Forgiveness is So Damn Hard

We come up with clever ways to convince ourselves and others to forgive; talk about the decaying effects of living in unforgiveness and how forgiving is not for the other, but for ourselves. But despite all these unique contributions to this struggle, I often find myself frustrated about the lack of vulnerable dialogue addressing the overwhelmingly painful journey into this world.

What is hardly ever talked about is the actual process and why it is so damn challenging to go into the realm of forgiveness and come out the other end. We’re talking about going through some intense emotional pain that acknowledges damage, permanently impacted relationships, etc. Even to acknowledge pain might change the relationship so drastically that the one who wounded leaves or we choose to end the relationship. Terrifying!

Out of curiosity, I start with the small thread of questions that lead me to unravel even deeper discoveries. Why is forgiveness even a topic or a human issue deserving focus? Why is it a part of life? Is it just about getting the pain to go away, or is it beyond this? Is this another way of saying mercy? Is it just ignoring or overlooking the offense? What does it look like to forgive?

I believe forgiveness is a life-altering, transcendent, vulnerable journey of bringing us into true living, true connection and authenticity. We are not overlooking anything. In fact, it is quite the opposite. We are traveling into the wound, moving into the hurt, looking at it, facing it head on, seeing it for what it is and giving it a voice, until it changes something in us. 

Forgiveness travels far beyond the idea that we feel relief from anger or hurt. It is an experiential movement towards something greater; shifting our perception of ourselves, others, life and God differently. This process is not about getting “rid”, but about connecting to life in a profound and transformative way. The hurt becomes a part of us and our story for the better.

In an odd, upside-down way, forgiveness is partly about mirroring the pain we feel for the other person, for them to see their own internal pain. But, regardless of the other’s intention of harm (directly or indirectly), it is about us entering into the pain to become aware of our own self and heart. It is a courageously, radical journey of getting to the root, to discover something powerful and unseen before. 

 

Why Does Forgiveness Even Exist? The Inseparability of Relational Pain and Life

Because we are relationally wired, our hearts are naturally open to receive love, compassion, care, being seen and known. Our deepest desire is to be connected to others. It is beyond mere survival; it is foundational to living vibrantly and transcendently. Liken it to a flower, vegetable or fruit plant. It is in a constant vulnerable state of need for nourishment in order to grow beautifully and productively. 

Emotional hurt is the most vulnerable felt experience in our humanity. It is indicative of our natural vulnerable nature; that we live susceptible to harm from others. It does not mean we intentionally throw ourselves into the lion’s den or passively welcome others to demean and trample us. But to truly express a Divine love, which involves confronting what is inhuman, means that we position ourselves at the risk of infliction of another’s pain.

Hurt is never truly anticipated or fully expected and known. It is a curveball to the soul. Often times the mind cannot even catch up to understand the agonizing blow of relational pain. It is a blistering shock that words fail to articulate. The language is a guttural grown communicating that something is devastatingly off. 

Such pain is often felt when we are young. And when considering our young self, we are powerless and defenseless. We live fully open, relying on our caregivers to address the pain by showing compassion, care and understanding. This response helps us to heal and generates a greater closeness to them. Our parents are the foundation for awareness of our internal world, which includes when they hurt us and how they repair it.

Hurt is an unavoidable and inseparable element to existence. I have often dreamed about the day when people would not affect me; that I could live unscathed by their actions. But such dreaming is just that; for the reality is that relational hurt is a constant tenant in this life and inextricable to vulnerable living. It seems this is what Jesus implies when he increases the man’s answer of forgiving someone 7 times by multiplying it by 77! 

To be hurt means we take a stance of living defenselessly. We operate unguarded, instead of a hypervigilant state of self-protection, looking around every corner for the potential presence of pain. Now, if we step into vulnerable situations where we confront or share our hurt to another, naturally we can theorize that there may be some degree of pain, but we don’t avoid it or guard ourselves against it (unless it is dangerous). 

But here’s the paradox, in order for us to live boldly in such a state, the prerequisite is we travel into the hurt we already carry from past wounding. And this is an incredibly difficult and rocky path!

 

You Can’t Just “Get over it” (not until you go in it)

First off, hurt indicates that something is off in the relationship; something missing (rejection, abandonment, ignoring or neglecting needs) or something added (physical, verbal, and or sexual abuse) that pushes us into the shadows, instead of draws us closer to one another. 

Instinctually when we experience wounding or hurt within relationship, we pull away. The heart closes up and naturally, we develop ways of protecting our hearts from any further damage. 

Now, if others are aware of this closing up and feel moved with compassion, the reality of their reactions will be seen and they will respond to the pain within us, allowing the voice of hurt to come forth. For example, if a parent sees their child shut down, they will speak to the pain their child feels and allow them to express this hurt in order to heal.

But when the hurt goes unnoticed and unprocessed we begin to develop layers of protectives to feel a sense of safety. We move from a state of vulnerability or defenselessness to defended living. We become guarded, with heightened sensitivities to pain. 

When the hurt is continually avoided or hidden, we carry these wounds that leave us feeling insecure and tethered to the actions of others. We circumvent or find ways around anything that triggers feeling the pain. Hypervigilance forms; this paranoid heightened perception that other’s actions are directly or intentionally harmful towards us.

When you are in a secure place, feeling confident in yourself and satisfied, you do not see other’s motives as an intentional attack towards you. But when I am in the presence of hurt, everyone’s actions are filtered through this perspective that they are out to harm me. 

Think about dogs that have been abused. When someone innocuously reaches out their hand to pet it, the animal, violently unhinges its jaw and snaps at the “harmful” gesture to protect itself from “danger”. So too when relational pain goes unhealed, we will live seeing the innocuous as dangerous and discernment of actual danger obscures. 

One last metaphor that points to the necessary process of caring for the wound is likened to the experience of striking our thumb with a hammer. In this unfortunate circumstance, our thumb replaces the head of the nail, the hammer missing its target and instead making contact with our body. 

What happens? We feel this acute strike followed by a radiating throb of pain. All our focus is now directed to this agonizing blow, even hours after the incident. Our surrounding environment is deafened by the scream of hurt, until we find solace from this feeling. Our immediate reaction is to nurse this wound and do whatever we can to alleviate the pain, until our thumb has returned to its restful painless state. We even find ourselves angrily snapping at others at their meager attempts to help us, usually if they are responding cognitively, instead of caring for the hurt (ice, bandage, acknowledging the volume of the pain). 

 

How Do We Move into the Hurt? Part I: The Necessity of Another

This is where it gets messy, scary and ugly. Great sales pitch, right? The healing process requires at least two stipulations: that we stay tethered to reality and vulnerability by acknowledging the wounds, and that we have someone who will travel with us in the pain. 

Why are both important? One, to deal with volume of pain, we instinctually turn down the volume in order to survive and maintain connection, thus creating defenses that block us from seeing the actual magnitude of ache. Two, emotional wounding is relational, and in order to heal, it is integral that we experience safe, caring relationships that draw us back into our vulnerable, fully connected selves. 

When we operate out of our defended states, our openness closes up to protect from any further hurt. But this guardedness perpetuates because we have yet to experience another who will compassionately help us acknowledge and give permission to move through the pain. It is impossible to heal our wounds without others. 

It is vital that someone encounters or walks through the pain with us. On our own, the process can dissolve quickly to pulling away from the muscular force of the wound. We retreat to seeking out comfort and connection in other arenas (sex, porn, drugs, food, shopping, etc.) that transiently capture this need, but quickly evaporate to reveal the stark, piercing presence of ache again. 

