Are There Limits to Forgiveness?

I’ve written on forgiveness many times, because it’s something that is very important to me.  I don’t think it’s healthy to hold on to hurts that people have done to us, even if they have never asked for forgiveness, and don’t “deserve” it.  I realize that forgiveness is extremely difficult in some cases: I was not physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by a parent, family member, or spouse.  I have never been raped, mugged, or any of the those other horrible things that some of you have had to deal with, so maybe you think I can’t understand how difficult it is to forgive.  And you might be right.  But I do know what it is to be deeply hurt by something that someone has said or done to me.  And I know that holding on to that hurt, nurturing it, has never done anything but bring me further pain.

So maybe my definition of forgiveness is different than most.  What I mean by forgiving someone who harms you, regardless of whether they ask for or deserve it, is that you choose not to let it continually rip you apart.  You acknowledge that the damage has been done, and that the person who did it is probably broken in some way.  This does not require that you condone what they did to you, or make excuses for their behavior, or spout trite phrases about how you’re glad it happened because it’s only making you stronger.  True, it may make you stronger, but you don’t have to be happy about the situation.

I have also blogged more than once about removing destructive people from your life.  And when you look at these two ideas side by side, they may seem contradictory.  But really they aren’t.  It is never healthy to have constant contact with someone who is harmful to you, whether it be physically or emotionally.  So how do we reconcile these two ideas?  Well, that is far easier than the forgiveness itself.  Let’s take one of the more extreme cases: spouse abuse.  Nearly everyone will agree that it is best for you to remove yourself from the situation if your spouse is causing you harm.  Completely removing that spouse from your life is far easier if children are not involved, but even then contact can be kept to an extreme minimum, and limited to only situations where you (and any children) remain safe.  Don’t assume that I think this is EASY.  I’m just saying it’s possible, and that it’s the best possible response to a terrible situation.  However, just because you have removed that person from your life does not mean that they can’t continue to harm you.  And here’s where forgiveness comes in:  only if you make a conscious decision to forgive (not excuse or condone) the abuse, can you begin to heal.  This is the difference between letting the wound develop a scar and developing “proud flesh” around the wound.  Make no mistake, whenever someone wounds us deeply, there will be a scar.  But if we are constantly ripping open that old wound, it will never have a chance to heal. You can choose to forgive without remaining in a place where you are at further risk. If you are in an abusive relationship, please contact someone outside the situation, like The National Domestic Violence Hotline or a local abuse resource; something of this magnitude is something no one should have to deal with alone.

Now that we’ve talked about such an extreme example, it seems ridiculous to compare the little things that people do to hurt us.  But I dare say that we sometimes hold on to these little hurts just as tightly.  When we have someone in our lives who has hurt us repeatedly, we start to assume that everything they say or do is explicitly meant to belittle or cause pain.  Maybe that’s human nature; maybe it’s an attempt to protect ourselves from future harm.  But I’m going to throw something out there for you all to contemplate: there are very few people out there who are intentionally horrible people.  Certainly there are some who are inherently self-centered and inconsiderate.  But most of the time, they do not consciously make the decision to deliberately hurt others.  Does this excuse their behavior?  Absolutely not.  But there may be a legitimate reason that this person is so emotionally stunted that they are unaware of how their words or behavior are harmful.

So at this point we have a choice:  Is it possible for us to sit down and discuss with that person the things that they do that are hurting us?  Obviously this is the ideal situation.  It may be that once the person realizes they are being hurtful, they will make changes to prevent it from happening again.  If it is a repeated behavior, the change may not be instantly complete, but we must make efforts to acknowledge that the person is at least working to change.  Because certainly there are things about myself that I am working to change, and I’m not always successful.  (Keep in mind, I am no longer talking about the extreme case mentioned above; I am not suggesting that a victim of abuse sit alone with their abuser and tell them how they have hurt them.  There are other, safer ways to deal with that situation.)

If we refuse to let someone know that what they are doing is hurtful, we can expect them to continue with the hurtful behavior.  We take away from them the opportunity to grow and improve themselves as a person, and perhaps we even fail to protect others from their harmful behavior in the future.  We haven’t even given them a chance to change.

So when I have advocated removing detrimental people from your life, I have been talking about those who have been told that they are harming us yet willfully continue to do so.  If there is someone in your life who continually puts you down, belittles your life/dating/career choices, or otherwise makes you feel small and worthless, even after you have tried to express to them how this hurts you, it’s time to limit your exposure to them.  Like I’ve said before, it’s not always possible to remove them from your life completely, but it is possible to limit their opportunities to hurt you.

