One of the most powerful and helpful things we can do to be healthy emotionally, physically and spiritually, is to practice forgiveness. Forgiveness enables a person to release buried anger, resentment, bitterness, shame, grief, regret, hate and other damaging emotions that live inside of us. Forgiveness releases layers and years of hurt and begins the healing process. Forgiveness leads to an ability to love well.
It is important to know what forgiveness is and what it is not.
We should never base our decision to forgive on a person’s good behavior compensating for previous hurtful behavior. Forgiveness is something that happens inside of you, it comes from your desire to forgive for the sake of forgiving. Waiting until a person is worthy of forgiveness will feed your damaged emotions and cause further hurt.
Always remember that it takes only one person to forgive, but it takes two people to reconcile. You can forgive a person even if they don’t forgive you, but reconciliation always requires the wills of both parties involved.
There is so much more to forgiveness than what is covered here. Some of the principles I covered come from Neil Anderson and his booklet called Steps to Freedom in Christ. If your having a hard time making the choice to forgive, ask God to help you. He can give you the strength to do it.
God has a way of surprising and inspiring us in the most unexpected ways. I am on a weekend retreat for men that run Radical Mentoring Groups. I’ve done three of these groups and love it each time I do a group. I’m meeting up with over 100 other men that are doing these types of groups across the country. We are gathering in Cleveland GA, which is north of Atlanta near the mountains.
When I arrived I discovered that I had some extra time before the retreat started, so I decided to drive up into the mountains and do some sight seeing. I found a park area and decided to do a little hiking. The weather was sunny and near 50 degree’s. For people in GA that’s really cold but for me it was perfect. I was the only one at the park and had the trails to myself.
I decided to do some running and got my heart rate up as I climbed up to an amazing waterfall. I then turned around and headed back another way and found a second waterfall. As I was there I started talking to God and asked him why I was here and had this extra time. Then it hit me hard – God was telling me he loved me! As I stood in the middle of this amazing wooded area I was struck by God’s goodness and was humbled at the gift he gave me of free time to just enjoy his creation and talk with him. The sense of how much he loved me stopped me in my tracks.
I asked him what else he wanted to tell me and I heard some simple things, here they are:
So that’s the start of this retreat, I can’t wait for the rest of the weekend. I am anticipating that God has something more for me this weekend.
Relationships can be messy, difficult and yet incredibly rewarding.
There are many things that go into a healthy, vibrant relationship like marriage. But I believe there is one vital ingredient to a long-lasting, healthy relationship: Patience.
In Galatians 5:22 – as part of the fruit of the Spirit we find patience: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”.
Then in 1 Corinthians 13:4 – “Love is patient…” The author Paul is talking about the true meaning of loving someone well and he starts with patience. In Galatians he is talking about evidence in our lives that we are growing spiritually, and right in the middle is patience.
So let’s take a closer look at patience:
Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering, without getting angry or upset.
Wow, that is impossible, but incredibly powerful. Imagine if you could do that on a consistent basis. Your life would be less stressful, you would be healthier and your influence with other people would go up. So how do you do that?
The Benefits of Developing Patience
Tips on How to Develop Patience
None of this is possible on a consistent basis without including God. On our own we will fall short every time, yet we can plug into the power of God. So in those moments when you do not want to be patient, a quick prayer asking for help can change everything.
One last thing, when someone is mistreating you or abusing you, patience should only apply with how you respond. Not responding in a way that fuels the fire. You should never simply take abuse. Setting boundaries and consequences is important in those situations. If your in an abusive relationship go get help and set clear boundaries.
Last night I taught a class called Refocus Your Marriage. Really it could be called Refocus Your Relationships. I thought I would share a few of the opening comments I shared with that group.
Here are three important truths to remember:
I want to introduce you to the emotion that destroys relationships. This has been going on for thousands of years since the beginning with Adam & Eve. It has been destroying relationships and people very effectively. At the core of every person is a button called fear. That fear takes many shapes, things like fear of failure, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, you name it.
From where does this fear come from? Let’s take a look at the creation story with fresh eyes Genesis 2:17 – After God created Adam & Eve, he informed them about two special trees blossoming in the middle of the garden: The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Regarding the first he gave no commandment. But the second he said “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”
Why did God create a perfect garden and then put these two trees right in the middle? Why not outside the garden? I think it was because he created us to depend on him, not living an autonomous life apart from him. He gave that command to not eat of the tree so that we wouldn’t become self-sustaining and insist on stubborn control of our own lives. He wanted us to daily choose to trust Him for everything we need.
I believe that command created a healthy fear in Adam & Eve, the fear of being separated from God. It also created a fear of losing each other as well. Well along comes Satan, or the Serpent and he plays on this fear. “Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” Eve replies exactly what God told them, we can eat from any tree in the garden except the tree in the middle of the garden, you must not touch it or you will die.
