Am I The One In Control?

Whenever you get ‘fed up’ look for a boundary to implement.  A boundary is ‘the decision I’m going to make for ME.’ Then you are controlling you and not him.

Am I The One In Control_I received this honest question in a text from a wife in a destructive/abusive marriage.  It’s far too broad and wide to answer in a text so I am writing some thoughts here:

“How is it that my husband is supposedly the blamer/abuser, when I have been the one for years believing he is someone he is not and pressuring him to be that man?”

First, you may or may not have responded to your husbands blame and abuse perfectly.  I don’t know of a single person who has always responded to someone else’s destructive behaviors perfectly…except Jesus.  

But, I would ask you a few questions:

Has he led you to believe he is someone he is not?  Has he said one thing and then done another? Has he said he would protect and care for you, but then been the most destructive person in your life?  OR has he said to you, ‘I am a lazy man and I don’t want to engage as a husband and a father’ and you are ‘pressuring’ him to be someone he doesn’t want to be?  

Secondly, who does the behavior serve?   Does your ‘pressuring him’ take away his voice and his choice?  Or are you pressuring him to keep his word to you? Are your expectations higher than what he is capable of?   Is your ‘control’ because you want the power over him or is it that you don’t want to live under his control?

I think we can have certain ‘common courtesy’ expectations, such as: calling when they will be late, keeping their agreements, taking everyone’s needs/desires into consideration when making decisions, personal hygiene, listening and working on issues and not stonewalling, and please and thank you.  These are things that are ‘common’ in our culture.  To require common courtesy is not being controlling.  They may have to be learned, but they are not too high of an expectation.  

Voice/Choice

We ALL have done destructive behaviors.  Every. One. Of. Us. Humans can be manipulative, selfish, and controlling.  We want what we want when we want it.

Abuse = power and control in taking away someone’s choice and voice.  Abuse is damaging to the human soul, psyche, mind, and body. We can even be abusive/destructive to ourselves and may need to learn healthy choices.  

The follow up question she had was telling:

“I don’t understand his inability to do the simplest things.  Like why should his hygiene even be something I have to bring up?  I am fed up with him not even showering or shaving. When I finally get fed up and ask him to shower, he just ignores me.  I feel like the only option I have left is to make him a spot in the basement to sleep. It feels like I am the controller.”  

My response:

Whenever you get ‘fed up’ look for a boundary to implement.  A boundary is ‘the decision I’m going to make for ME.’ Then you are controlling you and not him.  Give him options. Use ‘I’ and ‘me’ statements. Rather than “you smell and need to take a shower”, say, “I don’t appreciate it when I smell you all night long.  I understand that sometimes you don’t feel like taking a shower. When that’s the case would you please sleep downstairs?” He can always say no, and then you need to make a decision…you sleep downstairs with a space heater, go to a motel, buy a cot and sleep in one of the kid’s rooms, etc.  

Remember, boundaries must be implemented kindly or they come across as you are the one with the problem.  When you hold a boundary in outrage, they will discount your boundary because they think you are just acting impulsively instead of acting decisively.  It can take a long time to learn to hold boundaries firm, confident, and kind, but when you are able to, it makes them far more effective. And yes…you can have boundaries!  They rock!  If when you hold boundaries it is met with further abuse, it is time to consider getting support and creating a safety plan.

Your original question is worthy to think through.  It is possible to attempt to pressure someone to be what we want them to be rather than who they want to be.  There may be desired expectations that need to be let go. But if your expectations have been communicated and agreed to or if your expectations are ‘common courtesy’, then finding your voice and implementing boundaries is not being a controlling person. It’s living in a normal relationship.  

 

The Importance of Feeling the Feels

The Psalms are full of examples to us of being honest in our emotions with a faithful God who cares for us.  There also is an entire book named for one particular emotion to example to us how it’s done: Lamentations.

