But I Didn’t Intend To Hurt You

But I Didn't Intend to Hurt You
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Recently, I have assisted several couples who have broken relationships try to communicate with one another.  One person will outline the way they have been hurt to see if they can bring about change.  But often times, I am hearing from the offender that they didn’t ‘intend’ to hurt the offended.  This is said with an assumption that because they didn’t ‘intend’ it, it doesn’t count and the offended person should adjust and not be hurt.  There is no apology, no recognition of the hurt caused, no effort to understand the offended, and ultimately no hope for change.  So I’d like to discuss this issue of intent.

There certainly are times that we can hurt others and be unaware of how our actions will affect another person.  We can even intend good, but instead we cause harm because of the other person’s emotional history, values, perspective, dreams, etc.  I think of something as simple as hugging someone at church can be intended for good.  But if the person has experienced abuse it may trigger something in them toward fear and hurt.  At best, we are simply unaware of their fear.

At the worst, we have been told how our actions have hurt another and we don’t care.  We simply want to do what we want to do.  Or perhaps we don’t believe the other person that a hug could possibly be triggering and we hug them regardless.  Just because we don’t ‘intend’ harm, doesn’t mean we don’t harm. Thoughtlessness and carelessness comes to mind here.  There may be no thought of the impact of our words or actions; and frankly we don’t care anyway.

Leviticus 5 & 6 speaks to intent when offering restitution.  In Chapter 5 vs. 15-16 it deals with a person who ‘acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally’, he shall make restitution paying back in full and adding one-fifth to it.  In Chapter 6 vs. 2-5 it deals with a person who lies, steals, deceives, extorts intentionally, then says he shall make restitution in full and add one-fifth more.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is intentional or unintentional, the restitution is the same.

When someone tells us that we have hurt them,

Don’t:

  • Make excuses
  • Tell them their feelings are wrong because they don’t match our intent
  • Explain why we did what we did
  • Justify our actions

To the offended person, these actions guarantee we will hurt them again and reconciliation of the relationship must stay broken if they are to remain safe.

Let me suggest a healthy response when someone tells us that we have hurt them.

Do:

  • Say, “I am so sorry I hurt you.”
  • Listen for how they interpreted our words or behaviors.
  • Validate their interpretation is legitimate.
  • Develop a plan so as to not hurt them again.
  • Stick to the plan.

When we do this we don’t have to tell them we didn’t intend to hurt them.  By taking these steps it becomes obvious that we didn’t intend to hurt them in the first place and reconciliation of the relationship can happen.

Regardless of intent, when someone tells us we have hurt them, we own it and we find ways to understand their perspective and change our behavior so we don’t hurt them again.

Trusting Outcomes or Trusting God

When bad things happen, it doesn’t mean God isn’t powerful…or He is useless…or He’s mad…or doesn’t love us.

Trusting Outcomes or Trusting God
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Recently, I’ve talked with several people who have dealt with anxiety or control issues.  As we are talking about the need to let go of control and to trust God, they will say something to this affect:

“I guess I need to trust God that my friend will forgive me.”

“I need to trust God that my mother won’t have cancer.”

“I need to trust God that my kids will be safe.”

“I’m trusting God to meet all my (perceived) needs.”

“I need to trust God that everything will be o.k.”

The problem is that this is “trusting” God with an expectation that He will do what we think is best. This is trusting for the outcome.  And, if God doesn’t do what we think is best, then we are tempted to think He doesn’t love us…or He’s useless to us…or He can’t be all that powerful.  It can also be an issue of trying to manipulate God.  It can lead to, “If God doesn’t do what I want, then I’ll be mad and give Him the cold shoulder.  I’ll go into depression and leave the church because He can’t be ‘trusted’.”

It can also lead to anger because we think “I’ve done my part of the bargain of trusting and God hasn’t kept His part of giving me what I trusted Him for.”  This is still an issue of trying to be in control.

Powerless and Fearful

If we leave it at “I need to trust God” without an expected outcome, it can leave us feeling powerless and fearful.  Much of what I do in counseling is to help people separate my part, their part, and God’s part.  It’s tempting when dealing with anxiety or control issues, to try to do God and other people’s parts.  When we come to recognize that I am responsible to do my part and not to do other parts, we retain the right kind of power.

