Understanding The Past

Last time I shared some of my thoughts on Gen Z and how they are reformers and influences that have in the past been overlooked. Well, today my thoughts turn to something which I have been burdened to write about, although I doubt it will be very popular. Forgiveness. Yeah I have written on the topic before, and you can find my previous blog by searching within my archived blogs, but I think the time is right to talk about it now.

Unless you have been in complete isolation, you have been affected by all the protests surrounding the untimely death of George Floyd in Minnesota. No one should be happy to see someone die in front of them, or on their phone or TV screens. Likewise, for all the business owners and workers who have lost their places of employment due to the riots, they have unwittingly become part of a larger problem. To be sure not all the protests have turned into riots, but instead have just been concerned people asking for change for the future.

But I have been thinking that while change and reform is clearly needed, one thing has been failing to make the headlines: Forgiveness. All of us can think of our own past experiences and probably name events that deeply hurt us. People who deeply hurt us. Sometimes emotionally- they said things that should not have been said- or even physically or spiritually- a bad church experience or pastor who made us want to leave Christianity behind.

But the key phrase to consider here is the past. We cannot change the past hurts in our lives. The things we wished hadn’t happened. The words we wish we didn’t need to hear. The pain from a punch, grab, or slap. Words hurt, physical violence hurts. We can’t deny that. It was an event that even now stirs emotions inside of us. We know it was not right, that we did not deserve it, yet it happened and as much as we wish it didn’t, the point is it DID. We can’t change the past. But we can change how we deal with the past.

We can demand justice and reparation. Which is right, but sometime the people who have hurt us are no longer with us, so we cannot even get back what we lost. So, what do we do with that? And even if we can get justice, will it erase all the hurt that still lingers in our minds when we bring back the details in our minds? No. We must still deal with the pain within.

For some, escaping the pain within means to take it out on others. If we are hurting we want others to feel what we feel. We want things set right. We want a payment to be made that will fix what we feel owed to us. Or, we might choose to numb the pain through alcohol or drugs- prescription or otherwise- but it is something we will have to keep up forever, since it will not take away the pain permanently.

For some of us, it might mean harming ourselves, for it is something we can control when we feel life is beyond our control. But, it does not get rid of the pain within.

Right now there is a sense of pain worldwide and  of unrest that is constantly fueled by media to play upon the hurts and injustices done in the past. We are under the stress of quarantine and no longer able to move about doing many of the things we enjoyed in the past- dinner with friends, trips to the beach or Disney world. We have been herded like cats into a corner and when trapped we have brought out our claws towards who ever is a perceived threat. If you’ve never tried to corner a cat and get them into a box, then you probably won’t get my analogy. But for those who still have the scars from a cat scratch, you get me. We are hurting now. We are in pain. We do not like what has happened. And rightly so. But, my question is what do we do with all that pain?

Do we lash out at each other? On social media? or in person? Does this change the past? No, it could feel good for awhile, just like numbing the pain, and real change can come through reforms and allowing for good dialogue. But there will still be pain within. There are still people who will be mourning the death of a loved one due to riots. For them the pain will be a reminder every time they sit down at their tables for a meal. Their loved one is never coming back. The past cannot be undone. The pain will be there.

And if they let this pain consume them, it will be like a cancer that destroys within. Pain turns to anger and anger to bitterness and bitterness to resentment and resentment to hate and hate to unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is something few like to talk about because they feel justified in their unforgiveness and hate. They store up the hate and pain until it destroys them from within. They cannot look at another person without finding fault with them. They cannot look at themselves without finding fault with themselves. Grace and mercy are not offered to others when mistakes are made. A narrow view of the world that only seeks the good of themselves and not the good of others. They become self- centered and demanding, prideful even. And while there can be self-loathing, they still feel they are better than others. They point fingers of blame at the rest of the world. It is always someone else’s fault and someone else needs to pay for the wrongs done.

I look back to a time when instead of hate, forgiveness was offered. When a man was offered a warm southern welcome into a weekly Bible study, while unbeknownst to the friendly church people he was full of hate. He did not know them personally, and had never known them before that fateful night. But the hate consumed him. The pain he must have buried overtook him and he decided he needed to get payment by taking the lives of nine people. But then an amazing thing happened. The family of the nine murdered- the innocent Christians gathered that night- forgave the killer. The community gathered to pray for unity when others attempted to infiltrate and cause riots. The riots never happened. There were no businesses destroyed or others killed. But….. There was forgiveness. That does not mean there was not pain to bear by the families. It does not mean that there was not sadness as they saw the empty chairs at dinnertime where there loved ones should have been sitting. But. They found a way to deal with their pain through forgiveness.

They were all Christians who knew what the Bible teaches on the matter. See, for some of you, the Bible is just a book that was written so long ago that it is out of touch with our modern post Christian age. But let me tell you that is a wrong assumption to make. Human nature has not changed over the centuries and the Bible has much to say about how to deal with others. For those who are familiar with the story of Peter and Jesus discussing forgiveness then you know where I’m going with this. But, if not, here it is:

Peter is asking Jesus how many times should he forgive a brother. You know like asking for a friend, LOL. So Jesus replies with the famous “Seventy times seven” Some people actually takes this literally while others smarter than me say it means until you have forgiven them. So, I think we can figure out not everything was always perfect in the relationships between the twelve disciples. There must have been some stepping on each other’s toes. After all, right before Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness, the disciples  wanted know who will be the greatest in His kingdom.  Like what is my job and title? VP, Prime Minister, or what? The disciples still thought Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman government through a revolt and become King. This is all in Matthew chapter 18 if you’d like to follow along. This chapter also covers the lost sheep, the children and Jesus and the unmerciful servant.

