Thanks! I won’t.

Yesterday, I did a chalkboard drawing. I do these once in a while ranging from every few weeks to every few months. The chalkboard I use for this hangs in a fairly prominent place in my home and I have to see it a lot, so I often use it as a sort of ever-changing inspirational poster, like a physical inspirational meme.

The drawing I did yesterday was a fairly simple one, I’ve done much more complex ones in the past, with only an open door in the corner and large letters sharing a bible verse.

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Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. ~ Matthew 7:7

I’ve been on a journey, seeking out God for much of my life. I’ve always loved the spiritual world and it’s mysteries. Even when I was little before I met Jesus, I was always looking for the mystical and magical all around me. The world filled me with wonder and I loved it.

For the most part, religion tried to scare that out of me. Religious people want you to love Jesus and forsake the mystery. The mystical and magical seem to have little place in the world of organized religion. This is because, unfortunately, we’ve all been domesticated to think dualistically.

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To a dualistic mind, questions and answers are separate, opposing things. Something cannot be both a question and an answer. In this way of thinking, Jesus is an answer to a question, not both the question and the answer. In this way of thinking, if I have found Jesus, I have the answer not the question.

But, lately, I’ve been trying to shed a dualistic way of thinking. It’s definitely not easy but it’s the direction I’m going.

Dualism, by its very nature, is an “us vs. them” reality. It calls for us to categorize and separate everything in our world, even people. And, honestly, I don’t want to do that to people anymore. I don’t want to try to categorize people and fit them into neat little boxes in my mind. I don’t want to be categorized by others so why would they want to be categorized by me. I know that I am categorized by other people, though, because, by and large, people are dualistic thinkers and they can’t help but put me in a box. But if I can somehow work towards no longer boxing people up in my own mind, then that is what I’m going to do. It’s a work in progress.

And so, on this path, I have decided it is ok to see the mystery of God, Jesus and the Divine, and to appreciate that not only are they the mystery but also the answer to that mystery. And it’s ok if I never have “answers” to my questions. The point is to keep searching and seeking. Because God loves to be sought after just as much as we do. We were made in God’s image, after all.

So I made my little chalkboard drawing, Seek and Find in big bold letters, and I wrote a little caption underneath to sort of explain where I’m at on my journey.

I woke this morning to find a very long comment on my post. An old friend I haven’t seen for years seemed to be in disagreement with some of the things I had said. They disagreed with my use of him/her in reference to God because they believe God prefers to have themself identified with male pronouns. And my friend seemed to take issue with me saying that I was dropping the need for right and wrong, saying, “if we drop the need for right and wrong, morality also becomes murky waters”.

My first thought, after reading all of that, was, “Oh no! I’ve offended my friend. I need to clarify what I meant!” That thought and all the feelings that were tangled up in it lasted about 2 seconds, if that. My next thought was, “No, I don’t.” And I’m still dining on that second thought, hours later.

Mixed into the first thought was worry that my friend was angry, hurt and offended. I don’t believe God has a gender and I don’t believe God cares if we call them he or she or it. When asked by Moses what God’s name was, it replied, “I Am.” I think God is a lot bigger than gender and social construct. God is “I Am”, something outside of name and category. So, in those first 2 seconds, I wondered if I should tell my friend these thoughts. Would my viewpoint ease their obvious discomfort?

I also wasn’t referencing morality when I said I was dropping the need for right and wrong. I simply meant I was dropping the need for me to be right and you to be wrong. I don’t want to leave morality behind. I just want to leave behind my own superiority and start to empathize with people, rather than try to fix them with my own ideas of what is right. So, in those first 2 seconds, I wondered if I should tell my friend what I really meant about right and wrong. Would this help them feel a little better?

But I realized quickly what I was doing. I was assuming my friend was angry, hurt and offended. I was assuming my friend was coming at me from a place of attack. And I realized that I actually didn’t know what my friend was feeling. Maybe they were concerned for me. Maybe they thought what I wrote was an indication that my soul was in danger. After all, I’ve definitely been the person who thought someone’s soul was in danger because of something they posted on social media. If I’m honest, I’m still there more often than I want to be.