Focusing on ‘my part’ leads to peace.  My part is to make amends and ask for forgiveness, even though I can’t expect forgiveness.  My part is to take care of myself by eating right and taking care of my body, and I still may get cancer.  My part is to take precautions in protecting my children, and I still may miss a danger sign.  My part is working and spending money faithfully, but may end up with medical bills.  My part is to make decisions for myself and let other’s make their decisions.

The fear comes because if we can’t control a particular outcome, then we believe we just have to let all the bad stuff happen.  But just because we can’t control an outcome, doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play.

Trusting When Bad Things Happen

Here’s the truth: bad things happen.  Rejection happens.  Catastrophe’s happen.  Death happens. And when bad things happen, it doesn’t mean God isn’t powerful…or He is useless…or He’s mad…or doesn’t love us.  It doesn’t mean we have to like it or we can’t grieve.  It also doesn’t give us the right to control others.

When bad things happen, scripture says He is with us.  Scripture says that when we trust Him with the bad, He will turn it for good (Rom. 8:28).  If we trust in everything being o.k., it will lead to a life of disillusionment or a life of control to make sure it will be o.k.  To ‘trust’ means we let go of God’s part and other people’s part and accept the responsibility of our part (Gal. 6:7-10).  We receive both the good and the bad (Job 2:10).  We let go of control, by receiving from the hand of the Father, His presence with us (Ps. 23:4).

 

Forgive & Forget

ForgiveForget.png

Twice last week I sat with couples with domineering husbands who are demanding and offensive.  In each situation, the husband couldn’t understand why their spouse couldn’t get over the destructive behavior and move on.  They said they were sorry and they would change (after years of similar repentances).  Both pointed to the story of Paul who was suddenly converted on the Road to Damascus as he was on his way to abuse and murder Jewish converts.  This was being used as proof that a person can change overnight and be different and thus pressured their spouse to forgive and forget their destructive patterns.   

The process of forgiveness can be frustrating for both the forgiver and the forgiven.  Sometimes, people teach this process as a one-two-punch process.  Once the infamous words “I’m sorry” having been spoken by the offender, the entire weight of reconciliation now rests on the offended one.  The connection with Paul is because his repentance was so sudden and complete, that we should believe all experiences of repentance. The one offended is then held guilty for bitterness if they can’t make cheery or require any kind of consequences. This puts an immeasurable amount of pressure on a wounded soul, so I’d like to discuss Paul and his repentance.   

First, while Paul did repent on the road to Damascus and it was complete, I don’t think that means we must believe everyone’s experiences of repentance and trust them.   It’s ridiculous to think that one person’s conversion experience will be like that of another. But even looking at Paul’s conversion as an example, God did not ask the Jewish converts to accept and trust Paul quickly.

Galatians 1 & 2 states that Paul immediately went to Arabia and Damascus and didn’t go back to Jerusalem (the place he abused fellow Jews who were becoming Christians) for THREE YEARS.  At the end of the three years, he only saw Cephas and James for 15 days.  Then he went to Syria and Cilicia for FOURTEEN YEARS before going back to the church in Judea.

Not only did he stay away for 17 YEARS to allow his character to form and his reputation to precede him, he NEVER had a direct ministry to the Jewish-Christians again.  His ministry became an evangelistic ministry to the gentiles.  Can you imagine if Paul had abused and murdered you or family members and then you had to accept him as a leader of your church?  God didn’t do that!!!  God disqualified him from EVER leading Jewish-Christians.  They did on occasion fellowship with Paul, but never in a position of him as an authority.

Here’s another interesting thought…God did NOT disqualify him from ever serving.  He humbled him by setting him aside, had him in a learning position for 17 years, and then he allowed him a vital ministry elsewhere.  What a grace and kindness of God!!

While salvation can happen in a moment, learning to walk out a lifestyle of repentance takes time.  It’s not good to rush this vital time of growth.  Likewise, forgiveness can happen in a moment, but reconciliation may take a long time.  And, it may never put the relationship back to where it once was before the offense.  Paul is indeed a good example of what it looks like to learn to walk humbly for a long period of time, to earn trust, and to accept the limitations of his ministry.  Let’s not use his story as a way to pressure an offended party to pretend nothing happened.

 

FBS: If I’m Not in Control, Something Bad Will Happen

A healthy True Belief System (TBS) to move to is “My needs are my responsibility, your needs are your responsibility.”  

If I'm Not in Control
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

This post is part of a series I am doing on False Belief Systems (FBS).  What we believe matters because it affects how we think, which affects our emotions, which affects our behaviors.

