hello. my name is inigo montoya.

 

The Princess Bride is a movie full of fabulous lines.

"We are but poor, lost circus performers." 

"See!  The Cliffs of Insanity!" 

"Life is pain, highness.  Anyone who says otherwise is selling something." 

"You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles." 

Perhaps the most-quoted line from the movie is this:  "Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die."  

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the 6 gifts of failure

Ten years ago, our marriage failed.  The way we had designed it was a disaster, and it collapsed.   In the aftermath, we were able to build something completely new together, and that's been amazing and wonderful.  I love the relationship we have now. The happy ending is great, but lately I've been thinking about what God did in the mess itself.   He didn't just wave a magic wand and make it go away.  He used the mess to teach me, and He gave me these gifts through failure.

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excuses for everybody and nobody

I used to think that we all agreed on certain things.

  • If you hit your wife, that's bad.
  • If you sexually molest or verbally abuse or physically neglect your child, that's horrible.
  • If you have a pornography habit, or if you sleep around, then surely surely surely, something is wrong and you have difficult emotional work to do.

But then it turned out that people with patterns of incredibly harmful behaviors toward other people would come in to therapy and say things like this:

Everybody makes mistakes.

Nobody's perfect.

In fact, the more egregious the behavior, the more likely the offender would be to say something like this.  With great conviction.

And I would sit and listen, just struck dumb by the whole thing, because:

  • It's true.  We all do make mistakes, and not one of us is perfect.
  • I'm going to be judgmental if I call bad, bad.  Because I'm not perfect.  I've made mistakes
  • The offender appears to sincerely believe that "nobody's perfect" is an adequate explanation for anything and everything.

For a while now, I've been trying to untangle this whole mess in my head, and here is what I've come up with so far.

1.  There is a difference between mistakes and abuse.  

All of us make mistakes, no doubt about it.  We get mad, we get pushy, we want what we want, and it's not pretty.  We have to apologize and forgive and move forward.

However, in an abusive situation there is a power differential.  The offender is bigger, stronger, the adult, the parent, "the spiritual leader."  And the offender uses that power to hurt another person, in order to meet their own needs, physically, sexually, emotionally.

In the process, the offender creates a mental system that allows the abuse to be acceptable to himself or herself.  (Nobody's perfect.  Everybody makes mistakes.  I was drunk.  She asked for it.  I'm the husband, and she has to submit.)  This set of excuses has been repeated, probably for years.  The offender can deliver the excuses with ease and even sincerity.

Scripture talks about this:  "God gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Romans 1:28).  They've said it so long that they believe the crazy.

But other people's crazy doesn't have to be our crazy.

We own our own stuff, we acknowledge our mistakes.  And we know abuse when we see it.

2.  Knowing where the line is?  That's not judgmental.  

Abusive, addicted people hate it when draw the line, because that stops the gravy train.  Their world depends on having victims to victimize.   And they need for people to be deceived by the crazy, or at least be confused enough not to confront it.  That helps keep their reprobate-mind-mental-system intact.

When you say to an abusive, addicted person, "That is a lie, and here is the truth," you may get a big backlash about how mean and judgmental you are.  That's no fun.

Or, you may say to an abusive, addicted person, "That is a lie, and here is the truth," and the person may be able to hear it and get out of their mess.  This one we like a lot better.

Either way, being able to tell lies from truth is not judgmental. 

Being able to tell truth from lies is a necessary life skill called good judgment.

3.  Excuses appear to be kind, but they are not.

When we make excuses for the offender, then excuses are all she's got.

Under that reprobate mind, desperately chanting "No big deal, no big deal," is a person who needs to lay down the burden of guilt and shame, repent, and receive the relief of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is available for all of us, but only when we stop the excuses and face the truth.

"But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says 'Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology...' But excusing says 'I see that you couldn't help it or didn't mean it; you weren't really to blame.' ...And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves."  C. S. Lewis, "On Forgiveness," The Weight of Glory

I think abusive, addicted people DO know that they're over the line.  They DO know what they've done.  And they have so much guilt and shame that the excuses are about the only thing holding them together.

When we hear those excuses, it can be confusing.