And so, I went from feeling attacked and upset to feeling kind of flattered. If my friend was, indeed, simply trying to save my soul, well, I appreciate that. How kind of them! Perhaps, in the eyes of my friend, I am careening down a path that inevitably leads me over a cliff into the abyss of hell. Since they care for me, they are trying to stop me from going to hell. And believe it or not, I don’t find that offensive. I think it’s kind of sweet.

I do not believe my soul is in any danger. I’m not worried that God is offended by what I said on instagram. So, why should I take offense at what my friend said to me? They were simply trying to help.

It’s like when a child comes into the kitchen and their mother immediately yells, “Don’t touch the stove! It’s hot!” The child came into the kitchen to get a treat, not to touch the stove. But the mother doesn’t know that and loves her child and doesn’t want to see her child burned. The child can react two ways. Either become offended and say, “I know not to touch the stove! I’m not stupid!” and storm out without the treat they came for. Or the child can simply appreciate that their mother loves them and say, “Thanks! I won’t,” and continue going about getting their treat. More often than not in life I have reacted the first way and shouted, “I’m not stupid!” and left without my treat. But I’m trying a different approach these days. I’m trying really hard to see the love in situations like this and simply say, “Thanks! I won’t,” and continue getting my treat.

And so, I replied to my friend.

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And now, here I am, telling all of you about this. Why? Well, I don’t think my motives are really all that pure. I’m writing this because I’m really proud of myself. I still haven’t reached the place in my spiritual journey where I don’t need to celebrate personal victories. This is a personal victory for me!

I don’t handle conflict or confrontation well. My normal tactic is to run away. Lol. I’m usually terrible at standing up for what I believe in. I often let others fight my battles for me.

But for several months now, I’ve been working on my conflict resolution skills. I wish I could tell you that I read a great book or listened to a great podcast that has helped me with this, but it’s just not true. Instead, I’ve been trying really hard to stop feeling personally attacked and start trying to see things from someone else’s perspective. This isn’t the first time I’ve had comments from people on my social media that have felt attacking, far from it. But this may be the first time I have switched perspectives so quickly. That is why it’s a personal victory for me.

Normally, when I receive negative comments, my adrenaline starts pumping and I feel scared and worried. It can take days for me to stop thinking about it. It can also take days for me to reply, if I even do. This time, 2 seconds of worry and it was over. That feels really good. It feels good to realize that no matter what my friend was actually feeling when they wrote that, I can still appreciate it and be thankful. Thankful for the care and concern. Thankful to them for taking the time to write to me. And I’m just proud of myself for getting there more quickly than usual. Lol. I hope to someday get to the place where I don’t need to pat myself on the back for handling conflict well, but I’m just not there yet.

So, to my friend, I just want to say, I see that you were warning me not to touch the stove. I appreciate you trying to keep me from getting burned. And to anyone out there, lovingly shouting at me, “Don’t touch the stove! It’s hot!”, I say, “Thanks! I won’t.” And I love you.

 

Triangle

There I was, sitting in Starbucks, feeling really shitty about myself. I was, admittedly, having a wonderful little pity party.  Then a friend sent me a message. They were going through something really hard, something I’ve been through before but it’s been a while. Now, I was hurting for my friend. And I felt so stupid for my self-indulgent little pity party. I just wanted to find a way to help my friend. But there really wasn’t much I could do except offer support and pray.

I wrote the word PERSPECTIVE in bold letters in my journal and underlined it.

Still sitting at Starbucks, I decided to spend a few minutes in prayer and meditation. I grabbed my coffee cup and wrapped my hands around it, holding it sort of chest level and stared off into the distance at a knot in the woodwork. I asked God to help my friend and asked him to speak to me. I breathed in. I breathed out. Then I glanced down at my coffee lid.

I saw a triangle.

This was not a heaven sent triangle. It was just your ordinary, run of the mill, recycling triangle that you see on all recyclable plastic.

But immediately upon seeing the triangle, a spark popped in my brain and I thought, “Everything is a triangle.” Obviously, everything is not a triangle, but what I really meant was, “everything has a cycle and needs balance”.

