that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birthday (the Nov. 29 sermon is available here ). Continue reading

Finishing the forgiveness challenge

Ah, I didn’t get a post written last week, but I didn’t forget, really. :)

I’ve now completed Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s “Forgiveness Challenge,” walking through various aspects of forgiveness and practices to help cultivate a mindset of forgiveness and giving grace. And if you’re wondering what some of my big take-aways from this project have been, wonder no more:

  1. I was forcefully reminded that forgiveness is a mindset, not just an action performed in certain moments. If I choose to meditate on the cross, and way in which I’ve been forgiven by God, I hope that I too will be more purposeful in living a grace-filled, grace-giving lifestyle. I pray that someday those who know me will see in me a forgiving person.
  2. I always have the choice of forgiving when I’m hurt; that doesn’t mean ignoring what the other person did, or downplaying the offense. It means choosing to let go of that hurt, and not allow it to define me. It’s an old, but nonetheless true, saying that I can choose how I respond to a situation. I’m responsible for how I choose to react.
  3. On a larger level, I’ve found that taking a long time to think through a particular topic, and do exercises relating to it, is definitely helpful. I think these lessons will stick with me.

Have I conquered my desire to hold onto hurts? No. That will be a life-long journey, I’m sure, but I’ve taken a small step in the right direction. This challenge has been yet another reminder of the importance of fixing my thoughts on the cross of Christ. Next? Well, if you’d got any recommendation on books or courses/challenges on dealing with worry, let me know!

Forgiveness: Telling a New Story

Have you ever tried to re-tell a familiar story from a different angle or perspective? That was the challenge for this week. To re-envision my story of being hurt, and telling it in a way that realizes I’m not a victim, and that I can learn and grow and be a wiser, more loving person because of what’s happened to me. I take responsibility, and stop being a victim.

I was trying to think of a biblical example, and immediately the story of Joseph (in the Old Testament book of Genesis) came to mind. Joseph’s brothers did terrible things to him: beat him, then sold him into slavery. He was a slave, then ended up in prison, before eventually being freed and becoming 2nd in command only to Pharaoh.

Years later, Joseph, looking completely unrecognizable – probably like an Egyptian? – is stunned to see his brothers entering the room, seeking grain with which to feed their families back home. Now, Joseph does give them a bit of a hard time, understandably, but in the end he reassures them of his forgiveness, then shares his perspective on his past (Gen. 50:15-21), “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (v.20).

Joseph wasn’t saying that what his brothers had done was all right – he names it as evil: they intended harm. But what Joseph now realizes, the perspective he now adopts, is that sees God at work in difficult, bleak times. God was at work through all of that to place Joseph in his current position, so that he could save many lives. The hardships had given Joseph opportunities he otherwise would never have had, and made him into the person God intended him to be.

What about your hurts, and mine? What can we learn from them, to move onward and even use those injuries in ways that can honor God and show his love to others?

Forgiveness & Honesty

I’ve been blogging about my experience with the Forgiveness Challenge created by Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho. When I started this challenge, I didn’t have realistic expectations of what this road would be like – as in, I imagined somehow abstractly learning to let go of minor past hurts. As often in my life, I wanted to play it safe: I pictured myself taking this challenge, but dealing with minor frustrations; instead, I’ve realized that if I want to truly learn and grow from this, I need to take the risk of examining a more significant hurt I’ve experienced.

The challenge of the past two weeks is to work on naming a specific hurt: telling the story of my experience, as well as reflecting on just what emotions that experience caused, and being willing to grieve over that pain. Naturally, Desmond Tutu, who has been instrumental in bringing reconciliation to South Africans, has a great deal of experience with forgiveness and just how it works. He and Mpho urge, “Often it can seem easier or safer to simply dismiss a hurt, stuff it down, push it away, pretend it didn’t happen, or rationalize it, telling ourselves we really shouldn’t feel the way we do. But a hurt is a hurt. A loss is a loss. When we deny our feelings, we lose some of our aliveness.”

I admit, I’m sometimes tempted to deny my feelings, often because I’m ashamed to admit to a particular feeling (like anger). It can feel selfish or petty to admit what emotions are currently at work in my heart. Yet in denying the feelings, I’m shutting a door and pretending something doesn’t exist – it’s like closing a door in my house, and refusing to enter that room. And eventually, the more doors I shut, the smaller my house – my heart – will become. Not only am I less alive, I’m developing a habit of dishonesty, with myself at the least, and probably with others.