A starting place to understand the FBS “If I’m not in control, something bad will happen” is to acknowledge that it comes from a good heart.  The reality is, you don’t want something bad to happen.  That’s good.

But, the main problem with it is the belief that you can and should control things you were never intended to control.  Some people would say you are “trying to play God”, but even God doesn’t control other people.  He has given us a free will.  So, the truth is, you are trying to create a happy and comfortable reality for yourself and for those you love.

But desiring to create a happy and comfortable reality for yourself isn’t the real problem.  Where it crosses into a problem is when you try to control things that you are not authorized to control, which is mostly other people’s decisions.

I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking, “but if I let a loved one make this decision (or not make a decision), something bad will happen!”  And with that hypervigilance, fear, panic and eventually exhaustion set in. An accident might happen, divorce might happen, failure might happen, or worse.  And there are actual consequences you may have to live with because of it.

So, if it comes from a good heart, why is this belief system so harmful?  It’s harmful because you take the freedom from others to make their own decisions.  This control fosters resentments, irresponsibility, rebellion, tension, and broken relationships.  You stand back scratching your head thinking, ‘this person (who won’t be controlled by me) has major problems.’  And maybe they do.  But it blinds you from seeing your part and letting go.

A healthy True Belief System (TBS) to move to is “My needs are my responsibility, your needs are your responsibility.”  The importance of letting others be responsible for themselves means they also must bear their own consequences.  This can feel devastating when it’s a loved one who loses a job, ends up homeless, leads to divorce, or ends up in jail (or worse.)  But the freedom you both experience and the health that comes to your relationship is amazing!

The truth is bad things might happen.  However, by attempting to be in control of other people’s decisions you ensure that bad things will happen because you’ve attempted to take away the autonomy of another and that is bondage.  Using fear, obligation, and guilt to control the outcome can be (and usually is) oppression, even when it comes with good intentions.

If (or when) bad things happen, you will need to take care of your responsibilities, and you can let others take care of their responsibilities.  If they don’t (or don’t do it in the way you approve) then it’s on them.

If panic is setting in right now, you have some work to do.  You are not alone as this is a common FBS that I work with people on.  Gather some community around you to help you let go of control and be accountable to them.  You will find freedom and so will those around you.

FBS: I Can’t Change

If you believe you can’t change, chances are pretty good you’re right.

I Can't Change
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

This post is part of a series I am doing on False Belief Systems (FBS).  What we believe matters because it affects how we think about things, which affects our emotions, which affects our behaviors.  I’m not talking about theological beliefs (although those affect us too.)  I’m talking about beliefs about who we are and about God and others.  If we are stuck in cycles of harm that we want to break free of, this is a beginning point of where we look.

Since most people live with several FBS’s, it doesn’t matter which we start with…we just pick one and start.  But the belief “I Can’t Change” is a deal breaker.  It stops us from even trying.

Do you hear you tell yourself, “I’ve always been this way, I’ll always be this way, this is just who I am?”  Oftentimes we begin to believe we can’t change because we’ve tried many times to change and were not successful.  Perhaps we didn’t have the right tools to know how to change.  Perhaps we were young without the necessary capacity of freedom to change.  Or perhaps we were told we couldn’t change and so we believed them. Whatever the reason, it’s time to believe ‘I can change.’

Over the course of the next several weeks I plan to address these FBS:

I must be in control or something bad will happen
I don’t need anyone
If I’m vulnerable I will get hurt
I’m dumb, worthless, or a failure
I’ll always fail no matter how hard I try
I cannot cope without____________
Whatever I do it won’t be good enough
I am responsible for other people’s feelings, problems, & behaviors
My worth is based on my performance
People will only like me if I’m happy
God won’t be there when I really need him
Authority figures will betray me
If I don’t feel, I won’t hurt

Here are some essential steps to change:

  1. Be Determined

Nothing changes until you determine it to change.  Ask yourself “What’s stopping me? What is hurting me? Where do I want to grow?”  Chances are the truth isn’t not going to pop out of the sky to rescue you.  Even when we recognize God is making changes in us, we usually partner with God to make them happen.

  1. Surround yourself with a team

You were not meant to be alone.  Find some trusted friends who may be working on their own changes and be accountable.  Check in with them daily or weekly.  Let them ask you questions to help you see your current belief systems.  And let them encourage you.  This part is admitting to others your real self and your need.