But there is so much more available to us than excuses.

We have repentance.

We have forgiveness.

And, by the gift of God, we have redemption.

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blood on the floor

"If forgiveness is easy, there's not enough blood on the floor."  Brene Brown Wow.

I heard that this morning, and it just resonated with me.

I have always said that the way out of our marriage hell was a long, slow crawl over broken glass.

Before the crawl over broken glass, I was mostly trying to hold things together.

I forgave quick and I forgave easy and I tried to forget about it.

I never admitted how much I hurt, or how bad my marriage made me feel.  That wouldn't be nice.  It wouldn't be sweet.  It wouldn't make any difference anyway.  And maybe if I just submitted more, that would take care of the whole thing.

Looking back, I realize.  Before the crawl over broken glass, there was just never enough blood on the floor.

And a lot of the blood was going to need to be mine.

We lived, at the time, on a little island in the South Pacific.  And since we had medical supplies at our house, I became the de facto clinic in the village, and I dealt with a lot of tropical ulcers.

I found this picture on Wikipedia, and they say it's from 1952, but I think the color is too good, and I swear I could have taken this myself.  I can name the patient.

Tropical_ulcer

OK.  That's nasty.  I know.  I feel a little faint myself right now.  Breathe.  Breathe.  Scroll down.  There's a reason I'm showing you this, so hang with me a minute.

When somebody came with one of these sores, I couldn't put antibiotics on top and hope for the best.  Much as I wanted to, believe me.  I would have to clean it out, down to the bleeding flesh, where the medicine could actually work.   This was absolutely no fun at all.  There would be a lot of blood on the floor.

And here's the thing.

A lot of us have emotional stuff that is just this ugly, just this putrefied, just this life-threatening.

We're taught as little kids to say "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" as a rote exercise.

And there's nothing wrong with that.  It's a good first step.  It works pretty well when you're dealing with sharing a truck in the sandbox.  It's like learning your ABC's so you can read Plato someday.  You've got to start somewhere.

But as adults, forgiveness becomes complex, difficult, and confusing.

  • What is my responsibility?
  • What is the responsibility of the other person?
  • What about difficult or addicted or abusive people, who never seem to get it?
  • What about all this pain I still have, even when I thought I'd forgiven?

I've written about all this before.  And we can think about it properly, and get all our theological ducks in a row, and go to therapy and whatever.

But eventually, all the gunk has to come out of there.

And the gunk is not just in our heads, in how we think.  It's in our hearts, with all the pain and disappointment and loss and grief that we just don't want to feel.

Everything we use to block the pain.  The work and the ministry and the food and the exercise and the shopping and the admiration and the drama.   It has to go.

God can only work with our living flesh.

Brennan Manning said that we can go into the dark places of our lives with Jesus, knowing that we're safe there with Him.

No matter how dark and ugly our gunk, His love never fails.  He always knows how to heal and redeem.

It's not easy.  It hurts like crazy, down in there where the light don't shine.

The stuff that's down there, down deep, that's the real stuff.  That's where I need to bleed, much as I hate to.

But I want to be healed.  I want to be whole.  I want to walk free.

And this is the way.

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Forgiveness is free. Trust is earned.

Here's a thing I say a lot.  I've probably said it here before.  But when I say it, it's often a light bulb moment for my clients.  So I don't mind giving it another walk around the block. Here we go.

Forgiveness is free.  Trust is earned.

We forgive because God tells us to.  God has good plans for us, to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us a hope and a future.  Forgiveness is part of the plan.

We forgive because we want to let the poison go.  We forgive because we want to be free of the past and move on to the future.

We forgive, even if the other person isn't sorry.  Even if they keep doing the same thing over and over and over.

Forgiveness is free.  We received it freely, and we give it freely.

But.

My dear, dear friends, hear me now.

Trust is earned.  We trust when, and only when, the other person is trustworthy.  

And we know the other person is trustworthy when they have behaved in a trustworthy manner, consistently, over time.

When the other person hurts me or disrespects me or ignores my boundaries, they are not being trustworthy.

Therefore, I should not trust them.

Not even when they say, "Oh, that didn't hurt as much as you're saying it did.  It really wasn't that big of a deal."

