On forgiveness – a letter to my younger self

Of all the hoops and hurdles that we, as the betrayed, must face head on – forgiveness is probably one of the more challenging and weighted parts of the process.

Early on in my marriage with Jason, he opened the door into his secret world, told me a couple of things and then shut and locked the door tight.

My solution? Forgiveness.

I believed that if I could just forgive Jason and move on – the marriage would heal and we could live our happily ever after.

Obviously – I was wrong. And as the weeds of bitterness started to grow in my heartI realized that forgiveness was not quick, was not easy and was not simple as I had always thought. Nor would forgiveness magically heal my marriage.

Oh the power I gave forgiveness.

To be clear – forgiveness IS powerful. And it works. But it doesn’t take away pain and grief nor is it the sole silver bullet we can use to heal our marriages.

I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness over the last 16 years, not only from my own personal experience but also while walking alongside others that are working the process. For that – I am grateful.

Below is a letter written to my younger self in regards to forgiveness. These are the things I wish I could have told myself back then.


Dear Me – I know you want to do the right thing and forgive Jason quickly – isn’t that what any noble and good Christian wife would choose? I know you want to push the pain down and not have to grieve. I know you want to move on from this nightmare and pretend like none of this ever happened.

To you, forgiveness would take all of this away. You could forgive Jason (for what exactly, you’re not sure) and then you could move on. Just skip over this mess that has become your life.

Please hear me say – this quick and easy forgiveness isn’t the way to go. If you are using forgiveness to circumvent the grieving process and to push it all under the rug – don’t do it.

Listen. Look in my eyes. Hear me say – forgiveness WILL come. You don’t need to panic. God equipped you with His power to do the forgiveness work. But first, you must sit in the pain. You must feel the feels. That in and of itself is a big part of the forgiveness journey – being true to how you feel and sitting in it.

You will hear people say – “you just need to forgive him” and it’s going to make you feel dumb. But you aren’t dumb. Forgiveness is for you and it’s a gift from God. He will help you get there.

The road will be slow for you. And it will be messy. You won’t fully understand how forgiveness works when you are ready to take that leap of faith. You will have your doubts. But God will make it really really clear when the time comes to take that leap of faith. Your job is to trust in Him.

And as you press into your big yes of forgiveness, you will experience a Kairos moment – where heaven and earth collide. Forgiveness will be an act of worship, an act of obedience, as you intentionally let Jason out of the prison cell of your heart.

Try not to panic when you wake up a couple of days later after your big yes and you feel resentment…again. It’s not that you didn’t do it right. It’s just that forgiveness is a process. You will continue to go back to that holy ground and forgive again and again and again (not for repeated offenses but for all the past offenses).

Forgiveness will draw you closer to God. It will humble you. It will remind you that you need Jesus.

In the end, you will have a new found respect for forgiveness. You will see how it has worked in your life – how it has set you free. You will also see that it takes sitting in the pain and grieving. You will see that it doesn’t mean the pain is gone or that the relationship has been restored. You will see that it’s mysterious and something that can’t be accomplished by human hearts alone.

So go now. Grieve. Get comfy in it. Cry a river of tears. And be at peace that it will happen in due time.

Love, me


Will you Join me?

I am so looking forward to the Hope Rising Conference in Austin, TX on October 12th. You can click here for more information and to register for the conference.

I’ve got work to do – Part 3

Before reading this post, it will help to read Part 1 and Part 2 of “I’ve got work to do”.  I’d hate to confuse you anymore than necessary!

As I mentioned in Part 2, I received some feedback from my life coach as I was doing this forgiveness work.  She pointed out two areas that, for all intents and purposes, I missed.

Here are the two critical parts in my big release that I didn’t realize would be helpful to my healing –

Part One – I didn’t spend near the time and effort writing out why I felt hurt in these four five relationships (okay, seriously, I am feeling insecure that I might be coming across as super unhealthy given the number FIVE.  Oh well.  It’s my truth today.  The end).  I was advised to write out every single thing that hurt and to shush the “fairness police” peering over my shoulder telling me I’m too sensitive or too whatever.  Instead, by doing naming the hurts, we are choosing to value ourselves.

Part Two – In releasing others (aka forgiving them), it’s helpful to remember we are forgiving past hurts – not necessarily on-going hurts where there hasn’t been a chance to detach, get safe, and grieve.  As in, oftentimes, we must get some distance and perspective before forgiveness can take place.

Check out this excerpt from Boundaries

“Forgiveness has to do with the past.  Reconciliation and boundaries have to do with the future.  Limits guard my property until someone has repented and can be trusted to visit again.” (page 263)

Going a little further, something we can ask ourselves is this – What will I do differently next time? By asking this question, I’m able to actively figure out what I can do (not anyone else) in the future to help guard my heart in a healthy way.  Empowering.