It appears that Matthew is making a point by tying all the stories together. We must be humble, not self- seeking,  seeking those who have lost their way and help them, forgive when others hurt us as many times as it takes, which appears like it must take many times because Jesus is either telling Peter, hey you are going to continue to be hurt by your brother, or hey, you probably will be thinking about this a lot and will need to be continually forgiving, and we must show mercy, even to those who don’t appear to deserve it. Why? Because that is precisely what Jesus did for us. He humbled Himself and became a man- He left Heaven where He had a throne- to become a servant, He goes looking for all the lost people who cannot find their way, He forgives us as many times He needs to, and for some of us that’s a LOT – just saying-, and He shows us mercy when we did not deserve it when we deserve to pay for our own debts- our own mistakes. So…

The question is: Why can’t we forgive? Are we going to keep on looking for ways to numb the pain? Are we going to demand payment when sometimes the ones who have hurt us are gone? Will we demand payment from others by lashing out at others- who had nothing to do with causing our pain? Or will we instead, offer forgiveness, seek to talk and understand each other, and pray for God’s wisdom in how to move forward. We can learn from the past and understand from it, but we can never get a full payment from the past. It is done. It happened. We must forgive and move on.- God Bless Nancy

ForGIVEness Stew

About a year after my Mom died, I gave my Dad a small crock pot for Christmas. At the time he lived alone and was learning how to cook for himself for the first time after their fifty plus years of marriage. Oh, he had begun to cook a little, while my Mom had been hospitalized and also when she was in rehab at the nursing home, but it was more of hotdogs, chicken nuggets and trips to McDonald’s for his diet. So, I thought if he could make food that would be healthier and just as easy as grabbing fast food, it would be better for him. It took awhile before he actually opened the box and tried out the crock pot. But as he did, he began to tell me how awesome it was. Recently, he explained to me in detail how to carefully layer each vegetable and to lay the pieces of stew meat on top and to pour over the top a can of stew seasoning. He discussed the brands and types of carrots and potatoes he used. It has been quite the transformation for him as he now can talk about cooking with me. He has become quite the chef now.

I love my crock pot too. It is fun to add all the ingredients into one pot, plug it in and just let it cook away. When its time to eat, all you have to do is turn it off , lift off the cover and serve the food. Other than prepping the vegetables and such, there’s not much work to it. It just cooks away. Stewing everything to perfection. But, as my dad has learned, the kind of stew you get depends upon what you put in the crock pot. If my Dad chose to add spoiled carrots or potatoes with those black moldy spots, I’m sure he wouldn’t think the crock pot was so awesome. Knowing my Dad as I do, he probably would have thrown out the crock pot, or given it to my brother. He wouldn’t use it again. Of course, he wouldn’t add spoiled vegetables, but when it comes to life that’s what we do, so to speak, sometimes, especially in relationships.

If you’ve been on this planet for very long, then you have had plenty of experience with being hurt by others. It happens. We are all imperfect people. And most of the time people do not intend to hurt us, it happens often because of miscommunication, lack of communication and misunderstanding. I’ve talked about that before, but this time I was thinking of how we can let those little hurts stew in our lives, until they become bigger and bigger, until we are the proud owners of  unforgiveness stew. And guess what? We are the ones who have to eat it. And it tastes bad, like eating the spoiled carrots, moldy potatoes, etc. The solution to holding onto to unforgiveness is to forgive, right? Well, that is true. The Bible is clear about that.

Matthew 18:21-22 is a classic example often given when dealing with forgiving others. Peter asks Jesus, how many times do I Have to forgive my brother, answer: seven times, seventy times seven, or in other words, alot. Until you’ve forgotten what you were mad about. But there is also something else we can do: change what we are adding to the crock pot. What do I mean? Well, most of what we stew about when we are mad at someone else for what they have done to us, has nothing to do with our current problem. We keep thinking about all the bad stuff they have done before to us. All the unresolved issues of the past, or all the things we think they do wrong on any given day. All the criticisms we can think up, and we add them all to the stew we are making. Before long we have created an ugly stew.

Instead, my challenge to you is to follow the advice Paul gives in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things” (NIV). I have had to do this many times, and not just in times when I would rather stew. It works to change how you perceive things. Take time and look up each word carefully in a dictionary. The word noble for example means to possess high qualities. So, can you think of the other’s person’s high qualities? It might not be easy, but they’re probably not the slugs you think they are at this moment. Think of the times they did something special for you. Think about the qualities you admire about them.Focusing on the good and true things, replaces all the ugly thoughts you might be having. And when you begin to find the good things, add them to your crock pot. What you will end up with is not an awful tasting stew, but a delicious one that you can share together; a restored and forgiven relationship. And be sure to talk. Too many times we begin to stew because we haven’t talked together. The other person hasn’t intentionally hurt you and are probably unaware of how you are feeling. Confrontation is not easy to start, but the results are a clearer picture of the situation. But until you can sit down and talk, try Philippians 4:8 and begin to change your thinking about the other person. And pray. A whole lot. It can move mountains, diffuse anger, and prepares your heart to give the best gift you can give yourself and the other person; forgiveness. God Bless- Nancy