We need another to give voice to the pain and permission to feel, in great intensity, all the uncomfortable emotions that accompany the laceration. Our default is to create defense, reasoning out why not to go to the pain or why we “should not” feel this way. When a compassionate heart reflects and accepts the raw and messy hurt we carry, giving understanding to it, what we have kept so tightly concealed and distanced ourselves from, begins to come forth. 

Love calls what was hidden, pushed away, trampled on, unacknowledged, minimized, judged, shamed and rejected into the light. Love gives great importance to what has been devalued and feared. 

When we experience this kind of response from another, it becomes integrated into our internal world. Their care, compassion, patience, and understanding becomes ours. It is now imbued in how we respond to ourselves and our own hearts. It also becomes a gift we give to others buried under their own pain. 

 

How Do We Move into the Hurt? Part II: The Going In

The going in is where the courage kicks in. Now we are acknowledging and feeling the brutality of the relational pain. We run into our defense and ammunition, the grief and rage. 

Our tendency is to wish or try to quickly push ourselves to the end, where the presence of pain no longer exists. But there is no short-cut. It is not a cognitive or logical process. We cannot just say some magical words “I forgive that person” and it all dissolves. Forgiveness is an experiential process of journeying to something more than just pain relief. Anyone who is trying to intellectually draw you out of the pain is not one to help, for they have not ventured into their own hearts. 

We ourselves or others will either tell or ask us why we can’t just “let go”. But this “letting go” is much deeper than “getting over it”. Letting go, which is what we fear, is actually about giving up the defenses and going into the pain. It requires connecting to everything we have detached from; feeling the hate, rage, anger and encountering the gut-wrenching blow of grief (sadness, longing, missing). The reason it continues to surface or we talk about it to others in anger or bitterness is because we have not moved into the presence of the wound. 

The start begins when we admit to not wanting or being ready to forgive; that we hate or want to destroy the person; that it hurts too much to go in there and see it, or that we are terrified. Normalizing this is important to accepting the process. It is an ebb and flow of inching towards the hurt and then pulling away. We must be allowed these margins to struggle. 

Those that are there to walk with the person, absolutely must not attempt to convince the person on all the reasons they need to forgive or manipulate them into feeling guilt by saying “think if someone held this against you”. This will instinctually push them farther away into their defense. Instead, speaking to the emotion, acknowledging how scary and uncomfortable it must be for them, will highlight the actual reason they are pulling away or retreating to defense. This will invite them back into openness. 

                  The Anger We’re Terrified of

One of the most uncomfortable and scary experiences the wounded one will encounter is their intense rage or hate. Anger has been a shamed and destructively conveyed emotion, but it is actually a vulnerable, life-giving and intimacy-enhancing feeling. Anger is righteous passion. And passion always orients us towards something to which we give of ourselves, such as art, music, cooking, etc. Anger is a passionate expression of hurt, relational disorder, distance and fissure.

It is vital that we enter into feeling the voluminous depths of our anger in order to heal fully. 

                 Wanting the Wounder to See

Another challenging obstacle is how uncomfortable we are to admit that we want the other to see and acknowledge our pain. We don’t even want to see how badly we have been hurt. To acknowledge that we have been hurt means we welcome the truth that we care for this person; that they matter to us and that seeing the damage will majorly, possibly catastrophically, shift the relationship. 

The truth is that we want to make it known to that person that we are hurt, sometimes through the emanating presence of bitter responses towards them. We want them to notice and acknowledge it but are terrified of exposing this on our own volition. As much as we try to cauterize this want, our desire is often to be connected to this person and for the relationship to be restored. 

 

The Arrival: When You Know You Have Come out the Other End

Forgiveness is an undulating and emotionally-charged journey. It is a courageous endeavor into a monstrous odyssey that although feels destructive, paradoxically, it is a strengthening of the heart. Such a strengthening opens us up to deeper understanding of our own selves and others. It moves us into vulnerable living and loving. 

When people have not ventured into their pain, they manufacture what they believe is strength (shutting people out, manipulating, fighting, destroying, using intellect, verbally tearing someone apart, using sex to control or secure a relationship). They are actually trying to get to that strength we were intended to carry, yet it only comes through a reverse process of going through, instead of running away. 

When we have come out the other end, the “act” or the person’s presence no longer hits us viscerally with anger or hate. Pain may still exist, but the guards are gone. We feel the sadness of a changed relationship; possibly its ending. We grieve not only what has been done, but we feel compassion and moved towards the one who wounded us. 

Vulnerably, we can share how we have been impacted to others, even to the person with whom we were wounded by. We might even feel drawn towards this person, wanting relationship or connection in some capacity. However, if someone stays guarded, closed, resistant or is still operating in harmful ways, out of care for ourselves, distance is important. It signals that the relationship cannot move closer. 

Our perspective of this person has changed. We no longer see them as this “enemy” or “monster”. They become human to us and their own wounded hearts gain greater clarity. We are even moved with compassion and care. We now understand that our healing is not contingent upon their response; that our healing does not wait until they change or acknowledge wrongdoing. Even if they were to do this, we still have to go through our journey of recovery.  

 

Final Thoughts

Lastly, I believe endeavoring in forgiveness shifts something significantly within us. We move closer and closer to the heart of God, who always moves vulnerably, knowing that such movement is a risk to incurring hurt (suffering). When Jesus says, unless you forgive, your Father in Heaven will not forgive you (I’m paraphrasing), he does not mean that God does not actually forgive. 

God’s forgiveness is vast and unending. But when we stay guarded against the pain, we close up and then pull away, which blocks a deeper knowing and experiencing of the richness of God’s loving mercy. We end up shutting ourselves off from a vibrant and transformative love. But forgiveness moves into this knowing that we internalize and emphatically express to others entrenched in their own pain. 

Forgiveness is not something you “get over”, it is something that transforms you, evolving you into a Being overflowing with an otherworldly love, foreign to this world, but what we all crave.

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The "Born-Again" Identity

I was floating in my pool one day last year and this thought about being “born again” popped into my head. I never really put much consideration into that concept, seeing it only as a label, which Christians tend to attach to their title. This concept held little significance to me, but for some reason, at this particular time, it came up in a very different light.

I began to ponder on it, wondering if what I was going through was what Jesus talked about in his conversation with Nicodemus (John 3). What was once insignificant to me was now making an impression that loomed ever so largely in my mind, subsequently bringing me a sense of comfort.  

I became fascinated by this idea. When Jesus spoke about the truths in life, he often referenced the natural world to describe these ethereal and enigmatic actualities. Of course, the inner detective in me activated and the questions and ponderings took effect. 

Why did Jesus speak about accessing authentic life in this way? Was this the actual path to living connected and fully? Even Nicodemus expressed his perplexity over Jesus’s strange reference.

 

New Eyes: Awareness of the Real

Jesus said, “No one can SEE the Kingdom until he is born again.” There are three significant parts to that statement. First off, seeing is beyond what our eyes can behold. It is not physical, it is metaphysical. Seeing is deeper than what the eye has access to. It is from the innermost part of the person. It is a perception or an awareness that opens up in greater capacity. 

Think about this, the way you see the world is colored by your own experiences in life. Our belief systems, have developed from our experiences and the emotional realm within these experiences. On a side note, that’s why people trying to “convince” others to see something differently, such as God existing, or caring, or being a healer, or that they are “loveable” or “beautiful” is ineffective, because the belief system changes when the heart is impacted by encountering a foreign experience that has greater emotional impact. 

For example, when you have grown up with an absent, or critical father, you will only see God through this light, because of your fatherly experience in life. One must encounter a father-figure in caring and compassionate ways in order for that internal experience of a father to change.

