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.  

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.  

Responding to Evil

Repentance of the evil and forgiving them does not necessitate the removal of consequences.  

Forgiving
Photo Credit: Hilary Storm

Have you ever been in a relationship with someone that you could not get through to? They just don’t seem to have understand? You try. You explain. You think this is really simple. You try again. They’re actions are hurting themselves and others. You just want what is good for them, but they won’t stop. You try again.   Unfortunately, they want what they want when they want it and nothing will stop them from getting what they want. This is called addiction and it always leads to some form of abuse of themselves and others. They will stop at no lengths and destroy wealth, health and relationships. In essence, evil is winning the day. This could be a relationship of a parent with an addicted child who steals from them, a wife with an abusive husband who hurts her, or even a business partner who sues. Anytime there is a relationship that you truly care for and you don’t want to have simply end there is a tendency to beg and plead in order to make change happen.

In response to these situations some have pointed to Matt. 5:39 as a means of dealing with such evil, which reads, “But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” They state this with the idea that there is nothing we can do but sit and take it. But, are we to just let evil flourish and do nothing? Are there no other options but to be beat up? How is that helpful to anyone involved? As with all Scripture, there can be a variety of applications and we need to look for wisdom so that we don’t apply a single scripture to all situations.

The law in most Eastern cultures at the time was an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus is saying here, “don’t stoop down to their level by doing evil back to them. The law will take care of that. You do good back to them.” It’s important to note that there is a distinction between the government, the church, and the individual. In this context Jesus is speaking to individuals. The government can and should execute just punishment, so that individuals are free to forgive and not execute punishment themselves. The Bible speaks a lot about loving our enemies and doing good to them expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35). It also talks about resisting the devil so that he flees (James 4:7) and standing firm by taking up the armor of God (Eph. 6). In not resisting evil, it’s not that we don’t do anything. By faith, we war with weapons that are unseen. 1 Peter 3 says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”

The first step in this spiritual war is to not enter into evil myself by acting like my enemy. This means that we don’t retaliate, yell back, or coerce. You already know that when you fight back or defend yourself you don’t get your desired response. They are better at evil and will usually win anyway. Two people doing the wrong thing doesn’t make a bad situation better. In my experience, this is one of the hardest things I have ever done. This takes every bit of trusting in the Lord and spiritual fortitude I can muster. And I haven’t always done this well. To not enter into evil by repaying evil is a great spiritual battle, especially in smaller matters where the law doesn’t preside. So then the question becomes, what does it mean to do good back to them?

The second step is to bless. Sometimes blessing someone is to overlook an offense (1 Cor. 13, Prov. 19:11). Sometimes it is not participating, but exposing evil (Eph. 5:11). It’s also allowing the consequences to happen (2 Thess. 3:10), letting the authorities execute judgment (Rom. 13:1-4). This can come even after tears and talk of sorrow, especially if there is a repetitive nature to the offense. Repentance of the evil and forgiving them does not necessitate the removal of consequences.  In fact, consequences can play an important part of the repentance.  It can actually help the offender, as he willingly accepts the consequences of his actions, to not ever want to participate in the evil ever again!   These things take wisdom and discernment. You can resist evil with hatred in your heart and become just like them (Matt. 5:39). Or you can overcome evil with goodwill in your heart toward them by allowing them to bear the natural consequences of their actions. This is what is good for them as well as everyone else (Eph. 5:11, 1 Peter 3:17). There are a variety of responses we can have, including we simply don’t participate in what they are doing, leave the room or home, cut up bank cards, widen the circle of those who know about what is really going on, break relationship with them, call the police, or press charges.

I submit that allowing a person to bear the consequences of their actions can be doing good for them. Matt. 5:39 has more to do with heart intent than a specific action. As Leslie Vernick says, “we are never called to suffer to allow evil to flourish. We are sometimes called to suffer in order to stop evil (1 Peter 3:17).” It is in these times that we don’t want to act like the evildoer by returning evil. We are called to bless them and that can happen through a variety of options.