Sometimes the forgiveness that releases me comes from me choosing to forgive myself. I remember many years ago struggling to get over a boyfriend in college, and finding myself stuck in obsessing over what I wished I had done differently. Shame has a creepy way of continuing to torment you over what you should have done differently by keeping you mired in ways that cause self-hate. You wish you could move on, but the fact of the matter is you keep ruminating over what happened in the past as opposed to moving forward. When my boyfriend and I in college broke up, it was a mutual decision; he moved on to date other women, and I stayed stuck unable to move forward and focused on all the mistakes I allowed in the relationship. I spent a good portion of my junior year focusing on all my errors in judgment and overly aware of all my imperfections in interactions with the opposite sex. Even though I had long ago forgiven him for his part in our relationship failure, I could not stop focusing on the mistakes I had made. One day as I sat in a mall food court with a friend and I shared how I was still stuck, she asked me, “well, when are you going to forgive yourself?” A light bulb turned on at that moment, and I realized I was still walking and shame and unable to forgive myself for my lack of wisdom in my relationship. As it turns out, this conversation was a powerful life lesson about making mistakes. I came to see that to move forward in anything I had to extend the same level of forgiveness to myself that I was extending to other people. It was at that moment that I began to understand how much shame about imperfections, failures, and mistakes impacted my forward movement. What errors of the past are you still focusing on in your thoughts? Are there areas of your life that you are stuck in as a result of focusing on your failings? How do those unforgiving thoughts about yourself affect your self-hate and other sabotaging behaviors? It’s time to start forgiving yourself. It’s time to start giving yourself grace for mistakes because that’s what they are…mistakes.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him
This morning, there were many Canadian geese flying through the sky and honking at each other, and it was downright noisy as they passed over my head. After the raucous choir overhead had left me, I decided to investigate on the internet why they were all honking to one another. I found it interesting to read the various reasons they were honking at one another; the main reason being they are family members communicating during a flight to keep everyone together. This communication process is right for humans in changing seasons as well as Canadian geese! What once I was able to do while grounded is not what I can do while I am in the process of moving with the changing seasons. As people change and as the season of life changes, the amount of communication with family and friends needs to increase; otherwise, people will get confused as to where they are going and what is happening. My household is in the midst of several huge changes and the level and detail of conversation have had to increase for everyone to be aware of the path we are taking and what will need to happen during these changes that are different than they were in the past. Here is a brief list of what needs to occur in family (flock) communication and positioning if you are in the midst of some significant change of seasons:
1. Flock members need to communicate more on their whereabouts and simple day-to-day planning more than usual so that anxiety is not heightened by a lack of communication on simple things. Geese communicate in flight much more than on the ground.
2. Flock members need to honestly share their emotional state during the transition so that others do not misunderstand their silence or “excessive honking” as something other than what is occurring. While isolation can be comfortable during phases of being overwhelmed, greater depth of vocalization needs to happen.
3. Flock members will require more love and reassurance during times of transition. Do you know your family member’s love language? You need to give them what they need, not what feels good to you. If you are not a hugger, but your family member needs physical affection, then you need to give them what they need and vice versa. Geese communicate in many different ways in flight, sometimes as means of reassuring other flock members of their presence.
4. Flock members need a general roadmap of where this transition is taking them and how it will affect them. Before moving south for the winter, families of geese practice flights of various lengths to become confident in traveling as a group. What does practice look like when it comes to transition during different seasons?
5. Flock members will need more rest during migration due to the toll the change is taking on them. Planning large chunks of rest is necessary and essential to the completion of the transition.
6. We will need people to move with us through the change of seasons, but the group size will be smaller than it was when grounded.
7. A greater need for contact with the Creator is required during a transition. Just as Canadian Geese flying south for the winter is an awe-inspiring endeavor that God orchestrated when he created them, we need time to interact with the God of creation to move in the right direction.
• Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephesians 4:29).