So back to perception. The perception of life is shaped by our internal world that holds our own personal experiences. We see through a certain dimension and it influences significantly how we interact with life. We can either delight and indulge in it or live in insecurity and fear, leading to consumption of it.  

But what is the Kingdom and what are we actually becoming aware of? The Kingdom is just another way of saying God’s presence to a culture that understood this “presence” in king/ruler/dominion terminology. 

It seems that what Jesus is saying is that those who become born again, will see life authentically and truly. Their perception will change, because their internal world has changed, an internal world that has encountered something unique and foreign to their personal experiences. 

One who has become born-again develops an awareness of what has always been, God’s presence imprinted in everything; this heightened awareness of how connected we are to him and creation. Life takes on new shape and meaning, exciting, thrilling, adventurous and inspiring. Nothing is arbitrary nor to be discarded. Life is lived indulging in the present, attuned to the now; a deep satisfaction. The perspective shifts from seeing the world only in black and white to being captivated by the complexity, range, depth, and variety of colors that inhabit all of life.   

(I know this might sound esoteric, but I will explain in hopefully more tangible terms, so hold on.)

 

The Child Who Sees the World

Now, there is this caveat to experiencing life; that being, this born-again prerequisite. What in the world does this mean? Well, Jesus gives us a big clue, by referencing a natural experience to teach us about these mysteries. 

What happens when someone is born? They now enter into life an infant. And infants are these precious, fragile, unaware, helpless and powerless creatures. They are purely vulnerable. Not one of us has escaped this stage, unless, somehow, you miraculously came into the world a full-grown, self-sustaining adult.

These beautiful, powerless persons have no ability to meet their own needs. They are fully dependent on their caregivers for nurture, love, safety and sustenance. Their only defense are the variations in cries inherently attached to their needs. But they have no self-awareness or consciousness. They are lost, in the hopes that their cries will be soothed by the one who watches over them. They have no ability to escape or defend themselves. They are completely exposed, a state of true nakedness. 

Of course, naturally, they develop further, becoming children. And when children are satisfied and secure in the love provided by their parents, they live life unbridled, free to explore. They are fascinated by existence and its mysteries, encountering the things we, as adults, easily miss. Children are these explorers, filled with awe and wonder, delighting in God’s presence imbued in this earth. They are more attuned to life than adults who live out of self-protection and injured attempts to stay connected. 

When children feel pain, they run confidently to the one who loves them. They boldly let their needs be known and reflexively turn towards their caregivers, trusting that it will be met. They innately and vulnerably share all of themselves. Nothing is hidden. 

So essentially Jesus is saying that children experience life in fullness and authenticity. They hold the answers to living, connecting and being. One must reconnect with that true self/child-self in order to become aware of the Divine presence omnipresent in this world. Jesus came to reveal this and reconcile us back to this connectedness with all of life and with him.

I wonder then, if salvation is a very different experience than what we have defined it to be. Maybe it isn’t some “sinner’s prayer” mantra. Maybe it has to do with the heart beginning to recognize who the Connector of Life truly is and moving out of that kind of guttural/instinctual knowing. But this recognizing is less cognitive and more experiential, the soul being drawn towards something/someone. I guess that’s one worth exploring another time. 

 

My “Born-Again” Story

During grad school, I remember being greatly impacted when a professor pointed out that the Beatitudes Jesus lays out in Matthew 5:3-12, was actually a linear progression. That was revelatory to me and I would continue to come back to this discovery. In fact, it became the creed I clung to in recent years, as a reminder that my intense struggle of change was not capricious, but actually very meaningful. 

The Beatitudes is this blueprint on becoming both our true selves (who we always were) and truly connected to God and life. But it is a fascinating layout of loss, grief/mourning, wandering and then becoming filled. It is neither an intellectual nor forced process. No formula can be manufactured nor any short-cut created to living life fully. It is purely experiential and existential. Life just stops working the way we have been living it, for some enigmatic reason, and that block we feel, if we stop trying to quiet it, will lead us into fullness.

I grew up in a Christian home and found myself drawn to God, “accepting Jesus into my heart” when I was about 10. My connections to the Church and others throughout my life has often ebbed and flowed. I found myself feeling like an outsider and struggled to speak the language most spoke within the culture. 

I wrestled with hiding pornography from loved ones because of shame, struggled with my sexual identity, OCD, anxiety, depression, internalized rage, self-doubt/consciousness, this intense and obsessive need for love from women, insecure relational attachment, self-hatred, and cutting myself off from people when I felt hurt. 

I learned to get my relational needs met by criticizing myself, often highlighting the negative to others when they asked how I was doing. Viscerally, I could not talk about anything positive, because the way I would get love and affection from one of my parents was to beat myself up with self-criticism and confess interesting fears/phobias; all to stay connected and salvage the relationship.

              The Revving of Restlessness: Inner Desire for Change

I went through grad school, where I encountered about a dozen existential crises, questioning this path I was on, but something would remind me to keep walking. Then I hit my internship where I began to feel very stuck. This frustration began to surface, but I felt directionless. I hit burnout and almost quit my internship.

My supervisor wanted to meet with me, seeing how I would beat myself up and walked with me in exploring the wounds of my past with greater depth and clarity. I began to see why I avoided anger or at least directed the feeling towards myself. He pointed out that I hated my father, which terrified me to see. He confronted me on some of my sticking points, such as judgments and defending my parents as an attempt to avoid how I really felt towards them.  

Meanwhile I was pressing the gas pedal, but the emergency break was on. He instructed me to pay attention to my frustration, because it was telling me something. 

I also recall a moment when I shared with my colleagues, during my interning, that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I became aware of how depression and self-hatred had become a part of my identity and how it was not who I really was. Yet, the problem was that I had no clue who I was apart from that. Talk about terrifying and unsettling!

I was tired of just going to a church service, listening to a sermon I could never remember, and then leaving. This hunger was for something beyond the lane I continually traveled in. I found myself drawn towards more experiential gatherings when it came to connecting with God. I learned to hear his voice and took very uncomfortable risks in sharing “prophetic” words to others, eventually developing greater confidence. I recall sharing specific words to a gentleman one night at this church gathering, who was then moved to tears, acknowledging the truth of what I had shared. 

But despite these wonderful and exhilarating moments, I would retreat and pull back into these safety zones and reencounter my wandering. 

Last year, I felt so tired with staying stuck in my fears that I began to take more risks. I started to get into the dating arena. I also frequented this experiential or “charismatic” church that was more interactive in their gatherings. The far recesses of these gatherings was where I camped out, internally judging those who “worshipped” in odd ways, while admittedly wanting that kind of freedom. 

Eventually, I moved into the center of the gatherings to worship, struck by this crippling insecurity and the desire to be seen. As I stuck to this, this nudge to sing and dance before everyone began to surface, and I stepped out of my comfort zone, trusting this Voice to lead me. Incredible experiences would take place, particularly my own growth.

In moments alone, at my house, my times with God changed. Viscerally, I would feel this block towards spending these times toiling in introspection, scraping over my problems and deconstructing my wandering in the hopes of finding the truth. Instead, I would feel this prod to put on instrumental music and dance and sing. It was the most uncomfortable times starting out. And I was alone! But it revealed my injured ways of dealing with pain. 

I began to develop beautiful friendships with women, and a deeper closeness with the men in my life. I connected more to my anger, confronting the judgment and criticism that would block me from learning and growing. When anger would come up, I would embrace it, expressing it in a raw, explicit and unfiltered manner.  

When deep pain from my childhood or present life would surface, I would weep intensely, intentionally staying present and going towards it. These moments of vulnerable connection with God led to bursts of creativity, including writing. My understanding of life was now changing and I was developing greater insights into this world than I was aware of before. It was clear that something was happening.