Then I remembered the time Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment. He said to love God with all your heart, soul and mind. And the second is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. I pictured a triangle formed by loving God, loving others, and loving myself.

IMG_4749Every time I’ve ever read those verses I’ve totally seen the “loving God” part and “loving others” part, but somehow I have missed the “loving yourself” part. But it’s right there!

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-40

News flash! You can’t “love your neighbor as yourself” if YOU DON’T LOVE YOURSELF!

The idea of loving myself has been evolving for me. To be honest, I have taught against it in the past. (This is why James said let not many be teachers. Because he knew we’d eff it up.) I always believed it was ok to have healthy self-esteem but I thought the idea of putting yourself first was just an excuse to act like a b*tch to people. And maybe that’s the case with some people. But as I’ve come to see, putting yourself first can also be extremely healthy and life giving. As I’ve been on this journey of self-discovery/uncovery/recovery, I’ve been seeing the need to stop doing things that hurt me even if those things help other people.

IMG_4750Sometimes, we do need to put others first, I won’t deny that. There are times when we have the strength, ability, resources, gumption, whatever, that others don’t have and as Amanda Palmer said “if you can, you must”. IF I have it to give, it’s ok to give. And I should give. IF.

But there are certainly times when I do not have the strength, ability, resources, gumption, whatever, and were I to give to my neighbor, not only would I be without, I would have a negative balance. And now I would need someone to come and give to me.

So there are absolutely times when I must be at the top of the triangle.

IMG_4751And even if what I am doing is so very beneficial to others, if I’m dipping into a dry well, I NEED to stop.

These last two years, I have started a class for middle schoolers at church that I then stepped away from. (But only after there were other teachers to take my place. I’m not a monster.) I have volunteered to clean at church and stepped away from that. And my husband and I have led a life group at church that we… can you guess? Stepped away from. I carry a huge amount of guilt about all of these. In all my years, I have not been a person who just stops helping. Usually, I am the person who adds more volunteer work to their schedule.

But I have been dipping from a well that is dry for far too long. And I’m so lucky to belong to the kind of church now that really doesn’t want people to do that. Most of the churches I’ve belonged to have been the kind that believe you “give until it hurts and then give some more”. But the church I belong to now believes in healing and wholeness for everyone. Even if that means stepping away from things for a season.

Back to Starbucks. I finished meditating and put my mystical coffee cup down. I picked up my journal and drew a triangle, writing “self, God, others” in the three corners. I wrote the word BALANCE boldly and underlined it. And I realized that to have balance in my life I must love God, others and myself equally. I must give time and place to each equally, never letting one become unbalanced and unhealthy.

It’s funny how concepts you’ve been thinking about for years (like not dipping from a dry well or having balance in your life), concepts you thought you understood and had some kind of mastery over, how suddenly they take on a completely new meaning and understanding for you in the blink of an eye. It’s funny how, even when you thought you knew what loving yourself meant, you find out, you didn’t completely and you have to keep learning.

Oh well. I’m gonna keep working on myself and my triangle and I guess you, dear readers, get to have a front row seat. Lucky you.

Go out and have a balanced triangle for yourself. Whatever that looks like for you.

 

 

The elephant in my blog

IMG_4672Hello, lovelies! I need to purge my brain. I have things and thoughts I need to share.

Let’s start with the elephant I invited into my blog: dropping “f-bombs” in my last post. I’m sure many of my readers were, frankly, shocked by my casual use of the word “f*ck”, not only in my writing but, also, in my music. Well, the simple truth is, I say that word in my every day life. And if I haven’t used that kind of language in front of you, it’s because I worry I will offend you or that you will judge me.

Most people who know me tend to view me as “the good one”. My sisters even call me that. It’s not my favorite appellation. In fact, I hate it. People regularly apologize to me if they swear or talk about sex in my presence. It is assumed that I am a delicate flower of innocent purity and nun-like piety. (Ok, that’s probably an exaggeration but you get the point.)

That kind of treatment tends to make me feel like an outsider. It’s clear that I don’t fit in because if I did, no one would feel the need to apologize to me. And it tells me that they don’t really know me. If they knew me, blah blah blah.

But, the thing is, I don’t think it’s really their fault.