“You will not surely die, serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. My guess is that Eve thought that her fear of being separated from God was not true and therefore took the fruit. This caused a whole new fear to take root. This fear was unhealthy and destructive. When Adam & Eve heard God walking in the garden they hid, because they were afraid. There fear caused them to respond in a certain way. After eating the fruit their response became unhealthy, defensiveness, blaming others.
Our relationships are much the same way. We all have hurts from our past or guilt from us hurting someone else. Those hurts and guilt drive the fear that drives our unhealthy behaviors. That causes us to struggle to have healthy, happy relationships. To learn more about this idea of fear and relationships read the book by Gary Smalley called “The DNA of Relationships”.
Empathy is critical to emotional health. This is the ability to discern emotions in others and then experience, within ourselves, the same emotion. This is much different than sympathy, which is the mental awareness of what another person is going through.
Developing the ability to empathize is important if you want to improve your relationships and get healthy emotionally. Why is it important to be healthy emotionally. Well, I believe that our emotions play a big part in our physical and spiritual health as well. Emotions live inside us and if painful emotions are living inside you they eventually come out in behavior, thoughts and attitude. Unresolved emotions can lead to physical illness and mental damage as well. It also affects your relationship with God.
Emotions should not control us, we should understand and control our emotions. We should not try to shut off our emotions or hide them, that is why empathy is so important. It helps us to connect with and understand other people much better.
To develop empathy we must learn to listen and observe words, sounds and body language. Jesus was amazingly empathetic. He was moved with compassion as he discerned the needs and pain of others. Read Mathew 9:36 and 20:34.
When we can empathize with someone three things will happen:
1. The other person will feel that someone cares for them and is willing to enter into their emotional world.
2. They feel like someone understands them.
3. They feel that it’s ok to be emotional and express emotions, in other words, my emotions are legitimate.
All emotions can be grouped into two categories: Potentially painful and potentially positive. The Bible teaches us how to attune or empathize to these two groups of emotions. In Romans 12:15 it says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”
When someone is sad, we often think it is important to try to cheer them up. That is our natural response, but what is actually most helpful is to be sad with that person. Seems odd, but that is what empathy is. The people around us will feel blessed when we allow and encourage them to express their positive or painful emotions and we either rejoice or mourn with them.
This life skill of empathy is a game-changer for relating to other people. This skill allows you to connect with people in a way that helps them feel safe and valued. They will actually feel better after talking with you than before. It also helps you to better understand why people do what they do.
As a mentor and a pastor this skill has helped me to help other people. When people cannot process their emotions with someone they end up in a downward spiral that leads to destruction of relationships, and their physical well being. It often causes them to feel distant from God as well. To stay healthy emotionally a person must be able to process and express their emotions to God and other people.
As a leader, spouse, parent, boss, employee, sibling or friend, the ability to empathize will improve your relationships and deepen them as well. Learning this skill takes time, effort and patience. Paying attention to the details, asking the right questions and sometimes just being silent and feeling the emotion the other person is feeling. This can be hard work and frustrating at times, but in the long run empathy leads to better emotional health for you and those around you.
I was listening to a podcast interview with author and speaker Rory Vanden, talking about his new book Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success. I bought the book today and plan on reading it right away.
One of the stories he talked about was about the difference between cows and buffalo.
In Colorado they have both cows and buffalo. One of the unique differences is how they react when a storm is heading their way. Cows will see a storm coming and will turn and try to run away from the storm. The storm usually catches them and they actually run with the storm and suffer along the way. The Buffalo will see a storm coming and will run right at the storm. They end up running right through the storm and only encounter a short time of suffering and discomfort.
Most of us act more like cows than buffalo. We try to avoid the storms of life by running away from them. Our natural response is to escape and run in the opposite direction, when we really should run right at the storm.
When we run at the storm we are facing reality and are doing the hard thing. But by doing the hard thing we minimize the pain long-term by making the difficult decision now.
So if your in the midst of a storm, turn and face it. Don’t allow the fear of the storm to make you turn tail and run. Have the hard conversation, ask the tough questions, set the firm boundaries, say no and run right through the storm.
The only way we can do this is with the help of God. If you are running from a storm, ask God to give you the courage to face that storm head on and the wisdom to know how to run through it.
We all have things that set us off. I like to refer to them as our buttons, and when pushed we respond. Our response tends to be some sort of a defense mechanism. Think about the last time you really got tee’d off. You could feel the blood rushing to your head and that weird feeling in your stomach. Then you either said something sarcastic, funny or hurtful, or maybe you raised your voice. Others may have calmly explained how wrong the other person was or defend our actions and some go silent.
All of those behaviors are unhealthy and lead to increased conflict. As we grow up, we learn how to handle things that hurt us or make us mad. Nearly all of us have learned the wrong way of doing this. Unfortunately we all had bad examples growing up and of course we have a sinful nature.