 

The Discovery of My True Self

Recently, during a session with my therapist, we talked about these changes and he said that I was on the “road less traveled”.  I shared how I felt more at peace, less stressed about how my life plays out and excited about my newfound bursts of creativity through music, writing and now, podcasting. But it was not until a couple days after that something very powerful had happened.

It was at night and stemmed from looking at Genesis chapter 3 in a whole new light. I realized how this wrath and judgment was not from God, but what we carried. I saw how he was inviting us into intimacy, back into reconnecting with him. It also became clear that Jesus’s death was not to block God’s wrath, but an outpouring of love and invitation back into intimacy; that we do not have to force reconnecting with him, by straining to do “right” and avoid the “wrong”. 

It was the oddest experience, but something clicked, and I immediately felt this incredible aliveness. The shame, judgment and fear had disappeared. I realized how truly connected I was to God and to life. I began to see the problems and disorders we wrestle with in a whole new light. I put on dance music and joyfully celebrated this aliveness, moved to tears for the next few days, while simultaneously given greater insights into sexuality, gender, and the issues we find ourselves entrenched in; how all of this is rooted in disconnection. 

I felt this inconceivable peace within. The days that followed were likened to those cheeky movies, where two lovers meet for the first time, kiss and this whole new world opens up to them, followed by song and dance.

These few years, if not more, of wandering and going through the loneliest, emptiest, neediest, disquieting, severely painful and scary times, began to make more sense. It was not arbitrary. It was a necessary process of becoming who I always was, living out of that True Self, deeply rooted in connection with God. What also made sense was why I clung to the Beatitudes and why it strongly resonated with me. When I felt lost, I returned back to these truths, giving reassurance to the brutal internal struggle.

I have no clue what this journey holds from now on, but it is an exciting and mysterious one. What I am confident in is my passion to share the overflowing insights into the human heart I have been given. I have very little anxiety about sharing openly and candidly all of my life and struggle, so that others may come to know the powerful Love and awakening I experienced. 

May you listen to that nudge that draws you closer to the Love for which you are truly yearning.

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Face-to-Porn: Why it Hurts When Your Partner Views Pornography

I am terrified of intimacy and vulnerability, but I am starving for it. It is this dimension where we are uncovered and seen. Nothing is hidden. It is our deepest desire to feel and experience this level of connection. But when we carry relational injuries from those appointed to be our safe havens (parents/caregivers), who wound (directly or indirectly), without repair, it throws everything off the tracks. And when we continue to develop derailed, we find ourselves lost, wandering various paths, attempting to find our way back.

Our relational traumas that go unhealed perpetuate this. We become involved in relationships of various kinds, resorting to self-protective and injured ways from childhood to get back to that connection we need, and yet, paradoxically, wander further away from others. But the heart’s intention is always to get back to closeness. 

No matter the securities we set up to ensure connection, vulnerable personhood and true humanity allows the other the freedom to wander away. Those who commit to one another, intentionally face the pains each other feels, both past and present, and pursue uncovering the reasons for the wandering. The wandering is really about looking for that connection and yet, afraid to pursue it with the one they have opportunity to become most vulnerable. The fear is the desire to maintain closeness, but terrified that if one’s true self is revealed, their partner will leave.

In short, we are all craving intimate connection, but scared to go towards it. It requires unveiling ourselves, risking hurt and pain in the midst of such exposure. The other’s response can either invite closeness or distance, but it is in our hands to venture towards the other and not away. This also means that when we encounter the deeper wounds within ourselves or our partners, we travel through, instead of avoiding. 

 

The Cry for The Other To Turn Back

Why does it hurt so much when one’s lover engages in pornography? Some reactions can range from a mild sting of pain to the catastrophic howls of deep trauma. No matter the intensity, the hurt is still present and in response to the other’s actions. The hurt and anger point to something missing within the relationship; that the other has turned away. 

What creates closeness or generates intimacy? It is when both partners turn towards one another (face-to-face); when they invest in seeing the other and when they reveal their own hearts. Sharing one’s self, allowing the other in to their desires, fears, pains, joys, needs, etc. is integral to growing closer and deepening the bond. 

It does not mean that the one who exposes their vulnerable self forces, demands or even expects the other to meet their lack. Such control will only push the person away. Instead it is an invitation. The other is allowed the freedom to draw near or away; to open up or not; to stay guarded or uncover.

So when the partner discovers that the other has engaged in pornography, it hits deep. It is a reaction of their lover turning away from them; away from intimacy. This pulling away hurts. But it isn’t just the pulling away, it is the hiding. Hiding is disconnection; the person moving further from closeness, instead of towards it. The partner’s pain is the signal of a chasm. 

When the one who has turned towards pornography is shamed and labeled an “adulterer” or “cheater” it comes from the agonizing sting of being left. Labeling only perpetuates the shame and hiding, however. The actual message is that their partner has turned away; their face oriented somewhere else. The individual is actually saying, “the burn of pain is really that you didn’t come to me; that you didn’t unveil your heart to me.” 

 

Why the Other Turned Away

To pursue vulnerable connection is a nerve-wracking endeavor; we are facing the unknown. The other could accept or reject, draw closer or close up. We worry about their reaction and what feelings it will bring up in us; anger, shame, embarrassment, etc. And if we encounter our own feelings, what do we do with them? Often, we go back into hiding, pull away, or feel so hurt that we intentionally attempt to hurt the other. 

When the other has turned away from their partner and instead to pornography their heart’s desire is to connect to their partner, but they are terrified to open up and pursue. They may fear sharing their longings for sexual engagement or that they are angry, particularly towards their partner. It is too exposing to reveal their needs and desires for closeness, to be seen and known. 

If sexual trauma is a part of their partner’s history, it may also convolute and complicate both emotional and sexual intimacy. When they run into their protectives or defenses, it can be an intimidating odyssey to unravel and get through the blockages that inhibit closeness.

Regardless, the reason why a person has sought out pornography is because they are hungry for connection and both afraid and lost in how to pursue it. Most likely they are disconnected from their own heart, while at the same time trying to find it. If they allow shame and hiding to perpetuate, it will obfuscate discovering what drove them to look. It is a symbolic “reaching out for connection”. It is a symptom of detachment and the hunger for attachment.

 

The Way Back to One Another

There is no formula or step-by-step plan for healing, but it does require a mutual commitment to repair the distance and move towards connection. The one who has turned away, must be able to be present and allow the other to express their hurt. Sometimes the hurt runs deep and intense, often expressed through anger. 

For healing to happen it is important to show compassion and understanding to the “wounded” one. However, the one wounded moves away from vulnerability when they become destructive in their anger; meaning, intentionally harming and/or shaming, whether through physical harm or verbally demeaning the other. When it enters into this zone, intimacy and mending become obstructed. But the underlying desire is for their partner to see how deeply pained they feel.

Eventually when the one wounded has been seen, heard, and cared for, it will be integral for both to explore the reasons the other has turned away (this applies to an affair as well). It may be all too comfortable to settle back in to being in a “good” mood. The waters have calmed, the partner is in a pleasant state, so why rock the waters, right? But the pattern will perpetuate when the heart issues do not get addressed.

The one who has turned away has the responsibility to understand his/her own needs, desires, fears, etc. and allow their partner in to their internal world. It does not mean every single detail is unveiled, but what is vital for the relationship to grow. When both can talk about what the one who has turned away was feeling when they reached out to porn, what they were longing for, the obstacles to revealing this to their partner, what they were trying to meet through pornography (or an affair), and how they felt afterwards, it will begin to shape and shift the relationship, hopefully for the better.

