What we think determines how we feel. Or does it? Because if we’re so sure that our thoughts shape our feelings, wouldn’t it make sense for us to spend a deliberate amount of time trying to discipline our thought life? Yet most of us continue to enjoy the luxury (or the curse) of letting our thoughts run wild until surprisingly we end up somewhere we never meant to go. Once we arrive at the point of no return and we’re stuck on one thought that keeps incessantly replaying in our minds, the accompanying feeling gradually builds until we either explode or implode. Explode, means we think something for so long that it becomes a part of who we are and we start reacting to others according to what we’re thinking. No one knows when the next explosion will occur and anything could spark it. Everyone is certain there is something wrong with us, they’re just not sure how to deal with us accordingly because they don’t know what we’re REALLY thinking. They’re only aware of external factors that might be affecting our mood.
Implode, means we self inflict the misery of certain thoughts for so long that we eventually spring a leak and a toxic feeling is released as a slow drip within (that actually also affects us physically). However, when something triggers the thought or group of thoughts one too many times it results in breakage of the dam and everything just starts rushing out within. But all of the toxic waste stays contained on the inside therefore causing us to collapse emotionally or mentally. Others may be surprised when we’re no longer able to get out of bed because they were completely unaware that we’d been habitually struggling with certain thoughts. We may feel weak physically and unable to muster the energy of interacting with others, because every social encounter requires us to momentarily ignore what we’re thinking and that requires unsustainable levels of energy.
I’ve been thinking (surprise – surprise) a lot lately about forgiveness and what it means because while I want to forgive others, I find it next to impossible to do so. People like to say that forgiveness does NOT mean that you have to ignore the injustice or flippantly excuse someone’s bad behavior. But I’m beginning to believe that forgiveness, at least a large element of forgiveness, is just that: Disciplining your mind to transform the “thoughts” regarding someone’s injustice toward you.
So many of us do not know whether our thoughts or our feelings come first. But specifically, in the case of forgiveness, let us explore how we might change the way we feel about someone by changing the way we think about what they’ve purportedly done wrong. Because in my own life I’ve concluded that if forgiveness cannot also eliminate the negative feelings I have about someone, then what is the point? When is forgiveness complete? If Jesus forgives our sins but still feels sick to His stomach when He sees us, what good is that? None of us wants to be loathed, even when we know we’re acting like dirty rotten scoundrels. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so is His forgiveness complete before or after we ask for it? Do you expect others to ask for your forgiveness before you forgive them? Did Jesus say, “I’ll die on the cross for your sins, if you’ll just admit that you sinned first.” Doesn’t this one little contingency affect the psychology of how we live and interact with others who have presumably done us wrong?
In my own little world of having been mistreated (or so I think) by the same people habitually, I’ve come to the realization that the first step of forgiveness is action in regard to my thoughts. I must first take the disciplined action of finding a new way to think about that person before I can stand to look at them again. And when the process of forgiveness is complete, it may seem like an instant miracle to others, but on the inside, I know that forgiveness was a process, a journey toward the culmination of allowing myself to be crucified for the sins of someone else. Only after forgiveness has culminated to the point of us being able to genuinely say “Father, please forgive them because they have no idea how they’ve hurt me,” will we know that “It is finished.” And oh what an awesome day that will be.
Imagine the peace, the finality of being able to commend your spirit to God in complete forgiveness of what someone’s done to you. Imagine finally seeing someone the way that Jesus sees them, as helpless slaves to their will and emotion, never fully realizing the impact of their actions on others.
But what a painstaking journey it is, to fight the thoughts, the demons that spit on you and kick you while you’re down. How humiliating it is to be stripped of our dignity by insult added to injury, by someone’s incessant need to see just how much they can make us suffer before they finally put us out of our misery. And the only thing that can make this kind of pain bearable, is to keep walking toward the cross in surrender to a higher calling, a new resurrection where our wounds no longer bleed, where the evidence of our pain still exists but only as a testament to the fact that we’ve risen above what was meant to keep us down, down low in the grave, fighting the thoughts, fighting the desire to resist our cross and seek a greater revenge.
But it is our human tendency to run away from forgiveness by trying to figure out someone’s motive, by trying to predict if it will happen again, by possibly excusing their actions as insanity-something way beyond their control, or by retaliating-protecting ourselves by trying to cause them more pain than they’ve caused us. Our mind runs crazy with trying to figure out how we can logically forgive. One thought leads to another and if we’re not careful, we might find ourselves in the position of plotting revenge because no matter how much we “think” it through, it will just never make any sense to die on a cross for someone else’s sins.
In light of the multiple mass shootings that continue to occur, most recent in Washington, D.C. at the Navy Yard, albeit on the mind of the killer(s) was how they might avenge those who had in some way, personally or corporately, done them wrong. And in these instances, do we think Jesus’ long ago plea still holds relevance? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” “But how could they do that?” we say. They knew EXACTLY what they were doing. They are evil. How could someone be so evil? They need to pay for what they did. And yet there is no exploration, no reflection on how evil is a cycle, a cycle of which we all take part. And we fail to realize that the person who committed those crimes was saying the exact same thing, “They need to pay for what they did.” Perhaps it was a long wrestle with their demons, one too many times that they had been wronged by someone else. They tried to forgive, but they were shocked to discover that forgiveness means a painful death to self, not lashing out at others until reconciliation comes, but choosing to be crucified in the face of how others keep doing you wrong and will never see the light or feel sorry for their actions.
I feel a part of that pain, the pain of someone who believes they can’t keep walking toward their cross, the pain of someone who decides to abandon their cross because they believe seeing others bleed might be a quicker way to relief. I relate to the need to ease their own pain, to struggle to escape their own death that seems inevitable at the hands of mercenaries who make a mockery of them by the laws they instate and the polices they create. In ignorance, they lobby against our cause, not knowing how they force us into a corner where we instinctively feel the need to come un-caged. I see the irony of how self preservation looks like self destruction to everyone else and I too defend myself and my family with illogical semi-automatic moves to protect and preserve the part of us inside that others fight to tear down.
So all the while, I pray to God that I continue to take the journey of forgiveness until I’m able to completely forgive those who do not deserve my forgiveness. In this moment of seeing myself as the outraged gunman, who had imploded or exploded as a result of thinking the wrong thoughts for too long, I plead with God that He’d change my thinking before I do the unthinkable–even if what we think we’re capable of doesn’t seem so bad in comparison to killing a dozen people in cold blooded murder.
What was he thinking?
Are we willing to admit that we’re unwilling to be crucified by forgiveness and that we’d much rather place conditions on our feelings toward others?
Perhaps we would then see that self righteousness is the first obstacle on the journey toward true forgiveness.