So where do these button come from? Why do I get so mad at some things and other things don’t seem to bother me? Again we have to look back in order to understand. We all have core fears that have been ingrained in us from past life experience. Things like rejection, failure, being ignored, being misunderstood, being abused, being humiliated or neglected. All of those things shape the fears inside us.
When we experience a situation that brings up a similar emotion or feeling that fear button gets tapped and we are off to the races. By the time we realize it, it is often too late, we have turned around and pushed the other persons button as well and we are in the midst of full blown conflict.
So how do we overcome this all too familiar pattern? Here are a few ideas:
* First you need to find out what your core fear is. I highly recommend the book called the DNA of Relationships by Gary Smalley. He has a test in the back of the book to help you discover your core fears.
* Once you have identified what sets you off, start praying for God to help you in that area. Ask for courage to see it coming and to respond in a better way. Also talk to a trusted friend or mentor about it and ask them to pray as well, and ask you how you are progressing in changing.
* Start asking yourself why am I so mad about this? A simple question like that can help to think more rationally and not emotionally.
* Awareness and accountability are important, yet without some action not much will change. Learning new behaviors takes hard work and practice. having the humility to go get help is very important when making big shifts in behavior. Go see a counselor, life coach or pastor to help work through these changes.
So here is the bottom line. If you want to have healthy, thriving relationships in your life you will need to understand your buttons and learn how to respond in a healthy way when they are pushed.
Most of us would agree that there are areas of our lives that are not where we want them to be. It might be a marriage relationship that has deteriorated or maybe a relationship with a son or daughter or parent that is unhealthy. Maybe we are not where we want to be in our professional lives. For some it could be emotional health, hurts from our past that are causing problems in our present lives. Many of us struggle to be where we want to be spiritually as well. So what holds us back from growing in these important areas of our lives? Why do so many people simple remain the same and maintain the status quo instead of growing and changing?
Here are some of the distractions that keep us from growing:
One or more of these may be keeping you from growing and making progress in certain areas of your life. In order to move forward it takes a decision to face these things head on by first acknowledging the problem and then developing a plan to make a change.
I love to spend time planning this time of year. It is a great time to evaluate where we are at in all the important areas of our lives. If there is an area we are not happy with, we can begin to focus on how to make a change in that area. It might mean getting help from someone that has been through what you are dealing with or taking a risk to try something new or different. The important thing is to acknowledge that you do not want to remain the same and that you desire to grow. Then start praying and asking God to help make this happen. A year from now will you be the same person you are today or will you be in a new place spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally and financially?
When we talk about health most of us think about our physical health. That is an important thing and I try to take that seriously by eating healthy and exercising. Emotional and spiritual health is something we don’t think about or talk about as much. I believe that they are even more important than physical health because they contribute to physical health. When we are unhealthy emotionally or spiritually it can actually contribute to physical problems because of the unhealthy beliefs and thinking that contribute to the emotional state we are in. So how do we get a handle on how healthy we are emotionally.
One of the biggest indicators of emotional health is the level of trust a person has. The dysfunction of mistrust hurts relationships, marriages, work environments, churches, families and even entire countries. Mistrust and control often go hand in hand. At its core control comes from not trusting others to make healthy and wise choices. Mistrust is often present when there is not proper clarity and when boundaries are not defined. When their is a lack of communication people begin to mistrust. Here are some things that create a culture of mistrust, either at home or at work:
So how do you build trust? How do you change a culture in a home, church or workplace that has mistrust?
Finally here are some trust building principles that will help transform your relationships at home and at work.
Healthy people trust, unhealthy people mistrust. It is the same way spiritually. Healthy people trust God completely and believe He will do what he says He will do. I encourage you to get healthy, take a risk and start trusting more.
If you have been in leadership for any length of time you know that you will always get criticized and that criticism always changes you as a leader, whether in a good way or a bad way. Unhappy people tend to attack the point person. We see this throughout the Bible, when Moses was leading his people through the desert they were constantly complaining and criticizing. His own family criticized him, yet he persevered through it and grew as a leader. Here are some guidelines we can learn from Moses and other leaders in the Bible on how to handle criticism:
I lead at a Multi-site church and I must say that criticism has helped me to grow as a leader. I work hard at being open to push back and criticism. I pay attention to comments that come in. It takes courage for someone to make a critical comment and it deserves to be followed up with. I recently had a new person to our church share something that was critical of something we did. I sent her an email explaining our motive behind what we did. I cast vision for who we are trying to reach as a church. It helped her to better understand the why behind what we are doing. I had opportunity later to talk with her and her husband on the phone and even pray with them. I also have around 10 people that I often ask for criticism and feedback on what is not working, what is working, what is missing and what is confused. These conversations help me to get a better understanding of what the perception of the people really is. It also helps me to communicate more clearly and cast vision more effectively.