When both invite and allow the other to unveil themselves, it uniquely affects each person where they can move into seeing the other as a separate person, struggling and traveling through the wounds, barriers and layers of shame to become their true selves and to experience true connection. It is a harrowing endeavor to commit to one another and one’s self in order to grow into fullness and aliveness. The pull to leave and end the discomfort and agony is looming and alluring. To commit is literally courageous, fighting against that current, in the hopes that such commitment will lead to greater life. It is the road less traveled.

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Vulnerability: The Path to Life

Vulnerability, in my opinion, runs the risk of becoming a buzz word, evolving into a cliché that becomes overused, idealized and continuously invited to partake in, with little understanding of its rich meaning and application. But the word points to something so significant and life- altering that it deserves both understanding and exploration.

Vulnerability, now earning more conversation, particularly because of Brené Brown, is a powerful experience of the human self, that has transformative qualities, invoking impact to the revealer and those within the revealer’s presence. It is a bold and courageous endeavor to move past the layers of shame, fear and judgment, pasted on our identities, to get to the coreof our selves.

When researching the origin and meaning of vulnerability, I found that its roots stem from Latin, which defines it as a “position to be harmed, maimed and/or marred.” Crazy! Vulnerability is a state and action of exposing one’s innermost being with risk of being hurt, even profoundly wounded. It is about getting to the heart or root, and revealing the emotional/needy self without our manufactured defenses.

This literally pushes itself against the grain of how humanity lives and functions, which is caked in defense, self-protection and primed to move away from the innermost self. We’re talking about deeply, entrenched, neurologically carved-out reflexes to avoid any more relational pain.

What we call weakness, is actually strength; to literally move in the opposite direction of what our forceful self-protective impulses tell us. And yet, regardless of the muscular defenses, we’re invited to enter into vulnerability? Huh?

This certainly warrants some unraveling, especially since vulnerability is what we are asked to return to from Jesus (he did not explicitly say this, but it is implied when in his talks about becoming like a child and being “born again”- he is actually referring to this state of vulnerable being).

The Child that Leads us to Life

Who are the most explicit, blatant, uninhibited vulnerable persons in our world? Children. They are naturally and authentically human, profoundly operating out of their uniqueness, even if they are unaware of it for a period of time. Children reveal to us our true selves and can disarm even the most calloused, hard-shelled hearts. They are innately and expressively sincere and genuine.

There are likely a multitude of qualities that children imbue, but specifically they hold a pureness and innocence. Their motives are uncontaminated, unscathed by injured ways of getting needs met. They have an inherent discernment for trust and danger. Despite their ability to put language to what they intuitively sense, children connect so purely to the heart, knowing who is trustworthy and who is not.

They are confident to connect to their caregivers and express their needs. They carry a boldness, curiosity, courage, a natural inclination to explore, wonder, and discover. They do not hold judgment towards themselves for their inabilities or their ever-progressing development. Some may be bolder than others, but with an adequate amount of support they step into risk and adventure.

They also radiate forgiveness and tenderness. When children experience the modeling of vulnerability from their caregivers, who own their shortcomings, and express care for their child’s own personhood, children develop this understanding and strengthened capacity for empathy and compassion, not stuck guarding their hurt and pain.

Children are also at the greatest risk of pain, because of their innately vulnerable natures. Some of the greatest hurts are created when we are young, birthing this “frozen” effect where we are stuck in a child-likeness that is wounded and underdeveloped. And when the hurts continue unhealed, we develop more walls and protectives to avoid damage, thus burying our vulnerable self.

I believe one of the gifts of children is to both to remind us and draw us back to our True Selves, teaching us the ways of living a full life, vibrant and connected. It makes sense then when Jesus’s caveat to being and experiencing the richness of life and God’s presence is to become transformed into child-likeness.

Adam and Eve: Vulnerability Ignites Closeness

There is so much to learn from Genesis, which I will be writing about more and more. For now, I want to highlight an important element before shame and hiding entered into the picture. When God introduced Eve to Adam, something fired up within; an excitement and delight for which his loneliness called.

When they stood before each other “naked and unashamed” they saw each other fully. There were no layers of protectives, or walls or guards. They were in full vulnerable operation.

There was nothing hidden, except the mystery of learning, exploring and discovering one another, including their own selves. There was pureness, trust, and security between the two. There was no calling one another out of shame and having to navigate defense after defense to get to the vulnerable self. Nothing inhibited connection.

And what was the response? Reflexively they drew closer to each other. They became sexually intimate, sealing a bond. They were now united, attached, deeply connected. When we enter into a state of vulnerability together, working through the gripping force to hide, instinctually we feel compelled to draw closer, whether sexually or in proximity.

A Vulnerable God

If we are mirrors to reveal God, then children are the purest, clearest reflection of Him. So, children, who are naturally vulnerable, reveal a God who operates in this way. Jesus displayed this profoundly in his life. God in human skin, living an exposed, authentic life to reveal his heart to all. If vulnerability invites an instinctual closeness, then God lived it so deeply and purely in Jesus that his desire was to draw those to him; to experience connection and the richness of life.

Those who became child-like, who experienced the “born-again” paradigm, and their inability to bring fullness to their own needs, saw the light and drew towards him boldly, unwaveringly. Encountering their own heart, neediness and humanness allowed them to see True Life and move towards it. They were no longer buried under shame and hiddenness, experiencing and indulging in the invitation for Eternal Joy.

We see a God who poured himself out, becoming one of us, so secure in his needs being met, that he could both serve and honor others, as well as care for himself when he hit his limits. His capacity to pour out revealed that he had first experienced a pouring in, which vulnerability with God invites. And when we choose to connect intimately with God, we don’t have to convince ourselves to see the abundance provided, we actually see it and enjoy it fully, inviting others into the feast.

Lastly, Jesus said in the beatitudes, “blessed are those who are persecuted…blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” That is not exactly an incentive to live life abundantly and joyfully. That might leave one looking around every corner and approaching situations with extreme caution. But the vulnerable life Jesus taught, which shares genuinely one’s own heart, and speaks to the heart of others, actually lives a rich, challenging and joyful life. They are living out meaning, fullness, security, and wholeness, because it has been given and continues to be.

Jesus’s modeling of vulnerability, not only drew those whose hearts were now exposed and wide-open, but such pureness drew out the lack and stirred up the insecurity in others. The motives of those who attempted to kill or harm him, stemmed from their own self-hatred and self-judgment. Such exposure was too terrifying and they sought to annihilate what they believed to be the source of this internal torment, by destroying him. The issue is that the judgment they carried, stemmed from shame, not God.

Closing Thoughts

 The vulnerable heart operates out of reality, precisely seeing the deepest intention of others; their destructive behaviors and misaligned identities stemming from shame, drawing out the True Self hidden within the shadows of judgment. Such a heart confronts the wrongdoing, the pains caused, the destruction and harm done to others, and the distortion of an intimate and vulnerable God.

It lives to share a love imprinted and solidified in the heart, giving voice to sadness, anger, fear and longing within the injured soul. A person who moves out of the True Self is honest about their own hurts and pain, sharing so to build bridges, instigate closeness and mend wounds. It is a risky and bold way to live, putting one in the position to be harmed, encountering the projections of a wounded and shamed heart.

This vulnerable heart has become “born again”, living in their child-likeness, filled with joy, wonder, curiosity, bravery, and a hunger to radiantly express the Love they have encountered poignantly. The vulnerable heart has the greatest impact, rippling out to those within its path, revealing, challenging, healing, and transforming, even at the cost of “losing one’s life”.

