Sunday, April 29, 2018

Forgiveness: Reaction vs. Response

Humans are animals at our core. As such, there are certain reactions that are part of our being - when we are hungry we react by getting food; when we are thirsty, drink; when we are caught in the elements, we seek shelter.  Those are reactions to our physical needs.

When it comes to our emotional needs, we do have gut, knee-jerk reactions, too. But are those reactions always the best solutions? A response is different than a reaction. A response is more thought-out. A response can be more tempered. A response can make you choose the exact opposite of your initial reaction.

Life is difficult at times, but each difficulty is an opportunity to grow in virtue and character.  It may not feel like an opportunity, a positive thing, in the moment. But you can work to turn all things to good. You can make a choice and have a response that would lead to a better outcome for you.

Take, for instance, a situation where you were hurt by another. Your initial reaction may be to hurt them back, to verbally attack them, to walk away, or any other similar action. But, with some time and thought, you may be able to do what may have been initially unthinkable. You can respond with forgiveness.

Personally, I have been intrigued by forgiveness for quite a while (long before I made "A Way to Forgiveness"). I am fascinated by people's ability to forgive some incredible hurts. Many years ago, I read a story about a man who forgave his daughter's killer, visited that man in prison, and even ended up speaking on his behalf at his parole hearing.

Forgiveness was clearly was not a quick journey for that father, but it shows a response that is different than a reaction. I invite you to do the same.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Faith of Forgiving

In this morning's gospel, Luke 17:1-6, Jesus talks about forgiveness and faith.

"If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times in one day
and returns to you seven times saying, 'I am sorry,'
you should forgive him."

In response, the Apostles ask Christ to, "Increase our faith."They knew that on their own they could not fulfill this command of forgiveness. To forgive an offense is not our natural instinct. Yet, it is what we are called to do.

So, if you are struggling to forgive, the best place to start is to ask God to increase your faith and to help you forgive. It may still take a while, but you will get there. When you ask God to work in you in a way that is conducive to His will, He will do it. It may not look like what you expect or be on your timeline but it will happen.

For what is the Lord's response in this passage to the apostles?

The Lord replied, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."

 With faith, we can do the impossible. Even forgiving someone who hurt you.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Forgiving the Little Things

I think we can give a lot of thought on forgiving the big things – when someone really wrongs you. But what about those smaller situations of conflict? We all have times where we get irked by a co-worker, boss, friend, loved one, or significant other. These moments may be 'small' in the grand scheme of life, but they are still worth noting and need to be dealt with to keep peace in your relationship. For life is made of millions of these small moments and these are, by and large, the fabric of our relationships.

So when you have a small conflicts or misunderstanding or are holding a small grudge, what do you do? Do you bring up the situation? Do you mention you forgive the person? How do you act the next time the same situation occurs? As I was thinking about this, I thought back to something that happened to me recently. I thought I'd share since hearing a story is easier than reading about hypotheticals. Also, I also use the story to point out that forgiveness isn't a destination and even I, who tours around with a film and a talk on how to forgive, am continually learning and growing to be better forgiver.

I'll be brief with my story. Here it is - someone didn't show up to an event I hosted, which hurt my feelings. I shared my feelings and, at first, he did not react terribly well. However, shortly thereafter, he called to apologize for the reaction. We met and talked more about the situation. During the conversation, he said something along the lines of, “It's okay that you felt that way.” This was not the first time this sentiment had been expressed, so I did not respond well. I raised my voice and said, “I know it's okay that I have these feelings. I don't need your permission to have feelings. I'm telling you how I'm feeling.”