Not to brag, but I keep a lot of myself hidden. I know I’m not some special snowflake, everyone keeps parts of themselves hidden from others. And, really, there’s no way of knowing how I compare to your average Jane on the street. But if we’re going by feelings – always a good way to go – then I feel like I hide myself a little more than most.

People think I’m “the good one” because the only parts of myself I choose to reveal are tame, neutral, and non-offensive. People know I love Jesus because I reveal that part of myself. And I let them fill in whatever blanks they want to after that. I don’t tell them my true views on certain theological points or politics because those things would offend them and they would judge me. And those two things – offending people and being judged by them – scare me. A lot.

The last thing I posted here was a song called Awkward Kid. It’s not just a song, it’s my whole fudging life. (See what I did there?) I’m really not exaggerating when I say I haven’t had many close friends in my life. In the past, I have tended to be just weird enough to keep people at bay. In school I always ping-ponged between having one close friend and having no friends at all. When I was 12, we started attending church regularly as a family. Church is “supposed” to be a place where everyone is accepted and part of the “family” but let’s be real honest here, that is not often the case. And so, once again, I was on the outside. I was the weirdo at school and the weirdo at church.

But, honestly, I think being the weirdo at church was a good thing for me. I sat alone a lot. And with no friends to distract me, I paid attention. I met Jesus. And I don’t mean, I learned some stuff about him. I had real spiritual experiences. I discovered a connection with the Spirit that hovered over the deep and called life into being. It was good. That part of my church experience stuck.

I also learned a lot of bullshit at church. And still wanting to fit in somewhere in this universe, I learned to talk the talk and act like I walked the walk. I figured out what was acceptable and I tried to present myself to the world as someone who did and said the acceptable things. I learned to hide myself because when I was hidden, people liked me.

A little part of me was always trying to escape, though. The part that swears and likes magic and sex and zombies and tattoos. The older I got, the more those things began to become “acceptable” to “like” by my church friends. And so, if they showed their cards, I’d flash a peek of mine.

I kept the mask up, though, for the most part. If you had spent your whole life trying to make friends only to be too weird to keep them, you would too. You’d make sure you were as tame and neutral and non-offensive as possible. Someone everyone likes.

It’s really effing exhausting, though. I’m so tired. I am still soooo in my head, second-guessing every text message, social media post, conversation, outfit, hairstyle, accessory, reading material, music I listen to, food I eat, word I say, blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah.

For the last few years, I’ve been working hard to do the things I want to do instead of what will win me “least offensive person of the year”. I’m trying to be more authentically me and giving less of a damn if I lose people’s respect or friendship. I STILL WANT IT THOUGH! Curses! I want people to like me, respect me, and think I’m basically amazing. How perfectly banal of me.

I am slowly and painfully removing the mask. I’m still not transparent about all things and I doubt I ever will be. After all, some of this has to be earned. But I don’t want to be so mentally exhausted anymore trying to keep up appearances. I want to just LIVE. I want freedom. I want to feel good in my skin. And I don’t want to wonder if people actually like me or if they just like the mask I’m wearing.

I know as I go through this process I am going to lose some people’s respect and friendship. That really does sadden me. I HATE hurting people. I HATE offending people. And I don’t want to be judged. But I NEED this. I need the freedom this process brings. I need to love myself and feel alive in my own skin.

So let me apologize now. I am truly sorry if I’m not who you thought I was. I’m truly sorry if I hurt you or offend you. And if you are judging me, it’s ok, I forgive you.

All this mask removal is leaving me raw all over. I’m so glad I’m doing it but I know after I hit “publish” on this thing I’m going to second-guess myself, just like I did after I posted Awkward Kid. So if you’re not offended or hurt or judging me, can you please let me know that you love me? And be patient with me. I’m a 38 year old new-born.

 

 

A coffee story with absolutely no point

My office is in our garage. There’s a little side room just off the garage that was originally a workshop but we turned it into a small “apartment” for a while and now it’s just my office. There’s a sink and a fridge and a little counter for the “kitchen”. And it has a very small water heater just for that sink and the bathroom. Since no one lives out there we keep the water heater turned off, otherwise the hot water gets a weird smell from having sat for so long without being used.