Or when they say, "I was just kidding.  I didn't mean anything by it.  Can't you take a joke?"

Or when they say, "But you don't really want that, because I want this and of course you're a submissive wife so you have to give me what I want, otherwise God will be mad at you."

In none of these cases, is the person worthy of my trust.

I absolutely do believe that people can truly be sorry, and that they can truly change.  

But God is the only one who can see their heart.

I have to see their behavior.

Consistently.

Over time.

charlie brown football

When we fail to understand the distinction between forgiveness and trust, we can end up like poor old Charlie Brown.  Trying to be nice, hoping for the best, and getting ourselves into the same mess over and over again.

It's OK to be nice.  It's good to be hopeful.

And it's really, really great to forgive.

But until Lucy figures out how to be trustworthy, let's find somebody else to hold the football.

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If you've really changed...

You tell me that you've changed, and I hope that you have.  But I'm a little worried. You tell me that you've changed, but you keep telling me that what you did wasn't really all that bad.  You were just upset, and that's why you yelled at me, cussed out my mom, hit my sister so hard she couldn't hear for a whole day.  It was just the one time.

Saying it wasn't all that bad?  It just doesn't make sense.  If you've really changed.

You tell me that you've changed, but you don't seem to be sorry about it at all.  I feel really bad.  I'm sad and scared and hurt.  But you just seem to be angry.  And it seems like you're angry at me.

Being angry with me?  It just doesn't make sense.  If you've really changed.

You tell me that you've changed, but you aren't ready to talk about change.  You're upset with me when I want to talk about what bothered me in the past and how I would like things to be different.  You don't want to go to therapy with me, or to an accountability group, or to a batterer's intervention program.

Not negotiating the new normal?  It just doesn't make sense.  If you've really changed.

If you've really changed, own your behavior.  If you've really changed, be sorry.  If you've really changed, be different.

Otherwise, I'm a little worried.

Even though what you did was wrong, I can let it go.  I can forgive you, because God is enough for me.

But trust?  That's another story.  Trust is something you earn, by your trustworthy behavior over time.

Can I be honest?

I don't believe you right now.  I don't trust you.

Because things should be different, if you've really changed.

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Just one thing

A friend and I have been talking lately about the story of the rich young ruler, who came to Jesus and asked what he needed to do to have eternal life.  When Jesus summarizes the ten commandments, the young man says he has kept them all.  (Really?  Wow.)  Then Jesus says to him, "You lack just one thing."  Jesus tells him to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor.  And the man goes away, sad, because he has lots of stuff and he's not going to sell it.  (Mark 10:17-22) So here's the question:  if Jesus stood in front of me today, what just one thing would he tell me that I lack?

I'd say there's a high probability my just one thing would have something to do with giving up control in some area of my life.  I bet I would need to "let go and let God" in some new way.  Because it seems to me that so many of the things that keep me stunted and sick have to do with control.

People-pleasing?  Trying to control the emotions of other people--often so I can get what I want with less resistance.

Perfectionism?  Controlling outcomes--and feeding on praise, which is controlling how other people feel about me.

Unforgiveness?  Wanting to be in control of other people, needing things to be my way or the highway.

Anxiety over the future?  Clearly, wishing I could be in control of the cosmos.

And the list could go on.  You can see that need for control in the rich young ruler, too.  He's kept all the commandments (or so he says), but he won't sell his stuff.  And what does stuff mean to us?  Status (control over other people) and safety (control over the future) are two big ones.

I sometimes wonder if any of the things that keep me stunted and sick don't have to do with control.

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Forgiveness: football, trust, and healing

Forgiveness.

We know we're supposed to do it.  But it seems so hard and unfair, like the Lucy's of the world will just end up yanking the football and grinning every time.

Forgiveness is a legal term.  When the World Bank forgives the debt of some struggling economy, real money is owed.  But the bank says "forgive" and the money is no longer owed.

When we forgive someone of an emotional debt, it's the same principle.  The person did something to us that was wrong or hurtful.  They owe us a real debt.  Real pain exists.  When I say "I forgive", I'm saying "You don't owe me anything any more."