Feel the FeelsEmotions are a vital part of our humanness.  Yet we tend to either justify our over-reacting to our emotions or we shut them off.  But understanding and being honest about our emotions is imperative to our relationship with God, others, and even ourselves

For those who become overwhelmed by an emotional experience, it’s good to quiet the body, mind and soul and ask, ‘what is this emotion really about?’  While we shouldn’t excuse our behavior because of our emotions, neither should we tell our emotions to simply ‘shut up’.  Our emotions are telling us something very important.  They are telling us I desire, I hurt, I’m tired, I am afraid, etc.

For those who have suppressed emotions, it’s good to practice quieting the body, mind, and soul and ask, “what am I really feeling right now?”  We can often get caught up in suppressing our emotions because we don’t know what to do with them.  The result is dying to our emotional/spiritual side altogether.  Unfortunately, when we suppress our emotions it tends to come out sideways whether we want it to or not, in the form of anxiety, depression, control, and addiction.

We need to be able to feel the feels in honesty.   Bringing our emotions to our minds allows us to own our decisions and take responsibility for our lives.  It enables us to accept the things we cannot change and have the courage to change the things we can.

The Psalms are full of examples to us of being honest in our emotions with a faithful God who cares for us.  There also is an entire book named for one particular emotion to example to us how it’s done: Lamentations.

It is good to acknowledge our feelings for what they are.  But feelings can also lie to us, telling us we are guilty when we are not, telling us we are a lost cause when we are not, or telling us life is hopeless when it is not.  So, asking ourselves honestly, ‘what is this feeling about?’ and living out courage to change the things we can, is the only way we can live authentically before God and with others.

What can our feelings tell us? 

I am wrong:  Really thinking through this is important.  There is a difference between ‘I am wrong’ and ‘I did something wrong’.  The truth is you might have done something wrong, in which case God has provided ways to clean up the mess through accepting responsibility, confession, and making amends.  If the thought is ‘I am wrong’, then understanding your true purpose and identity in life is taking steps to freedom.

I grieve: Grief is one of the worst feelings because there is absolutely nothing that can be done with the loss.  But loss is supposed to hurt.  There is no way to heal from grief unless you go through it.  If you try going under it, over it, or around it, you will get stuck in it.

I desire:  Desire can be good or bad, depending on what you are desiring.  It will help to know if it’s a good desire by asking, what need is it fulfilling in me?  What will be the fruit of obtaining it?  Desiring peace is a good thing unless you are giving a tyrant what they want.

I’m tired:  Am I tired because I’m running from my emotions? Am I over-achieving?  Being self-reliant?  Is there a change I can make in order to rest?

I fear:  Fear is good if you are standing near the edge of a cliff.  But fear is not good if you have to be in control of everyone around you in an attempt to have the perfect life.  Ask what is this fear about?  What evidence is there that this will become a reality?  Is this mine to control?

I’m sad:  Sadness is not the same as depression.  It’s a missing of something vital to our lives.  It means we are still alive and have desire.  It often means we have the capacity to love and care still.  Acknowledging our sadness allows us the ability to grieve the loss.

I’m angry:  There are some things that we should be angry about.  Naming the anger is the first step.  But we can’t excuse destructive behavior even when our anger is justified.  So, finding out how to move toward a solution is a healthy response to our anger.

I’m not safe:  It’s good to listen to your gut if you don’t feel safe.  By acknowledging this emotion you can then make a safety plan.  But, believing that there is no one who is or no place that is safe means there’s some healing work to be done.

Brene Brown has written that when you refuse to acknowledge negative feelings you shut down all of your feelings.  You cannot be selective in shutting down only some of your emotions.

Burying these emotions (and many others) will only produce destructive elements in your life.  Acknowledging them, asking what the emotion is about, and having the courage to make any necessary changes will lead to emotionally healthy spirituality.

 

Why Celebrate Recovery Isn’t Just For Addicts

That’s right! It’s not just for addicts! It’s for anyone who is stuck and can’t move forward in life.  

