Today was a rough start to the kindness challenge. I would give myself a C- on having a kind and forgiving attitude for the day. My heart wasn't ready, and I found myself struggling to know how to respond to things. Does being kind mean not being honest about how you feel or setting boundaries? What is the line between kindness and interpersonal communication? If I am called to forgive "just as in Christ God forgave you", does that mean that I complete trust the untrustworthy and act as if nothing has happened? How is any of this related to kindness?
In preparation for this challenge, I have been doing a lot of thinking, praying, and talking with my husband. I have been trying to take apart Ephesians 4:23. Meditating on a verse and taking it one piece at a time is helpful to me. It makes me less overwhelmed and have a better grasp on what I believe I am being called to do. The second half of this verse, the aforementioned quote, is a struggle for me. This piece of scripture tripped me up for years. A poor interpretation helped me buy into the belief that I would never be "good enough" for God and should just stop trying. For years I believe that "just as in Christ, God forgave you" meant that I had to allow those that had hurt me back into my life and pretend as if there had been no pain and things were the way they were. If someone lied to or hurt me, then I would pretend that it hadn't happened and put myself in a position to be hurt again. I truly thought that God had called Christians to be humanity's whipping boy. After all, through Christ God's forgiveness is complete. I am made anew and my sins are washed away, God has no memory of the horrid sinful creature I was, so clearly I had to act as if I had no memory of how others had hurt me.
This got tricky when it came to my Father. I loved my Father and I wanted to forgive him. I wanted nothing more than for everything to be ok, but it wasn't. In fact, my Father would often make choices that hurt me. I spent a huge part of my adolescence smiling and acting as if it I had no anger towards him, when I was seething with anger. This wasn't limited to my Dad, the boy who slapped me in front of my friends, in the middle of camp? Oh, I was fine with it, we were friends, no problem. The "friend" that I had since junior high, who manipulated myself and others and was cruel to my other friends through high school, well I smiled and kept being her friend. As I made these choices, I became increasingly resentful. What did God expect of me? I wasn't a super hero, and I had feelings. Why was I expected to be in these positions? Realizing that this wasn't what God wanted was a major revelation for me.
God calls us to forgive, but he doesn't call us to be fools. Forgiveness is a selfish act. By forgiving someone, we are letting go of the anger and spite that ties us to someone who has hurt us. We are moving forward and enabling ourselves to grow again. Bitterness stunts and maims us. However, it is possible to forgive without being a fool. In no way am I saying that we shouldn't strive to truly forgive and find ways to express love to those who have hurt us, but we should still be wise. Most often, people hurt us because they break our trust. When I was teen my Mom would constantly tell me that trust could be broken in a second, but take years to rebuild. She was right. Trust is fragile, and once it is broken it cannot be easily repaired. Time and a demonstration of the will to change and make amends are the only things that can repair trust. It can't be rushed or forced.
There are times, when trust cannot be earned back. When the glass has been shattered and the hurt too deep. This is true with my Dad. I love him very much, and by the grace of God I have come to a place where I am not angry at him, and can truly forgive him for the choices that he made, but I can't trust him. He has proven to be untrustworthy. His mental illness makes it so he doesn't know what reality is. Therefore, he lies without even realizing it. He believes his lies. I can love him, and I pray for him, but I have to do these things from afar, because his dishonesty is too chaotic and at time dangerous. I have no choice but to trust that God has a plan for my Father and that he will find salvation before his death.
I don't believe that God expects me to rush in and allow my Father to bulldoze my life, nor do I believe that I am supposed to come to a place of healing or forgiveness without Christ. Little things are simple to forgive, a mean friend can be forgiven and prayed for, but the big things; moments that irrevocably change you or those you love, the realization that someone has hurt someone truly innocent, or the painful knowledge that you are dealing with a person who is suffering with an addiction or mental illness, these are hard to forgive. I would say they feel impossible, because even when I get to a place where I am no longer angry I find myself unable to trust the person, or people involved. These moments are also hard, because you can't forget them. The change your relationship forever, and the only way to heal is to find a hazy starting point. Nothing will ever be the same again.
So often, I thought this verse meant that forgiving someone was to return things to the way they were, and when I found it impossible to do that, I felt like a failure. I have been meditating on this idea for the past several days. Through my siblings, I have learned that each of us forgives in our own way at our time. I couldn't forgive my father when my sister had, nor could I expect my other sister to do so when I had. We all had to find our own way to healing and peace. If each person if finding their own way, then there is no way that it can all go back to the way it was. Any attempts to do this can cause more pain, the one who isn't ready to forgive is angry that they are being put in a position of pressure, or they can feel as if their feelings do not matter. As family and friends, this is a situation in which we must let God take the helm. He is the only one who can sort out this mess, and he has no expectation that it will be exactly same. He will use the time and pain to work in the hearts of each person involved and show them what he wants them to learn from the situation. Finally, God does not expect us to be fools. We are told "not to walk in the path of sinners". If someone has proven to be untrustworthy on a large scale, we should be cautious. If their actions have harmed others we should be even more cautious. We are still called to be loving, but we have to be honest and aware of what is happening. Time may give the person who difficult to trust a chance to make amends, but in the situations described above, copious amounts of time would be required.
What does any of this have to do with kindness? Kindness is a demonstration of love, and demonstrating love is one clear way to reflect the changes that God is working in my heart. However, it is difficult to demonstrate love if your heart and mind are wrapped in an attempt to sort out how to forgive those who have hurt you, or how you will heal fractured relationships. For all the happiness and miracles that this year brought our immediate family, it also brought a lot of pain to our extended families. There is a lot of hurt and resentment and trust has been shattered. At times it feels as if it will be impossible to come back from. When discussing how all of these familial events fit into the kindness challenge, Justin kept returning to the idea that there isn't any anger, but there is no trust and when there is no trust, how can you start the healing process? I think you start by letting go and trusting God to guide you to make wise choices.
This brings me back to my C- for the day. In order to let go and let God guide your choices, in order to have a calm heart that is ready to look for ways to promote kindness and reflect love on others, you need to go to Him and prepare your heart before going out into the world. I started the challenge with an unprepared heart. I was stewing in some hurt and let that lead me to be snappish. If I had started the morning by going to God first, I may have turned that hurt over and been prepared to focus on how I can use my words to uplift and empower others.
On the first day of the kindness challenge, I learned that this will be impossible if I try to do it on my own strength. I need to leave my pettiness, my bitterness, my anger, my inability to forgive at the Cross. I have to accept that my love, my kindness, my struggle to forgive isn't enough. "Just as in Christ God forgave you" is not, as I believed for so long, a call for us to ignore who we are and pretend to ok, but a call to embrace who we are, weak fallible humans, and recognize that we need Christ to accomplish these things. In order to complete the challenge, I am going to have to go to the Cross every day, sometimes more than once, and leave it all there. It begins and ends there.
P.S. This was the song that ended our Christmas Eve service last night, and I it struck me as an anthem for this challenge.