(RNS) — The last year has been incredibly difficult for everyone, causing relational tensions to be at an all-time high.
Issues and dysfunctions we were once able to excuse away or cover up with busyness have become painfully obvious. COVID restrictions had us quarantined with some people and isolated from many others. This strange dynamic has forced us to see the state of our hearts and our relationships. We’ve had to reassess how to keep healthy lines of communication open with those we aren’t seeing at all. And with those we’ve been around more this year than ever, there’s no escaping frustrations, aggravations and undealt-with hurt.
Close quarters have given us no option but to face the dysfunctions that exist. Of course, being aware of our dysfunctions doesn’t always equal a willingness to address them.
I’m reminded of a time when my sister came to visit. We had just finished some renovations where some of the wiring in our house had to be reworked, and somehow our hot water heater would no longer work unless the back floodlights of our house were turned on. So, if you were enjoying your hot shower and someone turned off the floodlights — wham! — cold water was very quickly making you cringe, scream and yell downstairs for someone to turn the floodlights back on.
Now, I totally get what you’re probably thinking. “Seriously, Lysa, surely you called your electrician right away to come and check out this very obvious and alarming wiring dysfunction.”
You would think. But no.
I just made a mental note to remind all my guests the back floodlights must be on, both day and night, for them to have a hot shower. I educated my family on our reality. I even considered making a little sign for the bathrooms.
My sister tilted her head and said, “Lysa, you know that’s weird, right? You do know an electrician would be able to fix that, right?”
Yes and no.
I guess technically I knew an electrician could fix it. But that wasn’t my automatic response. Calling an electrician would cost money. Money that as a child growing up we didn’t have. So, this thought process got ingrained in me that it’s better to get scrappy and just figure things out than to pay to have a problem fixed. It’s okay if I get hot water in a way that’s different from other people.
Obviously, this isn’t just about hot water.
This is about no longer being aware of just how dysfunctional things have become and reacting as if something is normal when it’s absolutely not. Dysfunction means things aren’t working correctly. The disturbance in function is what determines the magnitude of the problem with dysfunction.
And while the issues with my hot water were a mere inconvenience, the dysfunctions hiding out in my heart and life can be truly detrimental — like how I’ve resisted forgiveness for most of my life.
Simmering resentments from yesterday are often what are threatening our relationships today. They will boil over or blow up when left unattended too long.
I’ve known as a Christian I’m called to forgive. It’s a clear command throughout Scripture. But I’ve been resistant because forgiveness often feels to me like an unfair gift I am being asked to give to someone who hurt me. I still feel frustrated and mad at them. I still want to keep the mental files proving their wrongs were unjustified and cruel. And I secretly still wish they would have to hurt like they’ve hurt me so they’ll learn a lesson and never hurt me this way again.
Confession: This pattern is dysfunctional. Discovery: It’s hurting me, not them.
I think my proof will eventually serve to protect me, but the proof is what’s continually fueling my pain. It’s the script I repeat over and over again, not realizing the longer I hold onto the proof, the longer I’m being victimized.
Every time I revisit my one-sided proof, feeling so right, I start grieving all over again. It doesn’t help me move forward. It just keeps attaching what happened in the past to my present-day feelings, thoughts and words. And so I have to break this dysfunctional cycle by doing what my heart is resistant to do — release all of my proof.
What this release process looks like for you will be your own journey to take. For me, it’s deleting messages, pictures and, hardest of all, the mental files of examples where I can weaponize the past for whatever case I’m building today. No more retelling what happened with precision in ways that condemn. No reducing my offender to the confines of “wrong” and “guilty.”
And please hear me … they may absolutely be wrong and guilty. They may have been declared that by a court of law. Or just in the court of public opinion. Or maybe by no one else but your own heart. But with the proof, what you do from here matters.
What I do from here matters.
We cannot truly forgive while simultaneously holding onto proof we can use later.
I want to pause and assure you of what forgiveness does not mean. Forgiveness does not always mean there will be reconciliation nor does it ever mean placing yourself in harm’s way. You can let what someone else has done inform you of needed boundaries. You can even determine it’s no longer healthy for you to be in that relationship.
Those decisions do not make you less Christian, less kind or less healthy. And all of those decisions can be made with the help of a wise, godly counselor.
But all of these case files of proof we’re keeping? We need to release the part of what happened we keep replaying over and over in our mind with increasing feelings of resentment toward this person. We can do this in prayer, meditation or through writing it all out in a letter that may never need to be sent.
However we do this, the key is to listen to how you tell the story of what happened from here on out. If we tell the story and stay focused on the gory details of how we were hurt and how awful this person is, we are probably still holding onto the pain and proof. But if we can state what happened and then focus the story on life lessons we are taking away that will make us a better human, this is where the dysfunction ends, healing begins and peace can finally start to settle in.
Processing, healing and letting go of hurts is good. Avoiding hurts that are festering and manifesting unhealthy thoughts and scripts inside of us is not good.
The hurts you have experienced are real. And if no one has ever told you how sorry they are for all that has happened to you, I will. I am so deeply sorry. But, now more than ever, you deserve to stop suffering because of what other people have done to you. 2020 may have been the year that brought all of this to the surface, but 2021 will be the year that you start moving forward.
I know how hard it can be to let go of all of the proof, but this is where I am learning healed hearts and healthier relationships begin. They begin when we choose to let the dysfunctional cycles of pretending we are okay while still simmering in pain and proof-keeping end. When we choose to believe God is able to be both our healer and our defender. And we decide for ourselves to stop waiting for the other person to make things right and instead rise up to pursue healing for ourselves.
(Lysa TerKeurst is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries. Her latest book is “Seeing Beautiful Again: 50 Devotions to Find Redemption in Every Part of Your Story” (March 2021). Lysa lives with her family in North Carolina. Connect with her at LysaTerKeurst.com or on social media @LysaTerKeurst.)