If there is someone who is constantly attempting to suck you into their drama, constantly wailing and bemoaning all the little things that are wrong with their life, it’s time to limit your exposure to them.  We should definitely strive to have more positive people in our lives than negative ones.  Does this mean that we abandon friends when they are going through a tough time?  Of course not.  I’m talking about those people who refuse to see the positives in their lives, regardless of how much they have going for them.  I’m talking about people who would rather complain about what they don’t have than be thankful for what they do.  If you have attempted to point out to that person how their negative attitude is harmful to themselves and others, but they shrug it off by saying that’s just the way they are, then they are not interested in growing and changing and they don’t need to be a huge influence on your life.  But don’t just cut them out of your life without giving them a chance to better themselves. And acknowledge their attempt to change, even if that change is slow.

I have really been struggling lately not to fall into the “poor me” trap.  It’s hard some days not to think, “Ugh, I’m so miserable, why me?”  There are few days that I can honestly say that my pain level and my energy level allow me to behave like a “normal” forty-two-year-old, performing tasks that I SHOULD still be capable of at my age.  Most days I feel more like eighty than forty.  Some days I am in mourning for the loss of my youth, and all the things I wanted to do with my life.  Some days I find it easier than others to remember that before I was diagnosed with Addison’s, one of the very real possibilities was MS, which would unequivocally been far worse. I truly hope that if I get to the point where I am spending too much time wallowing in self-pity and I’m bringing others around me down, that someone will tell me rather than just cut me out of their life because I’m too depressing.

So I guess what I’m saying is the same thing that most of my posts come down to: balance.  We have to strike a balance between forgiveness and protecting ourselves.   Balance between giving people the benefit of the doubt and realizing they’re not interested in changing.  Balance between being there for someone going through a rough time and keeping our own positive outlook on life.  It’s not an easy balance to maintain.  But it’s definitely worth the struggle.


Investing in Relationships

Last time I wrote about simplifying our holidays, and one of the things I mentioned was giving fewer, but more heartfelt gifts. My daughter has a quirky habit that whenever she introduces herself to someone new, she follows immediately with something along the lines of, “What’s your favorite color? Mine is green.” And I realized, I don’t know even this most basic information about the likes and dislikes of many of my friends and family. It seems like a simple thing, and I guess it is, but if I were choosing a birthday card, or wanted to knit a scarf, or buy a blouse for a friend, wouldn’t this be good information to know?

The thing is, knowing little details about people takes TIME. We have to invest time in the relationship to know what their favorite authors, movies, shows, hobbies, activities, and styles are. Unless we are just unnaturally lucky, we can’t really get them something they like if we don’t know what they like! I can’t pick something that you would want to hang on your wall if I don’t know how your house is decorated. And I don’t really want to spend the time to knit you a sweater in your least favorite color.

So I guess I’m starting a New Year’s resolution a little early. Especially during the holidays, and then continuing throughout the year, I’m going to try to pay a little closer attention to what colors and styles people wear, what programs/movies they watch, how they decorate their homes. Because even if it’s a small, inexpensive item, it will be much more appreciated if it’s a clear sign that you know what they like. That you care about them enough to invest the time to really “get” them.

How do you plug in to your loved ones to learn what they like? How do you keep track of it all? I’m considering keeping a year-round “gift-giving list” for just such a purpose. I’d love your input!

Peace During the Holidays

As some of you know, there have been a lot of things going on in our household as of late, some of them huge. We haven’t had as much time as we’d like to spend with the people we love, which we definitely aren’t happy about. But as we have just wrapped up Thanksgiving and are heading towards Christmas and New Year’s, I’m thinking a lot about how simplicity contributes to peace during the holidays, no matter what holidays you celebrate.

Holidays have the potential to bring us a LOT of stress. We may be hosting a big get together, or interacting with family members that we’ve had friction with in the past, or frantic about getting cards out or finishing gift shopping. Whatever has us stressed out this season, simplicity can go a long way towards relieving at least some of that stress.

I don’t know about you, but I find that perfectionism hits me the hardest when I’m hosting a party. I want everything to look perfect, to taste perfect, to be perfectly timed without a hitch, and so on. Rarely do I come even close to this ideal. But I find that if I refuse to allow myself to obsess over the details, I enjoy the day AND my time spent with family and friends so much more. Sometimes it’s not easy to remember. But it’s definitely worth it.

Rob and I have been trying for the last few years to really simplify our lives. It’s been a challenge at times, and we have a long way to go. But I encourage you to think about ways to simplify your holidays. Is your guest list, your gift list, or your card list too long? Can you choose fewer, simpler, but more heartfelt gifts? This requires being closer to our friends and family, knowing what they like and don’t like, what their favorite things are. Do we know about favorite colors, favorite authors, favorite stores? For instance, some people hate getting gift cards (my daughter for one) but I happen to like them. But we have to really invest in relationships to learn these things about one another. This is another thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and maybe I’ll tackle that idea in my next post.

