Commit to the process, not the outcome

When faced with a stubborn problem with a high stakes outcome most of us freak out. We give up. We fight back. We freeze up and hope a miraculous solution will just reveal itself. We manipulate others. We berate ourselves. We get all whipped up. Turns out that there is one simple but totally counter-intuitive reaction that is far more effective than any of our machinations. WE LET GO OF THE OUTCOME. This doesn’t mean that we give up. Far from it. Here are some questions that I TRY to remember to wrestle with when I am deeply invested in a particular outcome:

What is my part in this matter?

Do I even have a right to claim investment in the outcome?

Is this even my business?

Am I staying within my boundary? Is this my problem?

If any of these are answered “no”, then I need to bail on thinking, feeling and doing with regards to this issue. I need to practice the art of the STEP BACK.

If I decide that this is indeed my business, I am appropriately invested in the outcome because it is my business and I am NOT overstepping any boundaries if I take on the work of trying to be a part of the solution, then:

What is my part in this matter?

Who are the other stakeholders in this situation? Who is the primary stakeholder?

What part do I play in relation to the other stakeholders?

Am I a bit player? A lead dog? A co-laborer?

Am I over-invested in the outcome in light of my role?

Is my ego involved?

How do I fit in with the whole picture?

If I am over-invested based on my role, I need to practice the STEP BACK. If I am highly invested, I need to slow down and listen up.

Who do I need to learn from? Listen to? Consider? Have I really gathered all the data?

Get curious, without trying to sway or influence others.

How can I contribute?

Do I have a super power I can bring to the table? If so, have I been invited to use it?

If not, STEP BACK. If yes, the final question.

What can I responsibly contribute to the situation without any regard for the outcome?

If we are too focused on the outcome, then we will have a very tough time detaching from our feelings, thoughts, preferences, and habitual ways of acting while under stress. When we can practice objectivity and live life without attachment to a particular outcome, we are well-positioned to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Our actions can change our feelings

Behavior is defined as what we do. Our thoughts and feelings certainly impact our behavior but do not necessarily have to control it. We can establish recovery habits to slow our roll and pause to prepare so that we can learn strategies for evaluating both our thoughts and feelings. We can fact check them; consider other perspectives; get curious. Although we may struggle to apply these principles, I do not think they are particularly new or shocking. In fact, the scriptures have made this plain for all to see.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

~2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV

This is tough to actually accomplish. But lately I have been introduced to a different concept. I suspect it is tied to a saying that I have always had a hate/hate relationship with that goes like this: “Fake it ‘til you make it.” I am not a fan. I am disingenuous enough without choosing to fake stuff! However, like all pithy sayings, I am coming to believe there might just be a kernel of truth in the phrase.

Interestingly, we can also use our behavior to redirect our thoughts and feelings. It turns out, that behaving in a manner that is counter to our thoughts and feelings can actually realign our thoughts and feelings!

For decades I have had some thoughts and feelings about my physical capabilities. I believed that I had certain limits as to how high I could jump, how fast I could run, how heavy I could lift weights. When I began working with a personal trainer, she disavowed me of my self-imposed limitations. I didn’t give up my way of thinking and feeling without a fight. I whined and complained and practiced the fine art of non-compliance. But she just kept suggesting that I plug away and “Give it a try”. I have surpassed every self-imposed limitation and am now enjoying the experience of pushing my boundaries to find my capacity.

My behavior taught my thoughts and feelings to stand down. I could not have led with my thoughts or feelings and changed my behavior. How about you? What thoughts and feelings are holding you back? Maybe you need some good coaching to push you to try new behaviors that challenge these old assumptions.

P.S. I did not “fake” anything; I did, however, submit to a higher authority and reluctantly follow her lead. I did change my behavior in spite of my reluctance to believe that it would bear fruit. I did feel and think that this was crazy talk coming out of her mouth. But I was also willing to consider the possibility that I was wrong and she was wise.

Honest self-reflection helps us live with limitations

I bought a cool feelings chart for my grandchildren. Underneath pictures of children in various moods, the author included a feeling. The little boy with the tears flowing down his cheek is “sad”; the little girl flinging her arms and legs out in a leaping motion is “joy”. Soon I will start reviewing this with tiny Norah; Christian is already subjected to my “feelings” lessons each time he visits. In fact, it is often one of his first activity requests when he visits.

Recently Christian used “confused” in context to describe his feeling. Later in the day he used “frustrated” without throwing a fit for emphasis. When Norah yawns or rubs her eyes, her parents have taught her the sign for “sleepy” (which is adorable). Norah might not be ready for Meme’s feelings chart, but thanks to wise parenting she is already learning how to name her feelings.