There is also a little one cup coffee maker out there for me. (I use the “re-usable” filter pods instead of the single use pods, so you can stop judging.) It’s really nice not to have to walk all the way back into the main house to make coffee.

The only problem I have is that I’m sorta lazy at the end of the day and I will typically just leave my coffee cup on the sink unwashed. So the next day when I want coffee I have to wash the cup before I can use it. And since the hot water is turned off, I have to wash the cup with cold water.

So I’d say I spend a good amount of my coffee drinking time just trying to warm my hands up again after washing the coffee cup with cold water. I’m saying all of this because I just made coffee and even though it’s a nice day and I’m not cold at all, I’m hugging my coffee cup like it’s the dead of winter.

And I’m probably not going to stop doing it.

The End.

Bendable

“Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.”

“What truth?”

“There is no spoon.”

“There is no spoon?”

“Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.”

I think most people are on a quest to change the world around them. Some people know they are but most don’t. I think most people go blindly through life trying to bend the world and other people around them to their ideals and they don’t even realize they are doing it.

But control is an illusion. It’s impossible to really bend people to our ways. Anyone who can be convinced of your ideals by your persuasive words can be convinced of someone else’s later with their persuasive words.

We must stop trying to bend people to our way of thinking and our ideals. Stop trying to bend the spoon. That’s impossible. We must realize the truth. There is no spoon. Control is an illusion.

Once we let go of control, live and let live, stop pushing and manipulating and bending, the most amazing thing will happen. The world around us will change! The spoon will bend, as if by magic. People will be kinder. There will be more love and harmony between us and our family and friends. Real deep discussions will take place. Love will abound and flourish. The spoon bends.

How did we bend the spoon then since we let go of control and realized it was impossible to bend the spoon?

We didn’t. It was not the spoon that bends but ourselves. The world around us didn’t change. We did. We became more loving which led to more loving relationships. We became more harmonious which led to harmony in our lives. We stopped being judgmental and trying to manipulate and shape people and that led to deeper discussions about real subjects that matter to us.

My plea for myself: stop trying to bend the spoon. Let go of control. Let myself become fluid and bendable, loving, harmonious and accepting of others.

Peace, my friends.

Some thoughts on forgiveness

I didn’t go to Bible college or Seminary. I don’t have any degrees in theology. I just have my own brain, Google, some books that smart people wrote, and the Holy Spirit. So this, and many of my other, posts on God and Christianity are just a product of those 4 tools being wielded by a dumbass aka me. So if you get something out of this, it either means I’m smarter than I look or… you’re a dumbass too. Let’s hope it’s the former. If you don’t get anything out of this, be assured that it was written by a dumbass and mosey on down the road.

Being me, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering forgiveness. I’m a rule keeper by nature. (First born child here.) So when the Bible says we have to forgive, I take it pretty seriously.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 6:14-15

This verse always scared the piss out of me. I want to be forgiven! I’m not always the nice person most people assume I am. (I’m such a good faker.) I have shit that needs to be forgiven. (Like including the words dumbass and shit in this post, knowing it will probably offend some people. Sorry.)

So if I have to forgive people in order to be forgiven myself, I want to know exactly what forgiveness is so I can make sure I’m doing it right. Now, I know I’m not the only one out there who thinks this way. I’m sure all you other rule keepers are just like me (and the other Pharisees) who want to honor the letter of the law but not the spirit of it.

The Lord said:
Because these people draw near with their mouths
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote

Isaiah 29:13

Dang, this verse makes that sound bad…. Oh well….

I wish knowing this verse had stopped me from trying to forgive “perfectly” but it didn’t. I’ve read a lot of verses on forgiveness and reconciliation. I’ve even written a blog post on reconciliation. (I’d like to say I went back and read it before writing this one but I’m far too lazy for that.)

As I tried to dissect forgiveness, I used all the tools available to me. I did word studies on forgiveness, forgive, forgiving. I used the Greek Lexicons available online to help me really get down to the definition of the word so that I’d know if I was doing it right. I thought of different parables and teachings of Jesus and tried to apply them.