Why Celebrate Recovery Isn't Just For AddictsCelebrate Recovery (CR) is a 12-Step recovery program designed to deal with any hurt, hang-up, or habit.  That is almost unbelievable! How can one ‘program’ help deal with coping mechanisms, divorce issues, sexual issues, anxiety, depression, grief, fear, rejection, substance abuse, or any other hurt, hang-up, or habit?  That’s right! It’s not just for addicts! It’s for anyone who is stuck and can’t move forward in life.  

CR presents 25 lessons which are broken down into four sections; getting ready to write down your inventory, writing your inventory, dealing with your inventory, and continue to manage your inventory.  The term inventory is simply a list of significant areas of your life including sins you’ve committed, sins committed against you, traumas, lies you’ve believed, attitudes you’ve experienced as well as blessings you have received and discovering your identity.

Getting Ready

CR takes eight (8) lessons just to get us ready to write down and deal with our inventories!

  • We start by coming out of denial and recognizing ‘I have a problem.’
  • We realize that we have tried to control this problem and can’t.  We need a power outside of ourselves to help us and that power is Jesus Christ.
  • We begin to hope again because we understand that we matter to Christ and He has the power to help us recover, which leads us back to truth.
  • We choose to turn our lives and our wills to Christ’s care and control.  And we recognize that we must do something different than what we have been doing to get a different result.
  • We commit to complete honesty about our lives and we surround ourselves with others who have gone this road before.

This sets us up for success!

Inventory

Now this is where the rubber meets the road and it starts spinning out, doing wheelies, and flipping over.  This is where we tend to lose people. I’ve heard it countless times, “Why do I have to rehash all the crap in my life?  Can’t I just move forward?” Yet, every recovery program has an inventory process so it must be important! So, the answer is, yes you can move forward but without healing from past wounds it’s like walking over broken glass with bare feet. You simply cannot heal until you deal with the past.

In CR, there are three inventory lessons in which we write down the good, the bad and the ugly.  We write down people who have hurt us, people we have hurt, life’s significant events, deaths, and how we’ve responded to these traumas.  We answer questions like who am I resentful of, jealous of, or am critical of? What makes me lose my temper or what do I worry over? Have I stolen from anyone or been dishonest?  We write it all down. I suppose that’s the scary part as we see ourselves looking back at us from the paper. We begin to own our stories, so that our stories will no longer own us.

Writing down our inventories is not meant to shame us or make us proud.  We simply write down the truth about our lives. We then take our inventories through God’s healing process to find freedom.

Dealing with our Inventories

Here is where the miracles happen!  God’s healing process is simple, but it’s not simplistic.  This is so difficult that we really can’t do it on our own.  We need safe people to help us navigate the truth by helping us see when we are still believing lies.  We need safe people to grieve with us in the losses of our life. We need safe people to be an example of how to walk the road to freedom.  And, of course, we need the Holy Spirit to enable us to do these things. It’s not meant to be done alone.

  • We start by confessing our sins, our needs, and weaknesses.  This is the first step of the healing process!  It’s a guaranteed promise.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from unrighteousness.”

  • We admit our wrongs to another person.  This is such a necessary part of recovery because this is where we walk out of shame.  I know it feels like we would be walking into shame, but that’s not the truth! We tell another person our sins and the world doesn’t end.  In fact, most of the time, at CR you will hear ‘me too.’ You get to take your mask off here, you get to be the real you, and you are loved for who you really are.  Your mask gets thrown away.

James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

  • We are ready to have God remove our character defects as we voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in our life.   (In religious terms that’s called repentance.)

Matthew 5:6 “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.”

  • We evaluate all our relationships.  We offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us and make amends for the harm we’ve done to others when possible, except when to do so would harm them or others.  This needs to be wisely done and having others help you navigate these relational issues is huge!

Luke 6: 31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

And there we have it!  Boom-Sha-ka-la-ka!! Confession – Admitting – Repentance – Amends –Forgiveness.  These steps break any bondage we are stuck in and put us back in right relationships with God and (as far as we can do) with others.  At CR, we call it ‘cleaning up my side of the street.’