The rest of us? Not necessarily great at naming our feelings. And when we do, we often forget how fleeting they are. After Igor completed his fifth step, his big feelings about Boris slipped away, shed without any conscious choosing on Igor’s part.

Feelings are trying to get our attention but they are not designed to make our decisions. Igor’s big feelings ultimately served to drive him to some needed self-reflection. Soon he had other issues to address that were far more his responsibility than beleaguered Boris.

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…

~Psalm 30:11, NIV

God does not use magic wands to do his work. He does, however, provide us with inspired ways of seeing and the tools necessary for us to join him in his work - healing the world, one soul at a time.

Today, what would it look like for you to participate in your own healing? Not to avoid anything, but to identify and address your limitations that are being revealed as you notice and tend to your emotions.

What do we do with our feelings?

We’ve talked a lot about the fact that forgiveness is not primarily an emotional effort, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.


What do we do with our feelings, then?


Seek out the appropriate level of care that best fits the context of what you’re dealing with. Feelings can be handling in a support group. They can be explored in a meaningful friendship. They can be examined with and by a skilled therapist or a spiritual advisor. There are plenty of ways in which to go about processing and dealing with our feelings and emotions. Just because they are not the focus of our forgiveness work does not mean there is nothing we can do, nor does it mean there is nothing to be done. It simply means that forgiveness is forgiveness and feelings are feelings and dealing with them requires different kinds of work (though there may be overlap, of course…it’s not hard to imagine forgiveness coming up in a therapy office, for instance).


Let’s deal with each in the appropriate context.

Forgiveness and "debts"

Today will make no sense without the past few days, so get caught up. We’re unpacking an example of how our theory of forgiveness works in practice.


If part of our theory is to view the injured party as a lender, and the wrongdoer as a debtor, we have to ask what the debt is (yesterday’s blog) so we can discover how the debt could be repaid. If we know these things, then we can discover what it looks like not to demand repayment (assuming that we simply cannot do option 1 and treat the offender as if no harm has occurred).


What would it look like to demand repayment?


What I am trying to get at with this question is this: 1. How do we try to make people repay debts that they are not interested in repaying? or 2. How do we try to make people repay debts that we say we have forgiven?


Let me expound a bit.


1. a. Some people do not know that they have caused harm. We can, of course, have a conversation with them and explain what has happened. This is the ideal, but doesn’t always happen. In such cases as this (where no conversation has taken place), what are the things we do to these people to try to make them repay the debt?

b. Sometimes they know they caused harm and don’t care. The end result can be the same, we may change our disposition towards these people to try to ratchet up their feelings of guilt in order to make them behave in a contrite manner, to make them take a repentant attitude, etc.


2. We say we have forgiven, yet we harbor ill will. We maintain feelings of resentment, hatred, and more. And, when we’re triggered, we act on those feelings.


Tomorrow I will give some examples of what it looks like to demand repayment.

A Scandalous Forgiveness Case Study

I am continuing to unpack my “theory” of forgiveness. If you need to get caught up, it started about a week ago and you can find all posts at northstarcommunity.com/blog.


Forgiveness is either an action or a lack of action. Depending on circumstances, forgiveness is either 1. treating the wrongdoer as if no offense has occurred or 2. refusing to demand repayment from the wrongdoer.


An example


I’ll use a hypothetical example so I’m not treading on anyone’s personal stories here. Let’s say that Jason and Jenny are married. Let’s say Jasons’ best friend, Tiger, had sex with Jason’s wife, Jenny. Let’s also say, for the sake of dealing with a “clean” case study, that Jason and Jenny had, up until this point, a very normal and healthy marriage relationship. Jason is the aggrieved party on two fronts.


We’ve used money lending as a primary metaphor for this theory. Forgiveness is like a money lender refusing to demand repayment from a borrower.


How do we assess this example in terms of our “debt” metaphor? We have to ask this question if we are to discover how we might refuse to demand repayment (assuming that we simply cannot do option 1 and treat the offender as if no harm has occurred)..


What is the debt that is owed?


The debt is whatever used to be present in the relationship that is now missing. The debt is the offense. The debt is also the fallout from the offense. The debt, in the case of something that does not involve money, is a number of factors combined. In this case we’re dealing with betrayal, deceit, disrespect, infidelity, and more. Just as we discussed in class, the trust that was formerly present is now gone. The debt is the accumulation of all the “bad stuff” now present in the relationship in conjunction with the “good stuff” that is lost. In such a case as this, there is no single way to analyze and articulate what the debt is- other than to point to the harm done.


Another way to look at it is to say that the debt is the thing that needs to be compensated for when a wrongdoer makes amends. Now, we know right away that some debts, including the one described here, cannot be simply compensated for. At least, not in short order. But, if we imagine Jenny offered to make amends, what would she be making amends over? Likely, all the of the issues listed above and a few more.


