Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Gift to yourself: Forgiveness

Seasons Greetings!  I know that we all manage to do things that we regret in life.  Some of us come to terms with that and move on, but a lot of us get stuck.  I hope this season, you can get caught up in the practice of giving gifts and do yourself a big favor and explore the awesome power of forgiveness.  Maybe someone needs it from you.  Maybe you need it from someone.  Perhaps that someone is you!  Enjoy the following paraphrase of a therapy session in three parts.  Leave comments if you found it helpful.  Share it with friends!  Happy Holidays!

Forgiveness, pt 1.
Client: I used to pray every day, asking for forgiveness.  I mean, who does that?  Who walks away from their child? 
Me: Whose forgiveness were you seeking?
Client: I don’t know.  God’s?  I hope my daughter can forgive me.
Me: Is it okay if we explore those for a moment?
Client: I guess.
Me: Well, let’s play a game of “what if…”  Suppose that your daughter actually came to you and said, “Mom, I forgive you.  Truly, you have my forgiveness.” Do you suppose you would accept her forgiveness or would you still feel guilty?”
Client: I would probably still feel a little guilty.
Me: I see.  So whose forgiveness do you need to accept so that you no longer bear the burden of guilt?
Client: God’s?
Me: Okay.  Yeah, that is a very important aspect.  God’s forgiveness.  So, to continue the “what if…” game… What if God came to you and said, “Hey, good to see you!  Here, I got you this gift!”  I mean, it is the holidays and all right? So, God tells you that he got you this gift.  How would you receive it from him?  Would you accept it?  “Wow, thanks so much God… but I didn’t get you anything.”  He would be all, “That is okay, there is no way you could match this gift, it is just something I wanted to give you.”  And a lot of the time we say in return, “No, I can’t accept it.   It is too much.”  And God says, “No, really, this is important.  It is a gift.  Take it.” and we still fight with him, “But I don’t deserve a gift from you…”  Now God is starting to get exasperated, “C’mon!  That is the whole point of a gift… you didn’t earn it… you couldn’t earn it.  Of course you don’t deserve it.  Nonetheless, it is my gift to you.”  So you finally open it and it is the gift of forgiveness.  You say, “God, I really don’t deserve this.”  He replies, “I know.  But my willingness to give it to you is not dependent on you being deserving of it.  You just have to accept it.  Actually, truth be told, I thought I took care of this forgiveness business a long time ago.  Every time I offered it to you, you sent it back to me, unopened.  Really, the part where I *offer* forgiveness was accomplished a few thousand years ago on the cross of Calvary.  What we are dealing with now is your acceptance.”
Client: So, God has already offered me forgiveness even though I don’t deserve it?
Me: Yes.  I believe God still wants us to make changes in our lives and live differently, live better… that is on us, but as far as offering us his forgiveness, that part has been done.  So, let me ask again, whose forgiveness do you feel you need so you don’t feel guilty anymore?
Client:….  (in a small voice)  I don’t know.
Me: Whether or not your daughter forgives you, you shared that you would probably still feel guilty.  God is willing to forgive you, he has made that clear…. Who else do you need forgiveness from?  Who is reminding you daily of your guilt?  Who is still blaming you?
Client: ….. (even smaller voice) I guess I am.
Me: So… what if… you were able to offer yourself forgiveness and accept it from yourself?  How would that change things?