You see, these steps don’t really make sense.  If I were to create steps, it would be all about gaining control of my own world or finding solutions to manage my own happiness.  That makes sense to me. But God’s plan is possible for all to follow because He does the work. When we have done our part in following God and in restoring relationships, He breaks any bondage we are held to and we find freedom. It’s interesting to note, that even secular recovery programs use this as a basis because God’s principles always work even when you don’t give Him credit.  It’s a spiritual law much like the law of gravity.

What this does not do is fix physical issues such as cancer or even depression, although many people have found relief from depression when they follow these steps.  It does not control another person to act the way you want them to, although it can free you from their control. It doesn’t save you from the consequences of poor past decisions.  And it does not make life easy…sorry, life is still life.

Continuing-On

The last eight lessons of CR are how we continue to walk in the grace of God.  We establish new habits of confession, admitting our struggles to safe people, repenting, making amends and offering forgiveness on a daily basis.  We establish safeguards for relapses in our character, develop an attitude of gratitude, and learn to give away what we have received.

Celebrate Recovery works because at its core is the Gospel.  We learn to recognize our part in all of life’s issues and we trust God’s plan of breaking the bondage through His provisions.

If you are in or near Moscow, Idaho I invite you to come any Friday night at 7:00 p.m. at Real Life, Moscow Campus.  If you are outside of my area, then look up one of the 35,000 Celebrate Recovery groups world-wide here. 

Defining Codependency

Two people can have the exact same actions but for one it’s healthy and the other it’s codependent.

Defining
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

The problem of codependency is difficult to define because our actions often look like what we are taught to do as a “good Christian.”  We always put others first and we sacrifice ourselves in the process of serving others.  Many of our co-dependent actions have been our attempt of loving others.  We don’t want to see others make poor choices, we want what is best for them, and we want to feel loved.  These things are not wrong until we make unhealthy choices.  The problem comes in the motivation behind our actions.  We do not act independently for the welfare of others.  Instead we act out of fear, guilt and/or manipulation to obtain a desired result or for the approval of others.  In other words, two people can have the exact same actions but for one it’s healthy and the other it’s codependent.  As co-dependents, we:

are unaware of and suppress our own emotions.

  • Have difficulty identifying and expressing what we are feeling
  • Appease or rescue in an attempt to avoid our own anger, or the anger of others
  • Worry about how others may respond to our feelings, opinions, and behavior
  • Minimize, alter or deny how we truly feel in an effort to protect ourselves from others’ disapproval.
  • Do not ask others to meet our needs or desires
  • Are very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same instead of having independent emotions.
  • Are afraid to express differing opinions or feelings
  • Value others’ opinions and feelings more than our own

are consumed by the emotional state of another.

  • Assume responsibility for others’ feelings and behaviors
  • Feel guilty about others’ feelings and behaviors
  • Have difficulty making decisions without approval

willingly go against our own convictions for fear of rejection or fear of another’s reaction.

  • Are afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others
  • Feeling like we don’t have a choice in response to someone else’s choices
  • Feel a need to rescue others from their decisions
  • Willingly hide, lie, or remain silent to cover for someone else

do for others’ in hopes of approval, love, or control

  • we find ourselves resentful when we help others’
  • become angry when we don’t receive the approval we deserve
  • feel we don’t have choices and must do what others’ want us to do
  • try to control the actions of another through guilt and shame

The Process of Recovery

Many of our actions as codependents are similar on the outside to what the Bible teaches.  It is good to help someone in need, to care for and have empathy with those who are hurting, and to put others’ needs ahead of our own.  Many of us have good intentions and have a strong desire to follow and obey God.  But codependency occurs when we want to please man rather than God.  