Around this time last year I moved. It was exhausting and difficult, and every day I crawled in bed close to tears. Change is hard on so many levels and this is true in relationships as well as household changes. I was recently reflecting on how difficult it can be to change how you relate to your spouse when you have related in the same ways for so many years. Like moving, transition in relationships can be hard. You have to decide what you are going to keep and discard in your relationship transition. As people grow and change, what they need in the new relationship is not necessarily what was needed in the past. Many changes in the course of a marriage will impact what the marriage needs and what each person needs as time marches forward. Births, deaths, illness, the ages of your children, the work status of each person, spiritual crisis, emotional crisis, extended family issues, holidays and many other things will impact how your relationship needs to transition. The new relationship will require both parties to move around how they had positioned themselves toward one another. Rare is the occasion when how the furniture was positioned one house can be positioned in the same way in the new location. In all relationships moving, to the new way it is to exist will require some difficult conversations often filled with pain and hurt. The pain and hurt is usually so large that it is exhausting for the couple and yet they must push through the pain and exhaustion to get to the other side. One person cannot move the relationship alone. You just cannot carry the relationship to the new without both parties doing the heavy lifting and feeling the pain, but that is a hard task. Rare is the person who embraces emotional pain and allows themselves to sit in it until it can be moved and yet it is what is necessary to make the move together. Relationships cannot be moved to the new alone, but they require heavy lifting, pain and exhaustion close to tears. We cannot do it alone. We need the supernatural medicating power of God to assist us through all transitions as he has the power that we can lean into when we do not feel it in and of ourselves.
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
How did you react to the recent national traumas of these past two weeks? Did it cause you to want to say or do something about the pain you witnessed or did it make you want to shrink back into a place of self-numbing withdrawal? Trauma causes us to have flight or fight responses to other things that stir up pain inside of us. Think about your friends and family and your reactions to their pain. Standing back and watching friends and family experience pain is difficult in many ways. When we see someone in pain, we can experience empathy for similar pains from our past and we do one of two things: we rush to the scene to help the person in any way we can, or we turn our heads to the side and look away. If we do not look at it, we will not experience the pain as strongly. The fight to help the trauma and the flight away from it can both be unhealthy responses when dealing with someone who maintains foolish habits and keeps making the same poor choices over and over. The Bible is full of many proverbial instructions on dealing with foolish behavior. The general rules are summarized as to have boundaries and consequences for foolish behavior, but to not expend any of your resources of time, finances, and wisdom on people who repeatedly make poor choices. People have to experience the consequences or the pain of their poor choices in order make the changes they need to make in their lives. Pain motivates us to make a decision to alleviate pain, but if people are carrying our pain for us in areas in which we are foolish, we will not feel pain. What are the areas in which you are carrying the pain for those around you who are repeatedly making foolish choices?
- Do you make excuses for your family’s or friend’s foolishness?
- Do you rescue your family member from the consequences of their foolish choices?
- Do you make decisions for family or friends when they refuse to not make decisions?
- Do you to protect people’s feelings and not tell them the truth of their actions?
- Do you allow your boundaries or values to change because of your family and friend’s foolish behaviors?
If you are doing the above actions, you are enabling more foolishness in the lives of friends and family. It is time to stop fighting to and flighting from the pain of those around us and it’s time to actually help.
Proverbs 26:4-5 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.
Throughout our Wellsprings offices, you will find many pieces of artwork with beams of light coming into dark areas, such as forests. It is the “picture” in my mind’s eye of what counseling can do in people’s lives if they allow truth to penetrate the dark areas where they are constantly hurt. When we are emotionally blinded in an area, we we are not sure what is going on because we cannot see what is around us. We feel things very clearly, but we are unable to distinguish what reality is and how to move around in it because the room is dark. Several years ago, there was a show on TV in which people were forced to complete tasks in utter darkness and many participants had extreme fear because they could not see clearly what they were really dealing with or touching. The only thing they knew is what they were told. One individual might perceive they were walking across a beam 40 feet in the air because they were told that was their truth and they were strapped up as if they were walking on a beam, but in reality they were only 12 inches off the floor. How did they know what was real or not? They could not see and depended on what they were told. They walked through the darkness in extreme terror not realizing they were believing lies. Sometimes the messages we were told as children verbally and nonverbally have created large areas of darkness in our lives because what was said or done to us was not really truth. I continually challenge those in my office to examine what is truth and make decisions on truth, not on the words of those in our past or our present. Words alone are not truth. Words alone are intentions or manipulations. Actions are truth. Words and actions combined can be a powerful light in darkness. Choose to be a person who focuses on the light today. It will bring illumination to the dark areas of your life. Make a list of things from your childhood you know are not true, but that you continue to walk according to in your life. These are the areas where you need truth revealed via praying and asking for God to show you truth or asking safe people in your life what is truth.