  1. Find out why the lie is there? What is it protecting you from?

Usually a lie is protecting you from something.  Perhaps, if you believed ‘I can’t change’, it prevents you from putting in the work to learning something new.  Or perhaps it’s there to protect you from some sort of suffering, rejection, or failure.

  1. Work on it daily for 30-60 days

Replace the lie with the truth.  For 10 minutes every day, think on, memorize scripture or quotes, discover, read, talk about, and practice the new truth.  They say a person can change any habit in 21 days.

I’ve found that in 21-days the new brain pathway is built as I begin to understand how the lie is affecting me and recognize what I need to do. Some habits die hard and can take up to a year of working on it for it to be eradicated from my life.  But it becomes much easier after the first 30 to 60 days.

  1. Take Risks

Recognize it’s hard to change.  You will eventually need to step out into a True Belief System (TBS) and that can be scary.    Taking risks by telling people your new belief and acting on the new belief is a part of taking ownership of the new belief.  It only feels like you might die, but chances are you’re just growing.

This is different from the power of positive thinking or even Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  I’m not against these things.  Positive thinking can go a long way in helping you when it’s grounded in truth.  CBT can truly help people, but I believe it stops short.  The goal of CBT is to reduce symptoms and distress to psychological disorders by teaching new information-processing skills and coping mechanisms.  The goal I am speaking of is to change entire belief systems and at the core trust in the truth.

If you believe you can’t change, chances are pretty good you’re right.  So killing this FBS is a great first step.   If you’re thinking this from previous experience or the changes you need to make are overwhelming, find your team and slay this dragon.

FBS: Don’t Trust Anyone, Ever

Relationships and experiencing emotion in relationships (even hurt) is an important part of our mental health and well-being. 

FBS_Don't Trust Anyone, Ever
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

False Belief System (FBS): Don’t trust anyone because they will just let you down. 

The problem with this FBS is that people will let you down.  The opposite belief of “trust anyone because they won’t let you down” simply isn’t true.  So how do we think about this wisely and what is a healthy True Belief System (TBS)?

Relationships and experiencing emotion in relationships (even hurt) is an important part of our mental health and well-being.  So, let’s start by looking closer at the FBS.  “Don’t trust anyone” implies ALL people will let you down ALWAYS.  Of course, this simply isn’t true, but your guard is always up so it can feel true.  But ‘all people will let you down occasionally’, probably is true.  And, you will at some point let others down.

“You will just be let down” implies to be let down is bad, horrible, and you must control the relationship to not experience the pain.  My guess, is that when someone does let you down, you go into shut down mode in order to ‘not care’ and turn your emotions off.  Am I right?  It’s normal if you do.  The problem is once you start shutting down your emotions, it leads to shutting down all of your emotions because we can’t select to just turn off some emotions.  This leads to being numb, which leads to depression.

So…if I am right…the healing work that needs to be done is to list out those who have ‘let you down’ in the past, and actually let yourself FEEL the emotion of being let down; cry, get angry, have the regret.  Ask Jesus to come alongside of you to bring comfort, telling him of your emotions.  Share it with a few friends.  And then offer forgiveness.  Not because ‘they didn’t mean it,’ or ‘it was alright’ or ‘it didn’t matter’, but because IT DID MATTER and their actions were actually wrong and they hurt you.  You forgive by trusting the person and the hurt to God and letting God heal it.  To forgive does not mean that you need to trust the person who let you down.  But it also does not mean you can’t trust anyone.

You then trust God with the consequences their actions had on you.  For instance, if you told your best friend in 6th grade a secret and they told it to your class, that wrong needs to be forgiven.  It affected you.  You felt like you couldn’t tell anything about yourself to anyone and never learned to develop deep friendships again.  This affected your marriage because your spouse feels shut out and you ended up divorced.  You need to accept responsibility for your part of the fail marriage, but you also need to forgive your 6th grade friend again for the affect their actions had on you.

So, if “trust everyone because they won’t let you down’ isn’t true, what is a TBS I can go to?  One possibility is to replace the FBS with a TBS of “When people let me down, (because they will…I even let myself down) I can trust God because He is bigger than the disappointment.” God, in His amazing grace, can take any loss and bring good out of it (Genesis 50:20).  That never makes the original offense ‘good’, but we can expect good to come out of hurt when we trust God with it.

Or perhaps the new belief is “To love others well means I will be hurt by them.”  You see…God wants us to be conformed to HIS image.  He uses others to rub away our self-centeredness in order to sculpt us to His image.  If He is trying to help us be forgiving people (because He is a forgiving God) then what do I need in my life to become a forgiving person?  I must have people offend me.  There’s just no other way.