Recovery begins by admitting our true emotions to God, to ourselves, and to someone we trust.  We take ownership of our own feelings. We let others have their own emotions without feeling guilty, anxious, or responsible for how they feel.  We learn to express our feelings and deal with others’ reactions in healthy ways.  We learn to offer help without rescuing others. We change when:

  • We begin to act out of mercy and not from a need to be needed.
  • We act with intention serving others by choice because Christ has served us, not out of guilt or fear.
  • We seek to please God, not people.
  • Our value comes because we were made in God’s image, not from our work, service, or performance.
  • Serving others becomes a choice, not a reaction based on our emotions.  Healthy Christian service comes out of joy, not guilt.
  • We make choices not allowing others to dictate our actions.
  • We learn how to have healthy boundaries with others and how to respect other people’s boundaries.
  • We learn to help others appropriately by allowing them to make independent choices rather than making them dependent on us.
  • We learn to live balanced lives by caring for ourselves as well as caring for others.
  • We are willing to begin the process of recovery and working through the 12 steps to heal and start living the life God has planned for us.
  • We will use the tools of recovery: calling our accountability partners, journaling and reading the Bible.

As we begin this process of recovery, it often feels like we are not loving others.  But as we learn that God has given us the freedom to act and love Him independently without compulsion, we learn to love others independently.  We also allow others to love us independently and without compulsion.  

Sometimes You Gotta Let a Friend Feel Bad

A good friend will not try to stop these emotions, but will sit in the emotions with them.

Let a Friend Feel Bad
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

When my husband, kids or friend feel bad I want to be there for them.  What kind of a friend would I be if I wasn’t there for them?  I have assumed to be ‘there’ means I try to fix the problem and make them feel better.  If I don’t at least try it’s somehow a reflection on my ability to be kind and compassionate.

Here’s the problem with this…what if my friend needs to feel bad?  I actually feel awkward writing that sentence.  I feel like a heel…like what kind of a friend would I be to think my friend ‘needs’ to feel bad?  Who am I to judge what my friend needs?

There are two areas of life where it’s good to feel bad; grief and regret.

Grief

When we have experienced a loss, we need to feel the loss.  It’s part of a mature life.  It takes time to understand how the loss has affected our life.  We need to consider how to continue without the thing lost.  We need to miss it.

When we don’t spend the necessary time to miss what has been taken from us, we run to addictions in order to not feel the loss.  In America, our favorite addiction is busyness in order to escape our emotions.

But a good friend will sit with someone who is recognizing a loss in their life.  They won’t rush in with platitudes and quick fixes such as, “at least you have other children”, or “God must have other plans for your life”, or “it’s just a house, you’ll get over it.”  No, a good friend will say, “Oh I miss that thing too.”   I’ve written more on grief here.

Regret

We’ve all felt regret at some point.  It is an awful feeling and we don’t like to sit in it.  In order to out run regret we blame, justify, and ignore the effects of our actions.   So, when a friend has regret we sometimes help them to do the same because we know how awful that feeling is. We can even feel good about ourselves because we helped them outrun regret.

This last week I had three people tell me of some very destructive behaviors of their spouses and each of them followed it up with, “but I told him I loved him and everything would be ok.  I forgave him and tried my best to make him feel good about himself.”  Instead of allowing them to sorrow, they fixed the problem.  They rushed in with a platitude of forgiveness instead of communication about resolving the issues at hand.  The rescuer wanted to be seen as kind and merciful.  They also didn’t want to sit in the grief and regret any longer.

I’m not suggesting making a person feel bad.  I am suggesting letting a person feel bad.  Let them bear the weight of the damage of indifference.  Let them experience the brokenness that breaking their word or lies create.  Let them understand the destruction of anger.  Let them suffer the panic of letting go of control.  Let them feel and let them make amends. This is the only way back to a healthy relationship.

The rescuer has many fears in this.  We fear the emotion will last forever.  We fear they will feel so bad that they will run.  We fear they won’t put the effort into changing.  And so, pretending the pieces are back together again is better than requiring the pieces be put back together.  Being seen as a person who holds it together is better than letting it fall apart.    