Immediately I could see this was not the best way to respond. He adopted a defensive stance and I assessed that the conversation could easily devolve into an unhealthy argument. I decided to quickly rephrase and use the “sandwhich method” - putting the negative in the middle of two positive comments. So, I expressed gratitude for the times he has sought to understand my feelings, then I stated that what he said made me feel like he was saying he was granting permission, which aggravated me, and I closed by complimenting on what a good listener he has so often been. That approach resulted in a more positive response. His body language immediately shifted and he expressed what was meant by the comment. We had a brief, calm discussion and then moved on.
So, what do I learn from this story and hope you can take away from it?
  1. In these smaller moments of conflict, it is always good to find a way to express yourself and your feelings. Keeping things bottled up will not be helpful.
  2. Remember that the other person is a human being with feelings, too. Be positive in your approach.
  3. Your desire is likely to maintain your relationship with that person, so keep that in the forefront of your mind and in how you speak. Someone is more likely to respond to, “I really value your friendship. When you say/do X, it makes me feel Y. Can we talk about it?” than “You always do this and it's pissing me off!”

If you are a person of faith, I find it it helpful to keep these situations in prayer. The Holy Spirit can help you choose the right words and be witness to the conversation.

What about you? What have you found to help in these smaller moments of conflict?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Freedom in Forgiveness

I talk to a lot people about forgiveness. It's only natural when you make a documentary about the topic of forgiveness that it would lead to lots of conversations. I continue to learn as I talk to people, sometimes even if it just cementing in my brain something that I learned previously.

Yesterday I was in a conversation and the person said he often forgives because he doesn't want to feel chained to that experience or that person who hurt him. There is freedom in not holding yourself hostage with an unforgiving heart.

When I walked the Camino de Santiago, I met a man from Germany. Michael and I spent a number of days walking together and he allowed me to interview him for my film. Here is a tiny excerpt from his interview:

This popped into my head during my conversation yesterday. I really like how Michael so clearly equates forgiveness with freedom. In parts of the interview that didn't make the final cut, he had talked about a few very difficult situations in his life. This made him the man he was, someone who is was very matter-of-fact in the point that there truly is no other way for him than to forgive.

When we forgive, we are not holding on to negative feelings of anger, resentment, mistrust, etc. When you give up those feelings, you allow yourself instead to be open to joy, to look for good in other people, to trust that others won't do what that person did to you. When you approach other relationships from this positive stance, those experiences will be better for it. You will be better for it.

So if you are struggling to forgive, think of the positive things that will come from forgiving. Think of the others in your life who will benefit from having a forgiving, positive person in their lives. Think of the freedom you will feel when you stop focusing on the hurt and break the chains that are binding you to the person who wronged you.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fluent in forgiveness

As a pilgrim I met along the way, who is in "A Way to Forgiveness" says - forgiveness is like learning a language. The more you do it, the easier it comes. I liked the way he put that and it was helpful to me then and still strikes me when I watch the film with a new audience.

At a screening on Saturday, there was a question during the Q&A portion that led me to think about people who I know just a little who have done something to hurt me. I realized that I haven't taken the time to forgive them because those people mean so little to me. When someone you love hurts you, I think that the love can compel you to try to forgive. Without great love, there is not great hurt, and not a great desire to right the relationship.

If you are forgiving mostly for yourself - to let go of pain and heal - then maybe you don't need to forgive those people. But the call to forgive is to repair relationships. This doesn't mean every time you forgive, there is reconciliation and the relationship will go back to what it was before. It means that when there has been hurt, there is a brokenness that needs to be tended to. Even if that person means very little to you and thus the hurt may be smaller and the desire to forgive may be small, there is still some brokenness. Should that not be repaired?

What about a perfect stranger who does something to you? Presumably you don't love that person (any more than you love any person just for being human), so the desire or need to forgive would not grow out of the level of love. Instead. I believe that in those circumstances, the need to forgive increases with the level of the offense. If a stranger does something small, like cut you off in traffic, you can quickly forgive and it almost means nothing to you. But if they rob you or physically harm you, then there is deeper brokenness that will need to be addressed despite the lack of relationship.