If you’re having a hard time articulating “the debt”, ask yourself what the wrongdoer would make amends over and that will get you somewhere in the neighborhood.

Unpacking a new theory of forgiveness: Part II

By my way of thinking, forgiveness is either an action or a lack of action. Depending on circumstances, forgiveness is either 1. treating the wrongdoer as if no offense has occurred or 2. refusing to demand repayment from the wrongdoer.


Yesterday we addressed number 1. Here’s number 2.


2. Inaction.


Major offenses possess the capacity to upend our entire lives. Offenses occur on a spectrum, of course, and they may be significant without being life altering, but the potential is there nonetheless. When I say “inaction,” I mean that we refuse to retaliate. This is not the same thing as treating the wrongdoer as if no wrong has occurred. Treating the wrongdoer as if no wrongdoing has occurred implies that the relationship proceeds on the same trajectory that is was on prior to the offense. When it comes to major offenses, a “new normal” must be established. That new normal, presumably, involves relational distance. The amount of distance depends on the nature of the relationship and the nature of the offense but, in essence, inaction becomes a legitimately good thing to do when our realistic choices are either 1. retaliate or 2. do nothing. It is my opinion that doing nothing is a morally, responsibly, and faithfully good thing to do when the realistic alternative is retaliation.


Christians are not prone to give themselves credit for inaction- but I am convinced that this is both good and necessary (at times).

Unpacking a new theory of forgiveness

By my way of thinking, forgiveness is either an action or a lack of action. Depending on circumstances, forgiveness is either 1. treating the wrongdoer as if no offense has occurred or 2. refusing to demand repayment from the wrongdoer.


1. Action.


Minor offenses can be overlooked. When someone leaves dirty dishes in the sink despite the fact that you’ve asked them not to, you honestly do not need to demand repayment (in other words, retaliate). You do not need to make passive aggressive remarks (like I do) about their cleanliness or lack of respect of some such thing like that. You really can go about your business, even if you’re annoyed. It takes discipline and practice, but you can do it. And you can do it because the offense is minor and not worth the additional conflict that comes from demanding repayment. In this way, we may treat our wrongdoer (perhaps an overly harsh term when it comes to minor offenses) as if no wrong has occurred. I am considering this an “active” process because it is all about the ways in which we tangibly (and positively) respond to the wrongdoer.


We may also choose this option for larger harms, if we’re able. But, here are some issues to consider first:


Are you treating your offender as if no wrong has occurred simply to avoid confrontation? (This would be avoidance, not forgiveness.)


Are you treating your offender as if no wrong has occurred because you do not think you deserve to be heard? (This would be a sign that you do not respect yourself, not a sign of forgiveness.)


Are you treating your offender as if no wrong has occurred because you think you deserve the harm you received? (This would be a sign that you have a shame issue to confront elsewhere, not a sign of forgiveness.)


Are you treating your offender as if no wrong has occurred because you’re more concerned with that person’s experience than your own? (This would be a sign of codependency to confront elsewhere, not a sign of forgiveness.)


In short, we want to make sure we’re choosing the appropriate behavior (action vs. inaction) for the proper reason. Forgiveness is never about running away from a problem or denying that a problem even exists. If that is what drives our action (or inaction) then we have misunderstood. Forgiveness is always, always, about confronting the harsh realities of life. We may choose not to retaliate in response to the harsh realities of life but we do so consciously, knowing that this does not minimize the offense but, instead, spreads the love of God over his creation.

Returning to our metaphor

We mentioned, several days back, that one of the primary biblical metaphors for understanding forgiveness is one of money lending. In order for forgiveness to take place in a money lending scenario, the lender must refuse to demand repayment from the borrower and refuse to retaliate towards the borrower.


My way of processing this metaphor tells me that forgiveness is either an action (actively refusing repayment is an action) or a lack of action (refusing to retaliate is restraining ourselves from taking action). So, to apply the metaphor to relationships, forgiveness is either 1. treating the wrongdoer as if no offense has occurred (hang with me on this- I’m only recommending this under a very specific set of circumstances) or 2. refusing to demand repayment from the wrongdoer.


Be patient with me, if you can. I’ll unpack both of these in the days to come but, rest assured, in neither option do we ignore the damage that has been done.

We work at the action of Forgiveness

Two days ago I gave two reasons I’m unsatisfied with the idea that God is the only person involved in human forgiveness.


2. If we simply say, “God has to do it,” then we are not wrestling deeply enough with the question of how we encourage people to practice forgiveness. God needs to be active for forgiveness to take place, but we must also be active. If we do not need to act, then why does God encourage us to be forgiving? It’s a trick question, of course. God instructs us to forgive, as Jesus does his disciples, because he believes there is an action we can take in order to bring forgiveness about.