And finally, after much thought and study, a new understanding of forgiveness came to me and it’s this understanding that I’d like to share with you. I should note here that I don’t feel this is a complete understanding of forgiveness. It’s just where I’ve landed on the subject for now and I thought it might be useful to someone else besides myself.

(Or you can skip this lengthy post and just read the summary at the end. Your call.)

Let me start by sharing what I always believed forgiveness to be for much of my life.

Forgiveness meant not being angry anymore and acting as if nothing had ever happened. It also definitely meant continuing in relationship with the person who hurt you. Someone wrongs you, you say “that’s ok”, smile and move on. The offending party might have to apologize to get the ball rolling but that’s the extent of their involvement in the process. Forgiveness, to me, was really about corralling my own feelings and making them stay in line.

But what happens when the offending party does something a lot more heinous than accidentally smashing your toe or yelling at you when they’re in a bad mood? What happens when they repeatedly belittle you, gaslighting you for years or try to break up your marriage? What happens when they spread lies about you or steal from you?

A big part of me believed for a long time that I had to swallow all of my hurt and anger, push it down, say “that’s ok, what they did was wrong but I’m going to forgive them”, smile and then keep having a relationship with that person. Wasn’t that what forgiveness meant?

Forgiveness seemed supernatural to me and nearly impossible to achieve. Every time I started to think I wasn’t angry about something anymore, I’d remember what happened and all the feelings of hurt and anger would resurface. Then the guilt would come because if I was still hurt and angry then I clearly hadn’t forgiven. It was a terribly vicious cycle of pain.

But being hurt many times in my life offered me many chances to try to learn how to forgive. And the last 2 years have been wonderful instructors on how to forgive in the midst of hurt and pain.

So what have I learned the last two years that changed my view on forgiveness?

It’s less “something I learned” and more “something I didn’t know I already knew”. But God is good (all the time) and the Holy Spirit knows when to lay an egg in your brain and heart. And I can honestly say these last 2 years have been full of learning eggs dropped into my soul.

I no longer think of forgiveness as an emotion corral. I see it a lot more as a financial transaction now.

Remember the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant? I’m going to put all the verses right here in their entirety but if you’re anything like me you’ll skip the verses and continue reading. That’s fine. I’ll summarize.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:23-35

If you skipped the verses and need the summary, here it is:

Basically there was a servant who owed a boat load of money to his king. He couldn’t pay the king so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave to try to recoup some of his money. But the servant fell on his knees and begged the king, promising to pay him back. The king relented but instead of making the servant pay him back he just forgave the whole debt.

After leaving the king’s pad, the servant runs into his fellow servant who owes him like $30. He flips out on the guy. Of course, the second servant begs the first servant to have patience with him, promising to pay him back. But the first servant is a royal douche and throws the guy in prison instead of having mercy.

The king gets wind of all this and calls the first servant back into his royal chambers and says, “WTF, bro?!? I forgave your debt, why didn’t you forgive your fellow servant’s debt?” And then in his kingly anger, he hands the first servant over to be tortured until he could pay back his original debt.

It’s pretty heavy stuff. But this parable really got my mind revving about debt and forgiveness.

I grew up saying the Lord’s prayer. Not often but often enough to have it memorized. And when I said the Lord’s prayer I always said, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Did you know that many of the translations of Matthew 6:12 (that part in the Lord’s prayer where we ask for forgiveness), don’t use the words trespass and trespasses but translate “opheilema” as debts.

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Matthew 6:12

Opheilema is a Greek word that actually means, “that which is owed, that which is justly or legally due, a debt; metaphorically, an offense or sin”.

And so I thought, what if forgiveness simply means, “you don’t owe me anything, your debt is paid”. What if instead of being a pushing down of anger, it is actually a releasing of debt? That seems to fit with the parable, doesn’t it?

This led me to another thought: if forgiveness is about releasing emotional debt, then what was owed? If someone owes me a debt, a debt that I then forgive, what did I lend them in the first place?

And so we arrive here.

What if every time you have contact with someone, you are actually loaning them a small piece of yourself? Here is a little part of me, it might be small and almost insignificant but it’s a part of me and it is fragile. Please treat it with kindness.