Forgiveness pt 2
Client: I know what you are saying about forgiving myself.  How do I do that? I mean, I still feel like because of what I did, I can’t be forgiven.  It is not like I can go back and change things. 
Me: You said that you feel like you can’t be forgiven… but we established that your daughter could forgive you and God does forgive you… What if it was as simple as that example of the gift… you just have to simply say, “Thank you” and accept it like you would a Christmas gift, or a birthday gift. 
Client: I don’t think I can do that.
Me: You would find it too difficult?
Client: No, it is just that I would know what I did.  I can’t go back and fix it.
Me: Yeah, that is rough.  We can’t un-do what has been done.  I get that.
Client: So what do I do?
Me: I wonder if you give yourself any credit for the here and now.
Client: What?
Me: I mean, I think of all the things we have worked on that are clear evidence that you are making different choices and having better outcomes.  You are more responsible for your actions, more accountable for your feelings.  By your own report, you are different now that you were then.
Client: I guess I am.
Me: I remember when I was in college, I had to take a language class where I learned that different words carry different tenses.  For instance, in grammar, there is past tense, future progressive, simple present tense… how we use words carries a sense of timing.  Blame and guilt… those are things that belong to the past.  I cannot logically blame someone for something they haven’t yet done.  “I’m so mad at you for what you will do next week!”  It just sounds silly.  Guilt is concerned with something that was done.  In one sense, guilt is something that is black and white… did you do it?  Did you not do it?  Are you guilty?  In that sense, it is easy to use the word guilt in a productive way.  But the way we tend to use it is in a continuous sense… I continue to be guilty of …. Whatever I did.  But the truth is that when we stop doing…. Whatever we did and we in fact are doing differently now… we sometimes inappropriately carry a continued burden of guilt when it is not helpful. 
Client: So I can be guilty of having abandoned my daughter, but not still be feeling guilty?  I don’t get it.
Me: I think we are conditioned by our society to not understand how guilt and forgiveness work.  Guilt should be the feeling that we need to change something.  If we continue to blame ourselves for stuff we did in the past, we would get stuck and never move forward.  Blame and guilt are not useful for finding solutions and making progress.  They are only useful for accusation and getting stuck.
Client: I sure have been stuck on this for a long time…
Me: Getting stuck is easy.  Getting unstuck takes courage to change how we think and act. 

 Forgiveness pt. 3

Me: I hope you don’t mind me continuing the “what if…” game…
Client: No, go ahead.
Me: This may sound kind of silly, but imagine that you leave this office and go home.  It is kind of late, so you may eat dinner or maybe not.  You probably have stuff to do before bedtime and then you have a bedtime routine, right?  Maybe you brush your teeth, read a book for a while.  Get a glass of water or maybe not.  At some point, you are ready for sleep.  You lay down, take a few deep breaths and then you are out.  Now, while you are sleeping, let’s pretend that a miracle happens.  Something magical… what we have been talking about… the gift of forgiving yourself… it happens.  Overnight.  While you are sleeping.  Now, when you wake up, you don’t know that the miracle has happened, because you were asleep.  But you can tell that things are different this morning.  What might you notice about yourself as you go about your morning?
Client: I would be happier.  I would wake up feeling happy.  I might smile instead of grumping around.
Me: You would feel happier.  That is great.  What else?
Client: Maybe I would have more peace.  Maybe I wouldn’t be worried so much about stuff.
Me: Happiness and peace.  That sounds nice.  What else?
Client: I don’t know.
Me: What would your family notice about you, if this miracle happened?
Client: They would see me smile more.  I would not be so stressed out and they would feel better about talking to me.
Me: They would notice those things about you and respond differently?
Client: Maybe. 
Me: Would your co-workers and friends be able to tell the change?
Client: I’m sure they would.  I would have more patience with customers and with co-workers.
Me: Sounds like it would be nice, this miracle.
Client: Yeah.
Me: What do you think is keeping this miracle from happening?  Is there anything that would stop you from acting as if that miracle took place?
Client: I don’t know.  I guess not.  Just me doing it.
Me: Listen, it is Christmas time.  I’d like for you to go home and get a small box and give yourself a gift this season.  You can put something in the box to represent the gift, or you can leave it empty.  But wrap it up and label it for you and drive your family nuts wondering what is in that small package addressed to you.  What is that gift going to be?
Client: Forgiving myself.
Me: Yeah.  What an awesome thing to do for yourself, and for your family.  Let me know how it works out for you.
Client: Thanks.