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So a couple of days later, I went back to the drawing board.  I listed out the hurts. I thought through and wrote down what I will do differently next time.  And let me just tell you – this was SO validating and healing for me.

Doing these extra couple of steps also helped me come to this realization – a lot of my “do differents” had more to do with boundaries and self-control than anything else!  (I literally pulled back out my boundaries book and have been flipping through it over the last couple of days.)  Again, empowering to figure out what I can do differently moving forward!

All that said, let me tell you ladies – I am under no such illusion that because I have released these five precious women from my heart – that I will never ever struggle with feeling bitter or resentful toward them.  I know this all too well from my forgiveness journey with Jason.

Jesus take the wheel!

What I DO have is greater peace.  Greater freedom.  My load is lighter because I have let them go.  I’m not spending near the amount of emotional energy thinking about the hurt!

If any of this is hitting home with you – I want you to know, you can do this too!  I’ve never met someone that needs help with forgiveness more than me!  So, whether it be forgiveness work related to betrayal or forgiveness work in a completely different relationship, there is freedom awaiting you!  Chances are, it won’t be glitzy or glamorous.  It will happen only with a LOT of effort on the front end followed by creating a quiet space to meet with Jesus and allow Him to work through you in a mighty and mystical way that we can’t explain.

One last thing, remember as I mentioned above, forgiveness requires a LOT of grieving and naming the hurt.  I used to think I could forgive in order to circumvent the grief process but I know differently today – grieving is a big part OF the forgiveness journey.

xo – Shelley

I’ve got work to do – Part 2

I was waiting for the perfect opportunity for my big release.

(I encourage the women in my groups to go before God and ask Him – is there a particular way that you’d like for me to forgive my husband?  The other woman, the other man?  That said, I’ve heard of some really powerful ways that this forgiveness work has transpired – releasing helium balloons with each one symbolizing a different hurt, hurling rocks in a lake with each one labeled with a different offense.)

I wanted to get creative – and at the same time, I wanted to be obedient to what I knew would be a fleeting kairos moment that I felt deep in my soul.

(Side note – do y’all know what I mean by this?  Oftentimes, I sense God pushing me to forgive someone for a minor offense or to be generous with my time or money.  I hear it, I acknowledge it…and then life moves on and it becomes a fleeting desire that I never act upon.  This happens so often to me.  So I KNEW – creativity needed to just fly right out the window so I could be obedient to what He was asking of me.)

So I asked God.  I waited.

And what I ended up doing was neither glitzy nor glamorous.  I tucked my youngest in bed for his nap last Tuesday afternoon and had exactly one hour before my olders would walk in the door from elementary school.  I knew it was time.

I sat down with my Bible, pen and journal.  I prepared my heart by writing out about 5 verses to inspire me to let it go.  Here’s a couple of them –

Work toward being compassionate, kind, humble, patient and gentle.  I choose to forgive because Jesus forgives me.  I choose to love because this is the greatest commandment. (paraphrased from Colossians 3:12-14)

It’s good for me to suffer so that I might learn your ways, LORD. (paraphrased from Psalm 119:71)

I then asked Jesus to be right by my side.  I took each woman individually (I added one more to the mix, after a rough weekend with a neighbor) and started with confessing what I did wrong.**  What I regretted doing or not doing.  I then spent just a little bit of energy writing out how I was hurt.  And then I released each one of them – pen and paper, just me and God.

This took me less than an hour to do and by the time I was done, not only was my hand cramping but my soul felt lighter (I say this because I never really think it’s going to work!  Anyone relate?)

However – and it’s a really BIG however – I missed some critical steps that I wouldn’t have realized if it hadn’t been for me processing this with my life coach.

And I’m SO thrilled to share this with you ladies in Part 3 because I think it’s really REALLY big!!!  Don’t worry, you won’t be waiting long for the conclusion.

Until then, any of you feel like there is someone God is asking you to release?  Anyone that comes to mind that is taking up so much emotional energy that it’s time to sit down and do some business with God and experience more freedom than you have at this very moment?  Would love to hear your thoughts!

xo – Shelley

(**A note to those of you contemplating forgiving your husband after finding out about his betrayal – I don’t know that in your case there will be much, if any “confession work” for you to do.  Confession and asking God to reveal any shortcomings is important work but to be clear, I’ve yet to meet a woman that forced her husband to look at porn or have an affair.  For these sorts of hurts, I can’t imagine there is anything to confess.

What I shared in this blog post is about releasing women that I’ve been in relationship with where the hurts have been much much more minor than betrayal in marriage.  Thus, this is slightly different than the forgiveness work you will do with your husband.  I would never want you to think you bear any blame for your husband’s choices (which is something I struggled with for months and is why I want to make this perfectly clear).

I hope this helps clarify any doubts creeping in.  xo)

 

I’ve got work to do – Part 1

Do you ever know that you have some work to do?  And you know what the end result needs to look like?  But you just don’t know how to get there?