We don’t just give away a part of ourselves to our friends and family. But to strangers as well. We present ourselves to the cashier behind the counter or to customers at our job or to the receptionist at the doctor’s office. Our interactions may be brief but still there is a small part of us left unarmored that has the potential to be damaged. All we ask of the people we encounter is that they treat us with kindness. In most casual encounters, we receive that little piece of ourselves back undamaged and we go on with our lives.

But with friends and family we give more and more unguarded pieces of ourselves. Pieces we cannot hope to have returned to us quickly. We loan them these fragile, quivering pieces of ourselves and ask only that they be gentle and return them as undamaged as possible.

But no one is infallible and damage happens all too often and all too easily. So we look to our friend or our family member and say, “I loaned you a piece of myself but you’ve damaged it and you are unable to return it to me whole. You owe me a debt.”

A debt of what? A debt of repair to the damaged piece of self? A debt of repentance and apology? Should the one who did the damaging offer a piece of themselves as payment? Only the damaged one knows what would satisfy the debt. But a debt is owed. And only the damaged one can say when the debt has been paid.

In most healthy relationships, there doesn’t really need to be a wrestling of conscience and a quibbling over forgiveness. One person says, “You’ve hurt me.” And the other person says, “I’m so sorry. Let me make repairs.” A give and take ensues and the two repair the damage and nothing more needs to be said.

But in unhealthy relationships, when one party is hurt, the offending party often does nothing to help repair the damage and may even insist they did no damage. It is then left to the hurting person to resolve the problem on their own. This is where the hemming and hawing and quibbling comes in. How do you know if you’ve forgiven someone if they make no effort at all to apologize, repent, change and help heal the damage?

Thankfully, you don’t have to do this alone. You have the Holy Spirit and hopefully a friend or two that can help you with the healing process. As you heal you must then ask yourself, “What do I need from ‘so and so’ in order to be healed?” If the answer is “nothing”, I believe you have released them from their debt to you. When the memory resurfaces, bringing the pain afresh, don’t believe you didn’t forgive them. Instead, take the time to assess yourself and ask, “What do I need from them to be healed?” If they still owe you nothing, you have forgiven them.

But just because you forgave them doesn’t mean you have to trust them.

Forgiveness is free but trust has to be earned.

24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

John 2:24-25

I bring you now to a parable that I never connected to forgiveness until recently.

The Parable of the Talents.

Again, I’ll quote all of the verses here but you can totally skip over them and head straight for the summary. (That’s what I would do.)

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:14-30

As quickly as I can: a wealthy landowner was going on a journey and he called 3 servants to him before he left. He gave them each a crap load of $$$. One servant received 5 talents (some say a talent was about a year’s worth of pay, others estimate it was considerably more than that), one received 2 talents and the third received 1 talent. In the parable he gives no instruction on what to do with the money, he just leaves. But still the first servant invests the money and receives a return of 5 more talents so that he has 10 talents (math) when his master returns. Similarly, the second servant invests his 2 talents and doubles his money as well. But the third servant was afraid of his master, so he decided to bury the one talent to keep it safe.

When the master returns, he is, of course, delighted with the first two servants and gives them both promotions in Wealthy Landowner Ventures LLC. But when the third servant shows the boss what he did with the talent, boss gets pissed. He’s like, “Bro, why didn’t you at least put it in the bank so it could draw interest? Why bury it?” After that, he takes the talent from him and gives it to the first servant with the 10 talents.

Brutal.

But informative. If someone is being a good steward over the piece of you that you gave to them, go on and give them more. But if someone is an unfit steward over that piece of you, release them from their debt to you but don’t give them any more.

What I’m saying is: you can forgive someone but you don’t have to trust them again. Forgiveness and trust are not interchangeable. Though I grew up believing that to forgive someone meant that I also must give them my trust once again, I no longer believe this. I can forgive, release them from their debt to me and also discontinue the relationship. Remove the talent from them and give it to someone who has earned it.

Some people are not good stewards of other people’s hearts and emotions. Recognizing that someone is a toxic element in your life does not mean that you hold unforgiveness toward them. It means you recognize that they cannot handle your fragile, quivering pieces with the care, kindness and gentleness that you need and you distance yourself from the harm.