Let me take a step back for a second.


People in Jesus’ day and age were very different from us. They were not “in touch” with emotions. They did not have any concept of an “internal world.” They didn’t know anything about subconscious processes or motivations. They didn’t even know that a person could have an “identity” (other than the identity of whatever group they were a part of). For this reason, I’m not speculating to say that Jesus did not have emotions in mind when he told his disciples to forgive. It’s a fact that can be proven (it would bore all of us- but it can be done). Hearing this for the first time is likely going to be confusing or upsetting. If that’s the case, get in touch and let’s talk it through. This is actually quite good news if you’re willing to hang in there with me.

If Jesus doesn’t have feelings in mind, then what does it mean when Jesus says to forgive from your heart? Well, they didn’t think about the heart as the center of our emotions, the way we do. They thought about the heart as the center of all human activity- the way we use the word “brain.” In other words, a more accurate translation into our vernacular would be, “Forgive others from your brain.” Sounds very different, doesn’t it? It's a little less romantic, but it's not less important.


All this to say, for Jesus, forgiveness would have been an action, not a feeling. And he encourages action from us. The question is, what kind of action?

Collaborative Forgiveness

Yesterday I gave two reasons I’m unsatisfied with the idea that God is the only person involved in human forgiveness.


1. Some people have been harmed too greatly to get past their negative emotions.


I would think this should be obvious, but it isn’t. In fact, in Christianity anyway, it has become so common to speak of forgiveness as if it’s the Nike slogan: Just do it. Or, like we said yesterday: God will just do it.


That mentality creates this mentality: if a person still has negative feelings towards a wrongdoer then that means they either need to forgive and haven’t really tried, or they are bad at forgiveness and are immoral.


A third option is this: some harms are so great that emotions never get completely transformed. And, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that. There is only something wrong with that if we start with the assumption that forgiveness is just about emotions and that our emotions are the most important aspect of spirituality.


I think emotions are important. But I do not think they are the most important aspect of spirituality. And I don’t think forgiveness is primarily about how we feel. We’ll come back to that in a couple days.

Inside-Out

Ever watch the movie Inside Out?  It is so good!  I particularly love how the movie beautifully illustrates the concept of “getting triggered”.  We get triggered when someone or something “triggers” an old insecurity, emotion, fear or what have you.  Once triggered we often over-react to the triggering stimuli AS IF it were connected to the old memory.  This usually results in whoever we are in the experience with getting very confused (or worse) by our reaction.  


It can really complicate conflict resolution.  I listened as a couple described a repetitive triggering event in their marriage.  Everyone was A-OK with the idea that the issue was not the issue.  But when the husband “triggered” the wife, her response was so over the top that he was starting to get twitchy.  He was backing up rather than leaning into the relationship.


She felt judged by his response.  Until the day he said this, “I feel like I keep getting beat up for the ghosts of your past and I have decided that it is not just hurtful but destructive and unfair.”  Ghosts.  The image worked for her.  She was living in a dream and fighting against shadowy ghosts but hitting her flesh and blood beloved in the process.  


To work through this both spouses had to take responsibility for their side of the street.  It was hard but they found some fun ways to hold each accountable for reactions that were making the situation more difficult than necessary.  It took a while but today she has coping strategies in place to manage her triggered moments and he has new skills in place for addressing times when his wife trips over one of those traumatic memory wires.  


Whatever side of the equation we are on - triggered or triggering - we can work on improving our response!

Emotional Sobriety

There is a temptation, I suspect, in any work of self-reflection, to get to a moment when we believe we must overcome our inclination and push forward.  I think of this as courage, and certainly it is a necessary tool for transformation.

 

 

But we can mess this up terribly when we push aside our feelings simply because we are afraid they will lead us astray.  Our feelings count.  They aren’t the ONLY thing we count, but to repress them, suppress them or try to deny them is futile work and we can end up sick as a result.

 

Where do feelings come into play in our work?  We start with recognizing and owning them.  This allows us to start the journey of handling our feelings in ways that are healthy and appropriate.  

 

In my family of origin, anxious people expressed anxiety and fear as anger.  This was the norm.  I was a grown up with children of my own before I was able to recognize that what I had called rage and anger and frustration all my life were thin veils for a ton of anxiety and fear.  

 

Much of our work, if we want to grow and change, will require us to come to grips with our own unawareness of our true feelings, learn how to develop healthy and appropriate emotions, and deal responsibly with those that are destructive in ourselves or others.

 

I hear people in meetings talk about emotional sobriety.  This is no small thing.  

 

How have your own emotions hindered your relationships?  Have others ever given you feedback about yourself that startled you as it relates to your emotional expressiveness?

 

Dealing with our emotions may require a supportive team.  Perhaps finding one will be part of many of our “to do” lists as well….