But here’s the thing… It’s only in the emotion of regret that we come to be ready to change. 

When we stop regret, we stop change and we leave our friend…we leave ourselves…in cycles of destruction.  “If we confess our sins, HE is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9.

Feeling Grief and Regret

I think Christians are particularly bad at letting anyone feel grief and regret because we know the end of the story.  We believe that victory is ours.  We believe that our sins are forgiven.  We believe God makes all things good.  But when we rush through to the end, we circumvent the very elements that get us to healing.  It’s as though we should get on a long train of restoration, but we take a teleportation shortcut and we end up in space.

Grief and regret are probably the worst feelings in this life.  Our human nature is to do anything to avoid them.  But these are the very emotions that change the world. A good friend will not try to stop these emotions, but will sit in the emotions with them.  God meets us in the valley of the shadow of death and He restores our soul.  

Bitterness: You Keep Using That Word.

Let’s not use this Scripture any longer as a means of rushing reconciliation so that we don’t have to deal with the consequences of sin.

Bitterness_1If you’re struggling to forgive, someone may accuse you of having a “root of bitterness” by which you will “defile many.”  Even if you have experienced a severe physical or emotional wound through abuse, betrayal or childhood trauma, you may have been told to forgive and forget, and simply go on with your life. This admonition comes from Hebrews 12:15,

Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

The term ‘root of bitterness’ has been taught as being unforgiving.  In some situations, if an abuser has said the infamous words, “I’m sorry”, the victim has been pressured to forgive and reconcile or they are accused of bitterness.  In Untwisting Scripture, Rebecca Davis writes,

“When I researched sermons and writings about bitterness, I found Hebrews 12: 15 referenced again and again . . . and again. This verse is used to tell victims and survivors of abuse, trauma, and betrayal that their primary— and perhaps only— problem is unforgiveness.”

The Greek word for bitterness in this verse is ‘pikria’, which according to Strong’s Bible Dictionary means “bitter gall: extreme wickedness, a bitter root and so producing a bitter fruit, bitter hatred.

We will see that this term does not mean ‘unforgiveness’.  Forgiveness means to let go of a debt that is owed and to cease from resentment.  Can unforgiveness lead to a bitter hatred?  I think it can, but it doesn’t have to.

I’ve written on The Benefits of Unforgiveness and you can read about that here.

Context

Hebrews 12:15 comes in the context of Hebrews 12:1-17, which is a passage on laying aside ‘sin’ which so easily entangles us.  The author teaches on God’s discipline of us for ‘sin’ because he loves us as sons.  Therefore, because of this discipline, we are to ‘strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble’ so that the lame may be healed.  It seems to me that a person who is struggling with forgiving someone is indeed weak and feeble…they have been wounded.  Maybe we are called to provide strength and protection, instead of a guilt trip on them for not being as forgiving as Christ.

So, let’s read Hebrews 12:15 again and replace the term ‘pikria’ with the more accurate English equivalent of ‘extreme wickedness’.  

Hebrews 12:15 “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no extreme wickedness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

The example the author uses is an immoral person (Esau), who sold his birthright for worldly and materialistic gain.  Interesting, isn’t it?  Now this verse doesn’t seem to be talking to those who have been wounded and are struggling to forgive, but rather those who are doing extreme wickedness.    

Even a look at Dictionary.com reveals the definition of bitterness as: disagreeable taste, hard to bear, grievous, distressful, causing pain, piercing, intense antagonism, hard to admit or accept, resentful or cynical.  Our English word ‘bitterness’ does not suggest letting go of a debt owed.

Other Uses of Pikria

Pikria is used three other times in the New Testament.  Please notice that each time it is used it is referring to wickedness, not forgiving a debt.    

Acts 8:23

Simon offers to purchase the ability to give the Holy Spirit to people by laying his hands on them and Peter says, “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.  For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity.”

