This year, Marie Kondo’s system of tidying up has swept North America. Households are embracing the very practical “KonMari” method and purging record volumes of excess possessions from their homes. Why? To enjoy the promised mental, emotional and relational peace that comes from making decisions, getting rid of clutter and moving forward in life with the items that serve them best.
What if we looked inward and applied the same decluttering principles to our hearts as we did our homes? What would that look like? It is totally possible to overhaul heaps of useless junk that is smothering our most sacred space with a series of simple, practical steps through the life-changing power of forgiveness.
Oh no. It is likely that this word inspires one of two reactions unless you’ve experienced the zen of successful forgiveness for yourself.
- I’m out of here! Some things are unforgivable! (Cue a flash of anger that you clicked on this article and a mental instant replay of the latest incident you’ve been injured by)
- I’ve tried to forgive. Been there, said the words and bought the t-shirt. So why do I still feel negative emotions? I don’t think it’s possible…at least for me. (Cue a sense of déjà vu that leads to the same dead end result and a sense of hopelessness)
Whatever your instinctive response, please stay with me until the end of the article and consider signing up to receive 4 Days to Forgiveness. Doesn’t your heart deserve a little KonMari TLC too? I have personally wrestled with both of these reactions to the topic of forgiveness and I’m here to share the principles I’ve learnt that have changed my results.
Mental & Relational Peace
Forgiveness is necessary for relational peace and relational peace is critical to good mental and emotional health. This starts with a heart purged of offence and all it’s related pain.
My husband has a funny saying when things go badly because of people’s words or actions. “Life would be perfect if there weren’t any people”.
We laugh because although we know that life would be really lonely if there were no other people, it does feel like the human existence is a perpetual game of bumper cars where the objective is to try and NOT hit each other and yet we constantly do…over and over again.
Think back to a time when you were happily going along only to find your mood plummet after an “incident” involving someone else. Like an emotional bomb aimed at your heart, leaving you broken and devastated, wondering what just happened. It could be that nothing has changed except the words that someone spoke or the actions that were just taken and yet, the lens we are now viewing through is stripped of colour and warmth.
Some words and actions are more devastating in effect than others and yet like a tiny pebble in one’s shoe, even the smallest of offences can cause irritation and leave an emotional wound.
Wound Cleansing is Critical
Even a pin prick can kill you if the pin is contaminated and the wound becomes infected. The same is true about offences that others commit against us. Sometimes we feel an emotional pinch and burn in our heart at the moment and shrug it off as insignificant. Maybe we give a token, ”no problem” and go about our way thinking all is okay only to find later that the little, insignificant wound has become infected and is now threatening our mental, emotional and relational health in a significant way. The onus is on us to treat our wounds immediately to ensure that we heal and the good news is that we have the power to do that through forgiveness.
Cancer of Unforgiveness
Another way to understand the importance of forgiveness is to realize that unforgiveness…even the littlest bit…grows like cancer in our hearts. If we knew we had even a small amount of cancer in our bodies we would go as quickly as possible to our doctor and ask to have it cut out, irradiated, and chemo’d. We do this because we know that even a tiny remnant of cancer can grow until it permeates our entire body and kills us. Most of us would give up an infected body part and endure the discomfort of treatment to ensure that we can resume healthy lives for as long as possible.
Knowing that the poison of unforgiveness is surely prone to grow and infect the remainder of our hearts and all our relationships if left unchecked, why would we not be as diligent to do whatever we can to excise this emotional cancer completely from our lives?
Last week I wrote an article called Healing Confrontation in which I shared about how loving confrontation between two parties can not only mend an offence but cause the relationship to grow deeper. Reading and practising the advise in that article may be the most direct route to forgiving a heart wound before it progresses further.
Confrontation Not Possible
However, there can be times where engaging the person who has wounded you is not advisable or even feasible. Here are some examples:
- The other party refuses contact with you
- The person who hurt you is no longer alive
- The offending person has moved or you’ve lost contact
- There are regulating forces that prohibit you from approaching the person
- The individual is still an active danger to you
If you are in this situation, are you destined to remain in an unending purgatory of suffering? Thankfully, the answer is no. It is possible to begin healing through a forgiveness process completely independent of the other person. Your heart can be free.
Confront & Forgive OR Forgive & Confront
If YOU and your emotions alone (anger, intimidation, fear, pride etc)are the only reason that you have not pursued an open and honest confrontation with your offender than you will certainly find value in completing an independent forgiveness practice FIRST, and then meet with the individual afterwards. This is also helpful to help you manage your emotions until you are able to resolve the situation in person.
If you attempted a face-to-face confrontation and the other party did not respond well, it may be that you need to proceed with other resolution steps such as impartial mediation. In some cases, you simply aren’t going to get the reconciliation and closure you are hoping for from the other person because we can’t control others responses. In this case, you may need to make a peaceful retreat and tend to your heart wound independently…being open to future resolution if and when the other party is ready.
Personal Forgiveness Cleansing
I tried the token, “I choose to forgive” prayer many a time only to find that all it did was neatly store my grudge away, only for it to reappear as soon as another offence was given. Kind of like a deleted text conversation that reappears as soon as another text is sent. It’s never truly deleted, it’s just temporarily invisible. Our hearts can hide offences the same way.
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There are many great books and sermons on forgiveness as it is a core foundation to the Christian faith I grew up in. However, in my case, it wasn’t until I read a book called, The Freedom Factor, that I found some principles that helped me. Bruce provides a practical step-by-step forgiveness exercise that gave me a tangible way to process relational hurts in a manner that helped truly diffuse and heal wounds that kept resurfacing. It’s a practise that involves a series of steps that help you pick the burrs of anger, hurt and offence out of one’s heart one by one.
I set a personal goal to complete this series of forgiveness steps for everyone I was in relationship with…even if there was no active conflict at the moment. Due to the emotional work involved, I didn’t get very far but a recent rash of conflict has brought me back to this exercise because it helps. So much so that I have not had to repeat it for the same person twice. I’m actively working on my heart and although I have a long way to go in reversing a life-time of poor relational forgiveness habits, I am headed in the right direction.
Do you have some troublesome offences that reappear again and again? Does your heart need a KonMari-style forgiveness intervention? Are you suffering constantly from relational angst that could be solved by forgiving someone else so that you, yourself, can receive forgiveness and healing?
I encourage you to purchase and read Bruce Wilkerson’s book (The Freedom Factor) to get his extensive teaching on how forgiving others actually frees us from torment and for a detailed walk through his own step-by-step forgiveness protocol. It will change how you view the after-effects of conflict and how important it is to cleanse our hearts of unforgiveness so we ourselves can be free.
In the meantime, I have prepared a KonMari-inspired 4 Days to Forgiveness email series for you to sign up for and participate in for FREE. Every day, you will receive an email containing the forgiveness exercise(s) to complete for that day. In 4 days you should be experiencing the relief and freedom that comes from releasing pain, hurt and rejection and positioning yourself to receive love, peace and wholeness in its place. 4 Days to Forgiveness has you focus on a single individual but you can repeat the practicum again and again as many times as you wish if you want to forgive everyone who has harmed you.
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