Another reason it’s important to try and name my feelings is because, “We can’t let go of feelings that we don’t own” (the Tutus again). Why do I expect and hope it’s possible to move past a hurt without admitting that there is indeed pain there? It’s like an infected wound: the infection must be dealt with if there’s to be any healing.

I can type all this easily enough, but it’s taking me time to process these truths, and learn to apply them to my life. And in that time, I’m finding it helpful and encouraging to remember the gospel story, which clearly demonstrates the depths of God’s love and forgiveness toward us. If he’s at work in my heart, and I’m seeking to be like Christ, there’s hope that I too, by the Spirit of Christ, can become a forgiving, grace-dealing person.

Forgiveness and the Image

The past two weeks of the Forgiveness Challenge required that I think of a specific time I was hurt by someone, and then imagine speaking with that person, writing out what I might say to them. The challenge is to address the other person in a way that recognizes and affirms their humanity. Mpho Tutu describes this as “honoring their humanity,” but just what does that really mean?

Imago_dei_webbannerv2

One aspect of theology that I think could use more emphasis is the fact that all humans, every single one, are created in God’s image. There’s a lot of debate about what exactly that means – what trait or traits set us apart from other creatures and make us ‘like’ God – but regardless, the Bible makes it clear that to represent God is an honor and great responsibility! This means that every person has worth, for one thing. Every person deserves respect not because of any achievement on their part, but because God has commissioned them to bear his image. The image is damaged, but not destroyed, when sin enters the world. In fact, it’s specifically because all humans carry this image that murder is forbidden in Gen. 9:6.

And the question every high school student likes to ask is appropriate here: “So what?” Well, when I am hurt by someone, regardless of whether it’s a large or small hurt, it’s easy to speak disparagingly about that person. I might criticize them, or call them names in my head (“jerk!”), and so forth. When someone disagrees with me or opposes me, I might accuse them of being a horrible, uncaring person. (If you need an example of this, see current American headlines as candidates for president have begun to attack each other in preparation for next year’s election.) The assumption is that I, wonderful person that I am [<that would be sarcasm], am not at all like the other person, who clearly doesn’t care about others, or something along those lines. I’m acting as if I am a better person than the one who offended me. I’m assuming the worst about them.

Basically, I’m neither respecting the image (that we both have) nor loving the other person. I’m not trying to understand their actions, I’m just concerned with justifying myself. Attacking those who have hurt us is easier to do than trying to view them with respect and empathy, regardless of what they have done. So here’s the most recent challenge I had: thinking through that incident when someone hurt me, I had to then imagine a conversation with them that would name the hurt while respecting the other person. I’d challenge you to try this yourself: write out what you would might say to someone who has hurt you, while sharing it in a way that honors the image of God in that person and does not assume the worst about them. It’s not easy, but it will be worth your time.

Forgiveness: at the junction

A famous Christian (St. Augustine, from North Africa) once said, “Give me chastity, but not yet.” He wasn’t ready to live as God wanted him to, even though he knew what was right and his conscience was bothering him a bit.

The most recent ‘Forgiveness challenges’ have reminded me of Augustine’s dilemma, his sense of being at a junction in the road but unready to follow the correct path. With forgiveness, there are many moments of choice, where you can move toward forgiveness, or toward anger and bitterness. And even knowing that forgiveness is right, and that it will free you, doesn’t mean that you necessarily want to forgive at that point. You don’t feel ready to let go of the anger and hurt – perhaps because it makes you feel strong, or because that hurt has become such a part of your identity that you’re not sure what you’d do without it. So I found Mpho Tutu’s thoughts on this powerful (listen to that here).

My friend Heather Drew, a counselor who’s made several trips to Rwanda to partner with counselors there, has been sharing thoughts from her most recent trip earlier this summer (see her blog here). This one caught my eye, for obvious reasons:Rwanda_Forgiveness

One particular thing that I’m frustrated about at present has felt like an unending, unconquerable roadblock. And that’s when I realize that I’m letting this hurt, this pain, become a larger part of my story and identity than it should be. The larger, more important story is God’s, and the identity he gives me is more foundational. It tells me that I’m his child, ever in his hands. And as his child, his love for me gives me the ability to choose to forgive, in radical ways, as Rwanda Christians show me.

And if I do not feel emotionally ready to forgive at present, I can pray for God to soften my heart, and give me the strength to obey regardless.