Now I personally don't know how I could do this without God.  Because when I am really hunkered down with the truth that God is my source of supply, I'm not so worried about what people do or don't do for me.  It's a whole lot easier to forgive somebody when I can say to myself, "Well, I wanted ____ from this person, but they chose not to.  I'm going to let it go and trust God to supply what I need."

Sometimes, in the spirit of being nice and forgiving, we say "No big deal."  When it really was a big deal.  And then later on, we might find ourselves with "sideways" problems like:

  • Having a hard time feeling God close to me, feeling distant from Scripture and worship
  • Having a short fuse with family members, politicians, bad drivers, and the Yankees
  • Being demanding that things must go my way, and being very angry when they don't

When I find myself in those places, I'm often holding onto something that I need to forgive.  I probably said "No big deal" at the time, but it's churning around down there, making a mess, and so now I realize that I need to let go and let God.

The truth is, we are resistant to forgiving others.  Part of the problem is that we have some false ideas about what forgiveness really entails.  We have tangled a whole bunch of extra things up with forgiveness, that need to be separated out.

So here are some of the things forgiveness is NOT:

Forgiveness is not trust, although it allows for the possibility that trust can be restored.

Forgiveness is free--it's my gift to you.  Trust is earned, as I observe your trustworthy behavior over time.

In my opinion, Charlie Brown is making an error in trusting Lucy over and over again.  I think he could explore other options.  He can walk away.  He can find somebody else to hold his football.  (If you're starting to think things like, "But Lucy will be angry/upset/sad/alone/talk bad about him to other people"--then you need to go back and read my post on codependency.)

Forgiveness is not healing, although it allows healing to begin.

I can forgive someone, and still have sad, scared, or angry feelings.  Those feelings don't mean I didn't forgive.  They just mean I am not healed yet.  God sometimes heals miraculously, but usually it comes slowly over time.  Emotional healing is the same:  it usually takes time.  I need to be patient, remind myself that I have forgiven the person, and wait for the healing to come.

And sometimes, even when the person has been trustworthy for years, and we have been healed, there can still be scars, little hurts or fears that get triggered sometimes.  I think we keep being aware of those, being honest with ourselves and God, and keep trusting for healing.

When I choose not to forgive, I am saying to God, "Don't bother to heal me.  I am fine down here in the excrement.  Just leave me be."  And God will do that for us, if that is what we choose.  But when we choose forgiveness, we're trusting, in a very real and practical way, that God is enough for us.  And God is so much more than we would ever dare to think or dream.  He goes way beyond the Hello Kitty band-aid into the deep healing my soul requires.  When I forgive, I'm inviting Him to do that.

Forgiveness is not the reconciliation of the relationship, although it opens the door to reconciliation.

Reconciliation can happen when the wrong-doer acknowledges the wrong and changes.  In fancy church words, we call that repentance.  Too often we equate repentance only with "I'm sorry."  But real repentance goes far beyond words, into true, deep changes in attitude and behavior.

When those real changes happen, then reconciliation is a possibility.  Notice I'm not saying it's a requirement.

Years ago I read Debbie Morris' powerful book, Forgiving the Dead Man Walking.  She was 16 years old when two men shot her boyfriend, leaving him for dead, and raped her repeatedly.  She talks honestly about the repercussions of those traumas in her life, the anger she lived with for years, and her struggle to understand what forgiveness really means in a situation like hers.  She says this:

"There are times we've been hurt when the only reasonable goal is to find a way to get over the incident, to minimize the damage, to get on with the healing, to learn from the experience, and to move on... [There are cases] where there never was a relationship to be restored, when the highest goal we should seek is salvage."

I have had both restoration and salvage happen in my life.  Sometimes the person kept doing the crazy thing I didn't like, and trust was never really restored.  All we could do was a salvage operation.  Other times, the person really "got it", became trustworthy, and the relationship grew into something really wonderful and amazing.

Debbie Morris' book kind of puts the whole forgiveness thing in perspective for me.  If she can grapple with murder and rape--and forgive--then I think I can handle the paper cuts that have come my way.  I really can stop kicking the football and let the debt go.  Pretty sure God can handle the rest.

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