“For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light.”
When I was a child, I loved to read and one of my favorite books (besides the Nancy Drew series) was “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story details all the discoveries of a girl when she moves in with distant relatives who she had never met. One of the main character’s discoveries is that of a secret garden that had been locked up and untended for many years due to the pain of loss tied to that garden for her family. I had a similar discovery of a secret garden recently when doing yard work at our new home. For whatever reason, the previous owners allowed the weeds of the wetlands that back up to our house to take over a rose garden that had been planted and landscaped; we did not realize the rose garden existed until things began to bloom and we began tending our flower beds. It was a small discovery that brought me joy on a number of levels because it reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books. It made me wonder to myself what else has yet to be discovered! The concept of secret gardens exists in people as well as gardens. There is so much beauty that has been locked up, hidden and undiscovered due to losses individuals have endured throughout the course of their life. I am constantly challenging individuals to pull away all the weeds and briars that they have allowed to cover up the beautiful aspects of their being. The painful briars that keep the beautiful things guarded are the same painful briars that keep us from enjoying the beauty. Most people will respond to my challenges by saying it’s just too painful or too hard to remove the walls, but when given assistance by those around them that also want to see the beautiful parts of the individual uncovered, they can allow the progress to occur. Finding discoveries of hidden beauty in people is not uncommon but finding assistance in helping to remove the painful briars of protection can be. When was the last time you complimented an individual on something emotionally, spiritually or physically beautiful about that person? We need people to pull the beauty out of us and with us; otherwise, the weeds of life that come with loss and trauma slowly choke out the beauty. God can help us, but we must also tend to our gardens, The Bible says it this way: 1 Corinthians 3:9 Amplified Bible (AMP) 9 “For we are God’s fellow workers [His servants working together]; you are God’s cultivated field [His garden, His vineyard], God’s building.” Go pull some weeds today so that the beauty of who you were created to be can be visible to yourself and others. Stop keeping your beauty in a secret garden.
In the world of counseling, we frequently discuss relationships and how to interact with people in positive ways. I regularly am directing people to learn new communication skills that promote positive emotional connections in their relationships. Learning a new way of how to speak to others is often like learning a foreign language. It takes a long time to learn how to connect with people on a more intimate level when you are learning a foreign language or when learning how to speak in an emotionally connecting manner. Most of the people I meet were raised in homes where neither languages were taught.
The following are five positive phrases we can use with friends, family members, and coworkers to connect with them in positive ways:
1. “You should be proud of yourself for __________________ (fill in a behavior or action).” When we focus on the fact that the individual should be proud of themselves, it causes the person to take ownership of their actions instead of just hearing the ways we are proud of them. Although we may state that we are proud of them, our main focus needs to be that the individual is encouraged to take ownership of their good choices.
2. “I am sorry that you have to deal with this______________ (fill in the blank).” “That must make you feel_________ (fill in the blank with an emotion).” People need to hear that we have empathy for their situation so that they do not question the validity of their own feelings. All humans need to feel understood in order to feel emotionally connected to another person.
3. “You are good at _________________ (fill in a skill or a behavior) and I benefit from your strength in this way_________________(list how their strength impacts you).” All of us need affirmation and to know how we are impacting our world in a positive way. Are you telling people how their strengths impact you?
4. “Everyone makes mistakes, myself included, and this is what I did that was similar __________ (share a similar mistake)”. We need to hear that our mistakes are part of the normal human condition because when we do make a mistake we tend to blanket ourselves with shame. We need other caring individuals to help remove that shame by letting us see that we are not defined by our mistakes.
5. “I notice you______________ (fill in a positive action or attribute).” All people need to be recognized for their positive contributions that they bring to the world and when you recognize another individual for their contributions, they will feel loved and valued.
I have no doubt that most people reading this post wish to be more loving individuals, but most people were not taught the language of emotional connectedness. Try to introduce one of these phrases each day this week.
8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love makes up for many of your faults.[a]