You see, relationship IS in the emotions.  If we deaden ourselves in our emotions so we don’t get hurt, we hurt ourselves because we end up in isolation.   In relationship, you will also experience joy, excitement, interest, a sense of not being alone, etc.  It’s all fine and dandy to sit and have an intellectual talk with someone, but you don’t have a relationship with them in the intellect.  If a person FEELS excitement or connectedness in the intellectual talk they can feel friendship.  But if a person FEELS dissension or disconnectedness in the intellectual talk they can feel like enemies.  So, relationship happens IN emotion.  It’s shared enjoyment in life that brings connectedness.  It’s hurt that brings disconnectedness.  When we shut down all emotion it brings isolation, even when people are present.

It doesn’t mean you trust everyone, but you learn to identify safe people who are willing to forgive you as well.  You will need to know how to process that hurt so you don’t shut down in isolation.  Being willing to experience hurt in relationship is a risk worth taking.

A God of Rest

The God of the Bible is not a taskmaster.

A God of Rest
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

I remember the day clearly…my alarm clock started blaring after what seemed like only minutes after my head hitting the pillow.  Annoyed, I looked up to see that, in fact, seven hours had vanished and a new day had begun.  I hit the snooze button and began to catalog the events of the coming day.  I began to organize each item on the to-do list in my head in the most productive order possible.  If I had coffee, then checked email, and then exercised I could be done in 55 min.  But if I exercised first, then had coffee and then checked email I might be more awake and therefore shave off a good five minutes of email time.  After cataloging my entire day this way (before landing on the floor) I suddenly realized that I couldn’t work harder, faster, or smarter and I would still be further behind at the end of the day than when I started.  Depression started to set in, but I clearly didn’t have time to deal with that so off I went.  It ended up being true too.  At the end of the day, I was further behind than when I started and depressed.

Now, to top this off, not only was I getting further and further behind, there were all sorts of expectations I felt were on me that never even got on to the to-do list.  In this, I seemed to have a nagging sense that I wasn’t quite enough.   I wasn’t thin enough, involved enough, smart enough, or spiritual enough.  I didn’t write a book, change my household decorations every season, have my family in matching outfits for family pictures, or preserve my struggling wanna-be garden.  Every night I would fall into bed steeped in depression because I hadn’t been enough.  Something was wrong with this picture!

I began to wonder if God was a taskmaster and never satisfied with me.  Was He really “calling” me to all of this?  The things on my to-do list were not bad.  In fact, for the most part, they ran the gamut from daily necessities to really great endeavors.  And clearly, if someone else would deal with all of these tasks, I could easily fill my schedule over with other amazing things to do.  I suddenly realized that perhaps it was not God giving me my daily to-do list, but maybe I was putting more on my to-do list than God had for me.

As I looked at my entire life, I realized I had been running at this speed since I was about thirteen years old.  Perplexed, I began to wonder if the problem was not God’s but rather my problem…(don’t laugh).  I needed to come to terms with my striving, and the reasons for it.  I don’t think I was looking for my “personal identity” in my accomplishments, though that is always a possibility.  There certainly was a strong measure of self-sufficiency in the mix.  I wanted to ‘have my act together’ whether the world noticed or not.  I wanted to handle life, get it right, and be a “good Christian.”  More than wanting to succeed, I really just didn’t want to fail.  But when life did fail in epic proportions, striving and self-sufficiency were right there to take it to the next level of escapism.  At one point in my life, to escape tremendous emotional pain, I worked a full-time job and four part time jobs for a total of about 75 hours a week.  Can you say, ‘crazy?’  At this point I was living under a taskmaster.  My work wasn’t good, it was enslaving.  I was saving myself through self-sufficiency.  I thought I could master my problems.  I could manage it.

What I have learned since then is that the God of the Bible is not a taskmaster.  He has good work for us to do, but He isn’t a taskmaster.  In fact, when I looked to Scripture what I see is He is a God of rest.  From the beginning, He created a day of rest each week.   He called it The Sabbath, and commanded everyone to rest.  And when you look at the feasts the Israelites were instructed to have, they were often commanded to rest.  That strikes me kind of funny that they would need to be told, “stop working…step away from the work.”  If you think about it, all other god’s of the universe are enslaving gods. But our God gives us work that He calls good and then gives us rest.