 

 

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The Tumultuous Path of Forgiveness

Part of the tension and mystery in this life is discovering how to be with ourselves and how to be with others. The struggle is learning how to exist in our own bodies and in our own selves; accepting and embracing our “otherness”, our separateness, including our own emotions, needs, wants, desires, fantasies, dreams, passions, sexuality, talents, gifts, etc. We are also struggling to learn to embrace another’s own otherness. How do we be together and separate at the same time, connected to our own selves and yet connected to another without losing our self? When we do not properly differentiate or separate ourselves from another, we stay stuck in a state of fusion or an enmeshed identity with another. Their pain is our pain and vice versa. It is an identity entanglement.

Unforgiveness facilitates fusion with another. What it does is cultivate and perpetuate hurt and pain that places responsibility on the one, who either intentionally or unintentionally acted in a way that created hurt, for mending, restoring and healing that damage. Unfortunately, such expectations do the exact opposite. It feeds the hurt all the more and the individual who has been wounded never touches the pain that only they can face, burying further in defense and compulsive coping strategies.

Fusion means we create dependence between ourselves and the other for our own emotional states and well-being. No longer is that person seen as an “other” but becomes enmeshed in my own pain, who then is obligated for the relief of it. So, if I am sad, then I believe it is another’s responsibility to take care of my sadness; or loneliness, or emptiness or hurt, etc.

If the other fails to do so according to my illusory expectations, then I build up a defense of anger, and unprocessed anger leads us deeper into dimensions of anger such as bitterness and hate. Admittedly, in our overwhelming place of pain and helplessness we want to consume the other in our hurt, subjecting them to the pain we feel. In other words, we desperately want them to see how deep the cut goes as a result of their actions.

With unforgiveness we no longer see that person as an individual who acted out of their own wounded ways to try to mend or medicate something broken within. Unforgiveness is a defense against our own bleeding. Now, it does not make the act right or just in any way, nor does it mean we ignore our own pain. Responsibility needs to be put on the other for what they did that violated and caused harm to our own hearts but making them healer for our own pain only leads to ruin and a disconnected self that remains saturated in hurt.

 

THE SCARY HEART JOURNEY OF FORGIVING

The journey into forgiveness is a harrowing one that I think gets distorted. It can be a very difficult and tumultuous process. Sometimes we default to saying the magical words “I forgive that person”, but our heart is unaligned with the mantra. Others may encourage us to “get over it” or “let it go”, but they fail to miss the deeper reasons why we “can’t just move on”. Because the truth is that it is not a “cognitive” or “intellectual” process. What I mean is that forgiveness can only come from the heart and the release of that person happens when we commit to journeying into the pain that we feel in response to the act done to us.

However, forgiveness has no time table, it only takes shape and form when we choose to step into the messiness of it. Practically speaking, if we don’t feel “ready” to forgive, then owning that and talking about it is necessary. God does not force us to forgive; however, it is an inevitable venture towards freedom and healing.

Usually when we are not “ready”, it is because we are scared to face the intensity of the pain. We don’t want to even acknowledge that we feel hurt by another’s actions. Our bodies recoil at such weakness, exposure and vulnerability. We are also scared to admit how much we are angry or hate the other, avoiding acknowledgement and actually letting ourselves feel the emotion. Or sometimes that is all we allow ourselves to feel, believing in its protection. At times, because we are so hurt, we develop a sense of pride, or an elevated perspective of ourselves over another, dehumanizing them to generate an imagined control.

I believe that when we take the steps to acknowledge our anger (and actually express it), our “readiness” and our fear, we have begun to move into forgiveness. We may pull back because we are scared but embracing and allowing ourselves to feel that fear instead of pushing away or judging ourselves for it is important to stay in the healing process. It is normal to encounter the ebb and flow of pushing into the pain and then pulling away from it. Sometimes we believe we have forgiven, despite more emotion stirring up down the road. But again, the best action to take is to embrace feeling it when enters back into the scene.

As we engage in the pain of being wounded, we experience the thick presence of feeling lost, helpless, and powerless. We grieve what has been done and the impact the person had on us, as well as the change in the relationship. It is an important time of acknowledging and seeing our humanness.

Eventually as we develop compassion and care for our own hearts, we begin to see the other in a different light. No longer are they vilified, enmeshed and devoured by our own hate. Enigmatically, their humanness becomes clearer to us, and the compassion we have for ourselves pours out to them. It does not mean we reenter back into relationship with them, especially if it endangers ourselves or others, but we no longer view them through the scope of vengeance. Their own fragileness and brokenness that were obfuscated by revenge, are now all the more tangible.

The continual process of forgiveness progressively moves us into a state of a transcended self, more deeply connected with God, greater attunement to His Kingdom, and strengthening our capacity to care for those that wound us and others, no longer seeing them as enemies, but attempting to find their own true humanity through broken and bent ways. Forgiveness is more than “letting go” or releasing or no longer feeling pain; it is about moving further into our God-created selves.

 

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Confrontation: An Act of Intimacy

Confrontation has unfortunately developed both a negative connotation and a tarnished reputation. In its expression it often gets imbued with criticism, defensiveness, sometimes rage and shaming. The recipient can end up shell-shocked, disoriented, lost in the shrapnel and atomic dust clouds of being ripped apart, scattered and trying to gather him or herself back together.

And that is the issue, that confrontation can be fueled by suppressed anger and hurt, no longer able to be restrained; and when the container bursts, anger is unleashed in fury and vitriol. The deliverer is saturated with hurt as he unveils his pain to the other with unbridled and raw force, at times attacking another’s heart and personhood.

But confrontation is actually intended to be healing for both parties. Its delivery is not done in nose-to-nose combat and hostile words, but a compassionate and vulnerable revelation, allowing the receiver to see one’s self more clearly; for we are all lost in the shadows of ourselves to some degree.

When the deliverer shares honestly about how they are impacted by another’s behavior, the hurt that surfaces and how it is obstructive to connection, it can create a subtle shift within the other. Sharing from a place of how one is impacted and feels in the context of another’s behavior is far more powerful than an attack towards the other, which tends to quickly kick the walls up. What becomes clearer to the receiver is his own self and injured/unhealed ways of operating in the world.

Confrontation is about connection and generating greater closeness with the other. It is a sacred opportunity to reveal one’s self even further and the other’s impact to their own heart. It is meaningful to both, including the relationship as a whole. The message communicated is that, “something is obstructing or inhibiting our closeness and you living out of your true self; the way you are coping or handling life is blocking you from thriving and experiencing freedom.”

It is like a relational “splinter” where every time you step, that nagging, acute pain makes its presence known, hindering engagement. That “splinter” is usually defined by defense mechanisms and/or destructive coping habits that guard against emotion and the vulnerable self.

Confrontation is also for the well-being of the deliverer, in the sense that they heal when they care for their own heart and the pain felt within, and are vulnerable before the other. It is a mirror for both, that can result in beautiful growth and flourishment, instead of detachment. Although scary, it is an integral part of becoming authentically human, alive and more connected. 

 

 

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Repentance: How it is Really About Connection

I have often viewed repentance through a skewed lens. The image conjured up is one of a rotund, fiery preacher, beads of sweat drown his face, as he throws shards and knives of condemnation and judgment towards his congregation for their “sinful” ways. Such an image invites a shudder and avoidance of venturing anywhere towards this word.

Even the story of John the Baptist emphatically exclaiming to others to “repent, turn away from their sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom is near,” can leave one a little cold. But that is only when it is seen from a lens that distorts its meaning and intention. We misunderstand its significance and genuine meaning, because it is filtered through our own culture and upbringing, which shapes our view of love, connection and intimacy. Repentance is about turning back and reconnecting. It is rich and beautiful and a vulnerable act of love and humility.