I confess, I felt convicted in front of that audience on Saturday, realizing that as I spoke about how to forgive, there were people that I hadn't forgiven. We are called to forgive widely and often, to forgive loved ones and strangers alike.

So perhaps those offenses by people who aren't a big part of our life are the first lessons in this new language of forgiveness. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, we should deal with them so that we can be fluent in forgiveness when it is more strongly needed.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Communicating Forgiveness

The process of forgiveness is one of continuous choices.
  • Do you want to forgive the other?
  • Can you forgo receiving an apology and still forgive?
  • Are you able to live every day with the spirit of forgiveness?
  • Will you communicate to the other person that you forgive them?

That last decision brings up a few more questions:

Is it necessary to tell the person you have forgiven that you have forgiven him/her?
If you are forgiving for yourself, is this communication really needed? Perhaps not. You got what you were seeking – healing. If they don't think they did anything needing to be forgiven, then this step of communication may lead to more frustration if they push back.

Will communicating with them be harmful to you?
If you are forgiving an act of violence and communicating with that person puts you or someone else in harms way, then your safety is too important to risk opening communication. If there is no threat to safety, then you may wish to go ahead. However, if you think communicating forgiveness will miraculously make the person give you an apology when they never have shown remorse, you may be setting yourself up for additional pain. Be prepared for a “non-response” from the other.

Is there an upside to communicating forgiveness?
So, it may not be necessary and could very possibly not be well-received to communicate forgiveness. But is it possible that there is a positive outcome to communicating forgiveness? Forgiving another is an act of mercy and it can deflate ongoing conflict. Instead of you fighting back against a hurt, you are putting an end to the offense. That could give the other room to diffuse their feelings and not act just out of reaction.

More than that, if you communicate forgiveness, you could give a very powerful message to the other. You are saying that they are more than that offense. Everyone makes bad choices, but unless the other person is a sociopath, that does not have to define who they are.

If you stole something and forever more were called a thief, you would feel like that is all you should be, that the label “thief” is who you are. Provided you aren't actually a kleptomaniac, this is an unbalanced categorization of your character. Alternatively, if someone said what you did was wrong, but they know you are capable of good and they are willing to let you show that you will not steal again, you would feel free to be a better person in other regards.

Again, the other person may not apologize and still may not see what they did as wrong, but you could be giving them a two-fold gift – first forgiving and secondly letting them know that they have goodness in them. Really, those are both gifts to yourself. You are not holding hate in your heart and you are choosing to have a positive outlook and not letting that person alter how you look at people and their intentions.

How about you? Do you feel it is necessary or good to tell the other person that you forgive them?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Accepting Forgiveness

A lot of talk on forgiveness has to do with when you are the one who has been hurt and must decide to forgive or not. But what about when you are on the other end of forgiveness? Can you accept that act of mercy?

I think a few elements must be present to accept the gift of forgiveness.

Remorse for what you have done. Sure, the other person may not have needed an apology from you to be able forgive, but if you don't have regret, if you don't think there was anything to be forgiven, then you wouldn't have to receive forgiveness. If you are truly going to take in the merciful act, you need acknowledge and be sorry for what you have done.

Forgive yourself. Some people can't accept that someone would forgive them for what they have done. They think what they did is beyond forgiving. I think that is a sure sign that they have not forgiven themselves. The same steps to forgiveness apply no matter if it is another or it is yourself that you need to forgive. Realize the strength that person had to forgive you and match it with your own strength to forgive.

Resolve to do better. I know this is the Catholic in me, borrowing from words spoken in the confessional, where we say “I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace to sin no more.” But truly, the best apology is changed behavior. If the person forgave you and you have forgiven yourself, then you both know whatever happened was unacceptable. Don't do it again. Whatever you did, you also broke a level of trust. To rebuild that trust you need to show that you will not repeat the offense.

Relationships of any kind will inevitably include something that needs to be forgiven. No matter which side of an offense you are on – accept forgiveness.