Kinda reminds me of my forgiveness journey.  I knew I wanted and needed to forgive Jason.  I knew that by forgiving him, my burden would be lighter.  I knew that the ONLY way to live a whole and joy-filled life was to chase after forgiveness.  And yet, I really didn’t know how to get there.

I had no choice (Actually, I had a choice – I could stew in my bitterness and resentment or I could GRIEVE) but to slowly and surely put one foot in front of the other and TRUST that God would lead the way, just as he did with the Israelites as they left Egypt some 3500 years ago –

“By day, the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night, in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or by night.  Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” – Exodus 13:21-22

And that’s exactly what happened – I started to get real (I mean, REAL) uncomfortable sitting in my pain and grieving my reality and allowing God to lead the way.  Grieving that the one man on the planet that I chose and that I thought had chosen me – also chose other women, too.  And he never told me this reality until after I said – “I do”.  I had to grieve that no. matter. what. my marriage was officially tainted.  I had to grieve that I was officially broken.  Oh yes, so so much to grieve.

And little did I know that it was that grieving that propelled me toward forgiveness.  More specifically to the grieving, it was putting on my brave pants and getting super honest about how I felt.  You ask why it required my brave pants?  It’s because there is NO way I could FIX those feelings.  I had to SIT with them.  I had to SIT with them.  I had to SIT with them.  UGH.

And then I realized, the one and only way to move forward through the pain was to lay it all at the foot of the cross and ask Jesus to do a miracle in my heart and release me from the hurt and the pain that Jason caused.

Jason never could do enough to pay me back.

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So maybe that’s the answer to my question from above.  I know I have work to do.  I acknowledged late last week that there are not one, not two, not three but FOUR people that I need to release.  Dear me.

I keep thinking of Paula Rinehart from Strong Women, Soft Hearts, where she talks about pulling out her yellow legal pad and going to town – just she and Jesus – looking inward and asking the big question – who do I need to let go of?  It’s something she says she does every six months.  Inspiring.

I’d say that’s my next step – to take out the paper and make my confessions obvious in black and white – a marker of sorts.  To confess what I did wrong in these relationships.  To confess that I’ve harbored bitterness and resentment.  And then to ask Jesus to work in me and through me to change my heart.

I am ready to release.  I am ready to be more free.  Anybody want to join me?

On where I’m at with forgiveness…

I’ve grown to love the topic of forgiveness.  It’s complex, fascinating and I feel like I learn something new every time one of my groups discusses it.

I guess I expected that at some point, my forgiveness journey would end.  No laughing people.  Seriously, I thought at some point (and certainly by twelve years in), I’d have conquered the forgiveness quest. But… that hasn’t been the case.  Because here is what I know about forgiveness:  it’s a process.  Not only is it a process but I believe it’s also an event.  Paula Rinehardt said it so well in Strong Women Soft Hearts when she said “Forgiveness is both an event and a process.  It’s one big yes followed by many little yeses as the months and years roll by.”

ichooseforgiveness

By event, I mean that for myself, there was a moment in time when I said “Yes.  I choose to forgive you!”  (Followed by a sundry of thoughts both before and after like, “There is no way I can do this.  He will stop working his recovery” and “How can I possibly ever forgive him” and “Did I really forgive him?”)  And since then, I’ve had to continue to press into saying “yes” with all the twists and turns in the road called recovery.

Whether it’s because forgiveness has been a topic coming up in groups or random triggers or satan trying to derail me (or a combo of all),  I have struggled more than usual lately with the bitter thoughts that pitch a tent in my head like an unwelcome visitor.  I’ve had to talk to Jason in the last week about several triggers and more dots that I’ve connected from the past.  He has been receptive, empathetic and very sorry.  He has allowed his tears to flow.  And for that – I’m grateful.

And yet, I find myself – no matter what – faced with the moment I’ve faced so many times in the past.  When all I can do is let it go.  Open my hands wide.  Press hard into forgiving him.  Forgiving them.  Forgiving her.  I say out loud, ” I choose”.  And place my faith in God.  That somehow, someway, He will do a miracle in my heart and soul.  Again.

Because Jesus tells us, we can’t place a number on how many times to forgive. He tells us to forgive until our heart is healed.  However long that takes.  And maybe we will continue to choose into forgiveness forever and ever this side of heaven.  And maybe, just maybe, that is okay.

Forgiveness isn’t perfect.  Forgiveness isn’t even logical.  Forgiveness isn’t a one time thing.

Forgiveness is supernatural.  And I’m never ever going to feel in my human heart like doing it. But this, dear sisters, is what I can tell you:  I know it works.  God does the unthinkable and takes the bitterness away.  One small bit at a time.

God has proven himself to be faithful to me and He will be faithful to you.  Take that leap of faith.  Step off the cliff and have faith that He will catch you.  Again and again and again.