Rom. 3:14

Paul is giving an argument that both Jew and Gentile are condemned equally because of our sin.  There is none righteous and he lists a litany of wickedness including the “mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”

Eph. 4:31

Paul is explaining how a believer should live.  We are not to walk in the old manner of life with a hardened heart.  We lay aside lies, anger, stealing, unwholesome words. “Let all bitterness (wickedness) and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Old Testament Reference

The phrase ‘root of bitterness’ in Hebrews 12:15 links back to Deut. 29:18

“lest there shall be among you a man or woman, or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations; lest there shall be among you a ‘root bearing poisonous fruit and wormwood (a bitter plant).”  

We can see in this passage that the poisonous fruit isn’t a deep feeling of resentment towards another person who owes them repayment for a wrong done.  It is a person who turns his heart away from the Lord.   

In both Deuteronomy and Hebrews we see they are speaking of a person in the midst of the congregation that is defiling it by wickedness.  This person is what needs to be rooted out so that others would not be lead astray.  

Other Old Testament Words for Bitter

I admit that I am no Hebrew or Greek scholar, but a quick look through BlueLetterBible.com at every reference to the English translation of bitter or bitterness shows us that never once does it refer to letting go of a debt owed.  Not once!

  • Mar: bitter; angry, chafed, discontented, great, heavy.
  • Marar: bitterness, bitter, bitterly, choler, grieved, vexed, provoke
  • Marah: rebel, rebellious, provoke, disobedient, against, bitter, changed, grievously, provocation.
  • Meror: a bitter herb
  • Memorah: a bitter thing; specifically bile; also venom (of a serpent)
  • Morrah: trouble:—bitterness
  • Meriyriy: poisonous
  • Meriyruwth: bitterness, i.e. (figuratively) grief
  • Marmar: 1) a primitive root; to trickle; to be (causatively, make) bitter; be moved with choler; grieved; provoke; vex; 2) To be strong, strengthen
  • Mamror: calamity
  • Tamruwr: bitter weeping
  • Nihyah: wailing, lament, lamentation, mourning song
  • Morrah: trouble:—bitterness
  • Memer: grieve; sorrow
  • Memor: a bitter herb
  • Ro’sh: gall, venom, bitter, poisonous

Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation

Even in Christ, forgiveness is extended and available to all mankind.  But we are not reconciled with God until we turn to God and repent of our sins.  I think as Christians we always stand ready to reconcile with a repentant person.  But we are not reconciled because we forgive.  We become reconciled when a repentant person is walking it out bearing fruit in keeping with repentance over time.  We can not know the heart of another person and therefore we must see the actions.  This also does not mean that the relationship must return to the way it was.  But it can become something different.  Sin has consequences.  

Forgiveness can always let go of resentment.  It also can always let go of a debt by giving it to God and trusting God will make it good.  But if reconciliation is to happen in a human relationship it should model our Heavenly Father’s example and require repentance.  

Hebrews 12:15 is such an important verse to warn us to not let wickedness remain among us or it will lead many to be defiled.  It is speaking of turning away from God to serve other Gods.  It really has nothing to say about what to do when we have been offended.  

Let’s not use this Scripture any longer as a means of rushing reconciliation so that we don’t have to deal with the consequences of sin.  When we do this, it short-circuits the repentance process.

It’s in repentance that no one falls short of the grace of God.  

The Benefits of Unforgiveness

The Benefits of
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Forgiving others is a good thing for by it relationships are restored and people are healed.  But forgiving others can also be a hard thing.  In some situations, it can be the hardest thing ever done and in other situations we can get stuck because we just don’t know how to do it.  Forgiving sometimes doesn’t make sense to us.

When a person hangs on so tightly to unforgiveness there is a reason they’re receiving a benefit from it.  

There was a time in my life where I found myself stuck in unforgiveness and I had some great reasons!  In fact, one of the best things I ever did was write down all the reasons I should not have to forgive and I presented it to the Lord.   I was quite pleased with my list and thought I had a pass on forgiving. The Lord very kindly walked me through the list and showed me how I had some misunderstandings about forgiveness.