I challenge you to take some time over the next few weeks and find ways to simplify. You can even look ahead to next year and consider things you might do differently. Don’t let the exercise bring added stress, just see where you could cut back, slow down, and really enjoy the time with the people you love. Because isn’t that what the holidays should be about anyway?

What are your favorite stress-relieving tips or ways to simplify during the holidays?

I Choose Joy

Yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  We’ve had a lot of things going on in recent weeks (months), and I’ve been having some back problems that have made it pretty darn uncomfortable to sit at the computer for any length of time.  But thankfully my awesome doctor has prescribed some new medication and started me on physical therapy to regain my strength from being a forced couch potato, so all is well (or on its way there, anyway).

Those who know me know how frustrated I’ve been to be tied to my recliner, unable to do all the things I’ve wanted to do.  And most days it’s been hard not to complain.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs to vent their frustrations every once in a while, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s been a real struggle to keep myself from falling into a pattern of continual grouchiness and/or whininess.  God bless my exceptionally patient husband (and the rest of my family) for putting up with me.  I know I’ve been particularly short-tempered as of late.

I recently got invited to become “Facebook friends” with one of the receptionists at my doctor’s office (I’ll not call you out and embarrass you, but if you’re reading this, you know who you are), and I was happy to get the invitation.  See, when I first met her, I was still trying desperately to find a doctor who was willing to work with me to make me well, not just “good enough”, and willing to learn about a pretty obscure disease.  She was the first person I talked to, and has never been anything but kind, cheerful, and enthusiastic.  Have you ever met someone and instantly thought you were kindred spirits?  She is one of those people. This girl reminds me of myself 20 years ago.  And I find that nearly all of her posts are uplifting and encouraging, things that just make me smile, so I’m so much happier to see something from her pop up on my newsfeed than most of the political, negative, woe-is-me or woe-is-our-country crap that I often see.  Even as rarely as I’m on Facebook, I’m already glad she asked me to “friend” her.

I think there are two main parts to choosing joy in our lives, and one is primarily internal, the other a little more external.  First, how do I view and think about myself and my circumstances, and second how do I view others and my relationships with them?  Today I’ll just talk about my attitudes toward myself, and deal with my attitudes towards others in my next post.

There’s an old-ish song (1994) by Larnelle Harris called “I Choose Joy”.  The video is pretty goofy, but I love the lyrics.  Specifically, the line that keeps coming back to me is: “I’ll never let the problems keep me down”.  Note that it doesn’t say, I’ll never let the problems GET me down, because that is entirely unrealistic, but I won’t let them KEEP me down.  That’s important.  Everyone has times of discouragement, but it’s when I allow myself to wallow in that and remain in a state of self-pity and despair that I have a problem.  Now I’m not saying that someone who has clinical depression can “wish” their way out of it, but I will go so far as to say that even when medications are necessary, they cannot work as well alone.  I have to make a conscious, sometimes daily, even minute-to-minute decision to choose joy.  I repeat, I’m not saying you can magically think yourself out of depression.  But I truly believe you CAN mentally trap yourself there, regardless of medications.  I shouldn’t think of depression as a pair of handcuffs, where if I just have the right key I can open them, click, and then I’m not carrying that burden any more.  It’s more like being bound by a spool of unbreakable thread. I have to unwind myself a little at a time in order to get free.

There is nothing wrong with occasionally saying, “Ugh, I don’t feel well”, but if every phrase that comes out of my mouth is “oh, my aching ____” or “oh, my terrible job/husband/friend/family member/life” or some other version of “woe is me”, my focus is in the wrong place.  I’ve seen the thankfulness challenges quite a bit lately (I guess they’ve been extended from just being thankful around Thanksgiving) and there’s nothing wrong with those, but I challenge you to make sure those statements are not superficial.  Better than saying, “Ugh, my back hurts, but at least I’m still breathing”,  I should be thinking something more along the lines of, “Ugh, my back hurts, but it’s better than it’s been at its worst, and I was able to fold a load of laundry today!”  I can’t be afraid to celebrate small accomplishments, but I have to make sure that my thankfulness for them is genuine.  I may not enjoy being a cashier or a waitress or burger-flipper or whatever, but at least I have a job while I’m looking for something better.  And there is nothing wrong with wanting something better, but I have to take care that I don’t allow myself to fall into the constant pattern of never being content with what I have right now.  I’ve written about contentment before, but it’s a topic that’s really important to me.  I just see so many people who live their entire lives with a “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” mentality, and never reach a place of contentment because of that internal attitude.

All this to say, we all struggle with challenges like this.  You’re not alone.  My frustrations might not be exactly the same as yours, but I do know how it feels to be frustrated with myself or some aspect of my life, and I know you do too.  But I issue you this challenge: try to be really observant about what comes out of your mouth (or what gets posted on your status, or tweeted) for the next few days, and see if you can add something positive, even if part of it is negative.  It might just be baby steps at this point, but we’ve got to start somewhere.  I’m with you on this; let’s keep moving forward together.  Choose joy in this moment.