God is saying to “come back.” He is inviting us into an intimate bond with him. The Prodigal Son is a poignant and beautiful parable of repentance. The son turns away and inevitably encounters his own powerlessness and weakness, compelling him to turn back to his Father, who greets him with celebration and an abundance of riches. It is quite the welcoming for the son who dishonored and “turned away” from his Father.

It is wired into our soul, the reflexive need to attach or connect. Our minds generate neurochemicals that create the bonding experience, which records moments of pleasure, satisfaction and wholeness with the associated object. It is impossible to live a life of detachment for we instinctively end up bonding to something, searching for belonging. God is a God of attachment and bonding and thus, he is calling and inviting us to reconnect with Him. And instead of shaming or punishing, he blesses us lavishly and celebrates our return with unbridled joy. God does not shame us into his presence, but invites and rejoices over our return.

And subsequently, instead of running away from ourselves and our emotional pain, we express every deep, shamed and avoided part of ourselves before Him, allowing His love to be the balm and healing oil to our hurt, instead of the imitation attachments to which we originally connected.

The painful part is experiencing our own powerlessness and helplessness, as well as the futility of our own efforts to achieve satisfaction and wholeness. But it is a necessary step for our hearts to be richly filled with an unmatched and lavishly gratifying love. Repentance is a calling to turn away from counterfeit attachments that offer transient fulfillment, and into the overwhelmingly loving presence of a God who delights in bonding with his children, providing lasting satisfaction. 

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The Healing Power of Listening: Attuning to Our Own Hearts (Part II)

How we respond to others in the manifestation of their pain is a reflection of how we care for our own heart and react to our own pain. One cannot connect to another’s heart and pain in healing ways, unless they have first experienced a healing connection to their own. That’s a scary journey, to face one’s own self and all that lies within the heart, including all the shame, fear and judgment towards the heart’s tenants.

The journey inward is one in which the individual begins to look at themselves and the internal world that has been shrouded by shame. Every emotion, desire, need, want, and the intensity of each has been contaminated by shame’s presence, winding and entangling itself around normal human inclinations and needs. 

But in barricading and protecting the self from a heart saturated by shame, we develop defenses to navigate and function through life. We intellectualize, introspect, minimize, catastrophize, deny, over-spiritualize, devalue, over-care for others, enable, develop attachments to help cope, push down, channel through something, become passive, deflect, blame, etc. all to avoid the inescapable vulnerability of exposure to our own heart.

Why? Because we have not yet encountered a Love that is tender, merciful, safe, present and deeply caring. It is a Love that truly listens. It is a Love that does not come through intellect or memorizing or reading Scripture, but through an actual vulnerable encounter where the self meets the God that Scripture points to. We can read all we want, but it can never substitute for the real face-to-face presence. 

As we encounter our own hearts obstructed by shame and judgment, we inevitably experience God’s presence. The two cannot be separated, for the heart cries out for the Heart Maker. 

And when we welcome that which surfaces in our hearts it is because we stopped living out of defense, for we have engaged with a Love that does not push what lies within away or respond out of repulsion.

So if we respond to another’s pain, or the coping strategy to such pain, with judgment or attempts to numb them from their own pain, most likely we do the same to our own emotional self and behavior (and there are several approaches in which we respond in dismissive ways). 

One who welcomes and takes care to see the other in their emotional state, listening in a way that opens up the heart even wider, has encountered both a welcoming and the Loving Invitation into their own heart. 

  

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The Healing Power of Listening: The Self As the Listener (Part I)

I’m not a fan of listening as a “skill”, because it is much richer and significant in its action, creating opportunity for greater engagement. A skill can often be done with little emotion, generated out of routine and memory. Where listening has commonality to a skill is that it has a developing nature to it; that the more someone practices it, traveling through the clumsy and awkward stages, the more fine tuned the ability becomes.

But listening is much more than a skill or craft, like woodworking, cooking, art, etc. Listening becomes a part of the self and the heart, colored and enriched by compassion, tenderness and a deep care. It creates an encounter for beautiful engagement, closeness and healing. Woven into us is a desire to be seen and known, and listening nourishes and nurtures that need.

 In all honesty, I think the greatest healing is not the miraculous, but relational engagement and attunement. Such significant transformation of the heart occurs within the healing presence of one another that God has hardwired into us; this is the most significant spiritual encounter. When a person is seen and known, something shifts; the person becomes alive, tender, innocent, and “child-like” and they open up more because they feel safe.

When listening becomes a part of the self, it doesn’t become “second-nature”, it is the nature of the self. As one begins to open up and share, something within is ignited and activated in the listener, hearing the deeper messages and cries of the heart that may not always be explicit in its delivery. We feel with them, experiencing their heart and their world, discerning when to speak, respond, challenge/confront, laugh, cry and comfort. We feel when they pull away in reaction to our response or because of the shame in revealing greater vulnerabilities.

We also enter into vulnerable chambers with them, discovering the nuances of their internal world. No formula can substitute for a compassionate heart that deeply attunes and cares for the soul of another, allowing the true self to beam through the cracks of the hurting heart. And we all have the potential to become the listener, but only when we first begin to listen to and care for our own heart…(to be continued)

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True Manhood: Male Intimacy (Part IV)

There is a part of the male identity that has been distorted and shamed, developing into a tangled mess within the self. Woven into the he hearts of men is the desire to connect with other men, but on a level that is often shamed and uncomfortable.

Intimacy among men has been judged and warped by the force of shame. Men “shouldn’t long to be held by another man, right?” And yet, I believe, to some degree, the homosexual community are profoundly stating the hole in male connection; the desire to express affectionate love to other men. Even in its development of becoming sexual, woven into the sexuality and behavior screams the need to be close and connected to men that is often unreached.

It truly is an unspoken epidemic, that men actually need other men in affectionate ways. Somehow as we develop in age such a need becomes covered, pushed down, annihilated, minimized or forgotten, but is always there, its presence lingering, calling out for male intimacy.

As children, sometimes these needs become shamed whether intentionally or not, explicitly or covertly and it can pierce into the soul, causing one to unconsciously suppress this need. Father’s, “good-enough” ones, will tenderly and affectionately love their boys, kissing, touching, cuddling, etc. It speaks to an innate need for masculine affection, from the beginning.

The masculine heart that experiences a malnourishment of masculine/fatherly/brotherly love will greatly impact their identity. Men will fail to see the inherent feminine side to them; tenderness, the need for closeness, vulnerability, and affection. And when this side experiences the crushing blow of shame, or it contaminates the need for male affection, we develop personas/guards against shame that has entangled itself around such needs.

In self-hatred towards a wounded masculinity that has been modeled, men will deny or never fully see the existence of their true masculinity, instead enhancing their femininity or creating an intense, uber-macho, hyper-masculinity, which truthfully hides a fragile, hurting heart.

Men that hide behind hyper-masculinity recoil at any sign of the feminine and any affection from men, often with vitriolic rage. Their recoiling signals strongly to the shame within and their own discomfort with the need for genuine male companionship and love.

For myself, I realize the significance and importance of this love in my own life. It can be at times a great discomfort and comfort. I hesitate with expressing affection, worried about another’s response, anticipating the potential for recoiling and rejection. Although the desire for expression is present and great, the action is filled with hesitance and discomfort.

I will end on this. A while ago, a client of mine, who is homosexual in his orientation, asked me to sit next to him and hold him. Without hesitation I honored his request, but it was a moment filled with great unease and judgment towards myself, consumed with insecurity while missing a beautiful experience of a man asking to be held by another man; a need deeply intrinsic in the heart of all men. It was a great challenge that enabled me to face my own insecurities, despite my hopeful dreams of this happening more among men. It was a sacred moment of healing for both of us.