Unforgiveness Protects from Future Harm

I believed unforgiveness was a benefit to me because it was the only thing protecting me from further hurt. The reality was it was a ten-foot wall built all around me with a ceiling, cutting off all air and slowly suffocating me.

I came to realize that I could forgive and protect myself from further harm. I learned about healthy boundaries, which provided protection so that I could forgive.    

Unforgiveness Protects from Trusting

I came to realize that to forgive someone does not mean that I must trust them.  Some people remain untrustworthy.  It does mean that I want to give them an opportunity to build trust after change has occurred and that I hope they succeed in building trust. (Sometimes that looks like allowing a conversation with three cops present.)  It leaves the responsibility of reconciliation on the person who offended to do the work of change.

Unforgiveness Shouts ‘It Mattered’

I came to realize that to forgive was NOT the same thing as saying, ‘it didn’t matter’.  In fact, I needed to recognize that if something really needed to be forgiven, that was saying that it DID matter.   Christ died for our sins because they matter.  I can forgive and still recognize that the loss mattered.

Forgiveness also needed to cover all the tentacles that the offense created.  A single offense can have reaching impact on finances, relationships with children, extended family, and goals.  It can affect health, travel, schooling, employment and create fear and insecurity.  All these tentacles matter and also need to be forgiven.

Unforgiveness Feels Like Payback

I’m going to be honest here…I felt like payback was righteous and just, but it acted like a boomerang.  Wanting the offender to suffer like I suffered ended up being a consequence on me.  This desire didn’t affect the offender at all.  

Payback does not free an offender from or keep them in bondage. Wanting another person to suffer only enbondages you.  

Unforgiveness Requires a Debt Be Paid

The definition of forgiveness is to cancel an indebtedness and to cease to feel resentment. (dictionary.com)  Now this benefit of not letting go of a debt can be good for the offender.  Sometimes the best thing for an offender to do is to make amends and pay what is owed. It is possible to cease from resentment and allow the offender to experience all consequences they have created.  This is how they grow and change.  When we remove consequences, we stop change.

This becomes a challenge when the wound is gossip, murder, or outbursts of anger.  These seldom have no defined repayment structures.  A simple apology is not enough.  Repayment then becomes a turning away from these destructive habits and altering their behavior.  It’s acknowledging the hurt they have caused and asking for (not expecting) forgiveness, avoiding any excuses.  It also means they accept the consequences of their actions, which means they don’t fight against them and guilt-trip the offended person to get out of the consequences.  Sometimes consequences are life-long.  This is actually good for the offending person to accept.

Freedom from resentment is always possible, but letting go of a debt takes wisdom.  

This is NOT Easy

Just to be clear…there are no 5 easy steps to forgiving.  There are some things that we can forgive in our human effort…a friend forgets to call, a spouse says a hurtful word, etc.  But there are some things, in our own reasoning, wisdom and strength, we will not have the power in ourselves to forgive.  It takes an act of God.  

What Forgiveness Means

Forgiving someone allows you to let go of resentments and you may also need to let go of any debt they owe you: they don’t owe you repayment, they don’t owe you an acknowledgement of how they hurt you, they don’t owe you to change. This is between you and God. What this does is it sets you free from an expectation that may never be fulfilled.  This obviously means forgiveness does not equal a reconciled relationship.

Friends, if you struggle with forgiving someone, I’m sorry.  Your fears matter, your pain matters, and your story matters.  I encourage you to write out why you shouldn’t have to forgive.  Bring your list to the Lord.  Be truthful…even if you theologically know better.  You can write down “I don’t want to” or “they don’t deserve it” or “it’s not fair.”  

It’s very helpful for you to understand the benefits you are getting through unforgiveness so that you can receive these benefits through other means.  

The Lord understands your story and He is kind.  He will give you discernment if canceling the debt is best and wisdom with establishing healthy boundaries.  He will also enable you to trust Him if the debt is not paid and set you free from resentments.