40 bags in 40 days


This great article about purging 40 bags of crap for the 40 days of Lent was shared on Facebook by a friend, and I thought I would share it with you guys.  My hubby and I have definitely benefited from clearing our home of the crap that we never use, but we still have a lot left to get rid of.   I LOVE the idea of using Lent as a motivator. Instead of giving up a food (or in addition to), try giving up a bag of stuff you don’t need to someone who does, each day of Lent.

This is such a win/win/win proposition. You’ll have less garbage just taking up precious space in your home, your home becomes more peaceful because of it, you give the items to someone who will use and love them, and you can even claim the donations on your taxes if you want to.  Here’s some helpful hints from the article for letting go of the things you’re reluctant to purge (as usual, my comments are in blue):

On those days when you’re feeling craptastic and “Crap Clingy” ask yourself the following questions:

    1. Do I really, really love it?  This doesn’t mean, “Do I love the person who gave it to me?”  It means, “Do I use it regularly, or does it make me smile when I look at it?”  This is extremely personal.  Others may not understand why I still cling to a whole ton of books, but then I may not understand why they keep a ton of cheap souvenirs from every city they’ve ever visited.  Don’t feel guilty about keeping something that makes you smile, just because others don’t understand its worth to you.  But don’t feel guilty about getting rid of stuff you never use, either.
    2. Would I buy it again?  In other words, is it valuable enough to you that you would spend money to replace it if it was broken or lost?
    3. Have I used it in the past year?  With the exception of seasonal items, I’d dare say things should be used even more often than that in order to merit a place in our space.  But if this is hard for you, try getting rid of everything you haven’t used in two years, then wait a few months, and try to get rid of things you haven’t used in a year.  Remember, you’re keeping these items from being used and love by keeping them in your home for dustcatchers.
    4. Would it be hard to replace if I needed it again?  This is the hardest thing for a lot of people.  I don’t want to get rid of this because I might use it again someday.  Chances are if you haven’t used it in a year or two, you’re never going to need it.  It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a great/useful/ingenious item.  If you’re not using it, it can’t be the great/useful/ingenious item it was intended to be.  This is especially good to consider for small appliances and power tools.  It’s not amazing if it’s just gathering dust.
    5. If I were free from guilt, would I want it?  Meaning, just because it was great-aunt-whoever’s, or was given to you buy dear friend x, doesn’t mean you should be obligated to keep it if you never use it. Take a pic if you’d like, for the memories. Maybe even write a short bit in the caption about the person who gave it to you, and then give it away to someone who will appreciate it.

I know I’ve been pushing the “get rid of stuff” thing a lot, but it really does bring peace to your household.  It’s so much easier to take care of the things you really use and love if you’re not spending all your time and effort shuffling through and caring for the things you don’t love.

And if you’re not ready to commit to 40 bags yet, try just a little.  Every little bit helps, and once you get rid of the first few bags, maybe the added peace and sense of accomplishment will inspire you to do more.

BTW, the pic above was posted on Becoming Minimalist today, and I thought it went well with this article.

How about you guys? What do you find hardest about getting rid of stuff?

Pope Francis: Church could support civil unions

Talk about counter-culture; he is so different from anything we’ve seen. I personally think that’s a good thing.

CNN Belief Blog

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) — Pope Francis reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s opposition to gay marriage on Wednesday, but suggested in a newspaper interview that it could support some types of civil unions.

The Pope reiterated the church’s longstanding teaching that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” However, he said, “We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety.”

States, for instance, justify civil unions as a way to provide economic security to cohabitating couples, the Pope said in a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday in Corriere della Seraan Italian daily. State-sanctioned unions are thus driven by the need to ensure rights like access to health care, Francis added.

A number of Catholic bishops have supported civil unions for same-sex couples, including Pope Francis when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010, according to reports in National Catholic…

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Americans united…

This pretty much sums up my frustration with political division, fanaticism, and outrage in our country. Let’s stop being indignant with one another and look for common ground.

See, there's this thing called biology...

We are you know, very united, in spite of what the media and the DC political machine has tried to do to us. When you come right down to it, Americans have a core set of values that we all hold dear. We may disagree on how to solve problems, but we are SO united in what we believe.1511066_647877401914797_1485627215_n

Our politicians, our media moguls, our political parties, have tried to exploit our tribalistic  tendancies, to take advantage of our cognitive dissonance. What a government always fears is a united population because there is strength in numbers. Keep us all bickering among ourselves, viewing each other as the enemy and nobody will ever speak truth to power.

It’s maddening knowing this, seeing this, reading the studies that prove this…and yet being completely powerless to spread the word, to show people the truth. We’re all far too invested in our need for tribal identities, in the…

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