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life.

Proverbs 4:23

Maybe like me you were taught that guarding your heart meant trying to keep it pure and unstained from sin. But I posit that guarding your heart means rescuing it from the ones who would do it harm. Not entrusting ourselves to them.

So what is unforgiveness then?

If forgiveness is letting go, then unforgiveness is holding on. I do think unforgiveness can be both accidental and deliberate. But I think the only unforgiveness we should be worried about is the deliberate kind.

Deliberately choosing to not forgive looks like making a conscious choice to remain wounded by the transgression and allowing the wound to fester and poison us. It means choosing to let the transgression have so much power over us that we cannot let it go, we are bound to it and it to us.

It looks like Bowler Hat Guy from Meet The Robinsons.

Image result for meet the robinsons bowler hat guy

Image result for meet the robinsons mike yagoobian

He was once the adorable and lovable Mike Yagoobian. But he let the wound in his soul fester and rot him from the inside out. It destroyed his life and every relationship he ever had. His inability to forgive nearly destroyed him.

This was a deliberate choice. Here is a clip of him talking to himself. (Time travel.)

Choosing not to forgive does more damage to ourselves than it does to the person we are holding a grudge against. In fact, the person we’re not forgiving may not even know that we have a grudge against them. And our plot to destroy them by hurting ourselves doesn’t ever really work out the way we thought it would. (Seriously, just watch Meet The Robinsons.)

But accidental unforgiveness is different. The wounds are still there. They are still festering. But the difference is, you are actually trying to heal and let go, not stay wounded and hold on.

Anyone who has suffered a serious injury knows that even when the injury seems to be healed, even something minor can set back the healing process. I’m actually experiencing this right now with an achilles tendon injury that just won’t seem to heal completely. But I’ve decided I need to head back to the doctor as soon as possible to have it looked at again. Because that’s what you do when you have an injury. You see the doctors and you do the exercises and the physical therapy or the mental therapy. I bought expensive hiking boots a while back just because I wanted to help the healing process along. It’s not completely healed but the boots have helped.

When we are dealing with emotional wounds that just won’t seem to heal, the process of forgiving might be a “more than once” process. And that’s ok. We may think we’ve forgiven it all and then something minor sets us back again and we have to go another round with the healing process. This doesn’t make us like the wicked servant who wouldn’t forgive his brother’s debt. This doesn’t make us Mike Yagoobian aka Bowler Hat Guy. This makes us humans who are fragile and sometimes take longer to heal than we would like.

If you find yourself having to revisit a past wound and deal with it all over again, don’t beat yourself up. Remember that you have the Holy Spirit who is your teacher and comforter to guide you back through the healing process again. And that healing process should ultimately lead to letting go of that emotional debt/baggage. Don’t be surprised if it takes more time than you thought it would to let it all go. And don’t worry that you’ll be thrown out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Stop worrying if you’re getting forgiveness “right”. Instead, focus on the healing process. Focus on the Holy Spirit.

Summing up…

  • Forgiveness is not about corralling our emotions and pretending everything is fine.
  • Forgiveness is more akin to an emotional financial transaction.
  • We loan pieces of ourselves out hoping to receive kindness and gentleness.
  • But sometimes the piece we give to others becomes damaged.
  • When damage occurs, a debt is owed by the one who did the damaging.
  • When we release that person from their debt, we are forgiving them.
  • Forgiveness is, therefore, a release, a letting go.
  • There are times when the person who does the damaging is not able or interested in helping to repair the damage.
  • It’s then left to the damaged person to work on the healing process on their own with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit.
  • Forgiveness and trust are not interchangeable.
  • Just because you forgive someone and release them does not mean you have to trust them.
  • If someone is a poor steward of you heart and mind, sever ties and move on.
  • Deliberate unforgiveness can be more damaging than the initial wound.
  • Don’t be Bowler Hat Guy, be Elsa. Let it go.
  • Accidental unforgiveness is more like an injury that just won’t heal.
  • Don’t give up on the healing process. Keep up the work to bring about the healing.