I truly believe God is calling and bringing these sacred experiences in greater fullness and opportunity for men.

 

 

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True Manhood: True Womanhood: How Women Bring Men Closer to the Heart (Part III)

There exists a dance within the romantic relationship. One that beckons and yearns for closeness, while also encountering its counterpart of distance, revealing to the self the need to be bonded to another. And women are the barometers for connection in the relationship.

The reason why women have been gifted with this innate sense of relational closeness connects to her motherhood. Women must be attuned to their children, especially as infants, discerning their needs through the expression of cries, eventually developing into emotion. They are the initial foundation or source of closeness and connection with their little ones. If a mother ignores her child’s cries for nurture, care and relief, the child will become malnourished and arrested  in their development.

This is in no way a reduction of womanhood, solely defined by her motherhood or her mothering nature; but I cannot separate women from their innate desire and ability to mother. The two are inextricably bound within her. To reject or annihilate this (which is impossible), is to reject a part of the self that is inseparable and beautiful.

And so this inherent attunement to relational connection is sensed in her own romantic partnership.

When a woman cries for closeness from her husband, she is experiencing  distance from him and its impact on the relationship. But even further, she is signaling to him that he is distant from his own self, for if he is truly connected to his heart, he will hear his own cries for closeness, engagement and connection, to which he will be faced with the decision to turn towards her or away.

The greater the chasm between the two, the louder and more intense her cries become, evolving into anger, a protest towards the distance. Like someone who is far away in proximity, so the yells for emotional closeness grow louder as her lover increases his distance from her.

How beautiful is this; that the true design of a relationship is a harmonious rhythm. When the man elevates himself above her or if he turns away in the relationship, the rhythm negatively impacts the harmony. Simply, when men elevate themselves above women, consequently objectifying them, women will inevitably hate their innate womanhood and strive to replicate a distorted masculinity. And if men turn away from their intimate partners, women will make great efforts to bring harmony back to the connection, but if distance is prolonged, she will feel hopelessness and pull away.

If we listen to the beckoning of women, they are telling us to turn toward our own hearts, facing the struggle, shame and self judgment within. They are calling us to encounter the true and false self, and enter into the hard journey of God fulfilling and restoring authentic manhood, one which ventures into the heart of the self and the hearts of others. As men boldly turn towards the heart, consequently they will begin to walk in true manhood that values and elevates, with honor and great care, those around them. 

True Manhood embraces True Womanhood, heeding the call from women to listen to one's own heart, disconnection and need for intimacy.

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True Manhood: The "Head" (Part II)

I love the way God teaches us through his natural creation to help us understand the deeper, more intricate facets of life. God is a masterful artist and poet, creating connections out of everything he made to describe us, him and our relationship. I can’t help but use biological metaphors to describe God’s relational presence woven into this world.

For instance, men are called to be the “head”. Now there is certainly a context to what Paul is talking about in Corinthians, but I want to add another angle to it. Biologically, part of the head’s function is to see and know and respond. Signals from the rest of our body fire messages to our brain which cause us to turn our attention to, or focus on, and respond in healing, caring ways. For instance, when we cut our finger, pain signals travel up to our brain informing us that something is wrong and needs an immediate nurturing response to care for the pain. Same thing if we are hungry, or tired, etc. The Brain is the response center for our action.

However, and now speaking relationally, if we have received very wounding relational responses from our caregivers towards our emotional/physical/connection needs, our brain records such and we will then care for our own selves in the way that we have been taught. Consequently, when we care for ourselves in distorted ways of trying to nurture the emotional cries for care, we will do the same towards others in our intimate circle (a future topic I will discuss).

So, it adds clarity to when Jesus highlights the greatest commandment, which is to love God with every fiber of your being and to love your neighbor as yourself. There is an order to healthy loving, which begins in the healing closeness with God that inevitably pours out to others. It is a natural, unforced outpouring. It also adds richer understanding when Paul likens the man’s love towards his wife to the treatment of his own physical body.

For when a man has encountered the merciful, peace-giving, gracious, forgiving, tender, caring, nurturing love of the Creator, he will reflexively do so in like, almost unconsciously.

But what I truly want to highlight is how Paul connects the man’s calling in the marital bond to Christ and His church; how Christ’s objective is to present the church as beautiful, restored, transformed, pure, and abundantly rich with his love. And how did and does He do this?

Well…he wrapped himself in the flesh he created, intentionally sought intimate communion with the Father; cared for those who were blatant in their pain and weakness; calling them out of their shame; spent time with the outcasts, wept, expressed intimate love towards both men and women; lived a life of dying to the self all the way to his death; never building walls of defense, for there was nothing for him to defend in himself; and revealing the truest form of vulnerable love…sacrifice.

And who did he mostly teach this to? Men. Why? Because in our human brokenness, men elevated and constructed societies and religion built on the elevation of the self, which included shaming and objectifying women, restricting their freedoms, abilities, worth and value. When religion consists of elevating and protecting the self, then it must objectify and subjugate others to fuel and sustain the ego.

He taught men true love, by dying to the desire to hoist up the self. He modeled vulnerable and sacrificial love symbolically through washing feet and allowing others to do so to him (the prostitute that poured expensive oils on his).

There is something indescribably beautiful when a man pursues a woman, caring for her emotional need and health; to which when a woman is seen and heard, nurtured and loved on an emotional level, the beauty that radiates is unmatched; it is a beauty that can never be manufactured or surgically constructed.

Jesus taught that kind of vulnerable pursuit, especially to men.

Jesus taught authentic manhood. 

 

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True Manhood: A Vulnerable Calling...Introduction (Part 1)

The understanding of manhood is imminent and vital. It has strayed far from the path of genuine masculinity. In the wake of reports regarding sexually harmful behavior towards women, men inevitably are faced with the painful exposure of the false self and challenged to change.

My heart is heavy for both the women who have been hurt, betrayed, violated and degraded, as well for the men, who are lost, confused, adrift, imprisoned, craving genuine intimacy, and have turned to harmful efforts to meet such relational needs.

This will certainly be an ongoing topic for me, for there is much to say, understand and discover about false and true manhood. Now that such behavior is being exposed, it is with great responsibility that we collectively address the heart of such a devestating epidemic. 

For what has been occurring for decades, women, in angry protest, are crying out to be seen and heard by men, no longer compliant with the degrading, manipulative and condescending treatment they have received.

Although such methods of protest only scratch the surface of the heart, they are necessary in order for transformation to occur. I believe the most lasting and impactful change happens with men, and with such blatancy now before us regarding the dishonoring and damaging of hearts, it would be a greater injustice to ignore or inflate our egos in an attempt to obscure the surrounding cries of pain.

Thus, I embark on the journey of uncovering True Manhood...

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The Unwanted Self (A Poem)

We've tried everything we could
To rid that part we hate
But its permanence remains
An unrelenting mocking that sneers its toxic venom
A bitter voice that hisses and says "you are worthless"..."you will never be loved"
Sometimes it's a presence that burns so deeply
Other times its carbon monoxide;
A silent existence that unknowingly and insidiously destroys the soul
Feeling its poison and vitriolic hate, at a moment too late
A spectral tyrant, a looming invisible force, ominous and omnipotent
And to annihilate it, to destroy and rid this enemy, we alter the self
We stuff, augment, reduce, graft, feed, snort, inject, drink, compulsively study, enhance, extend, amputate, sever, cover, restrict, rescue others, isolate, obsess, blame, project, bully, elevate above another, hate the other, destroy the other...
And it won't leave...that force just won't go away,
A soul squatter, hiding in the shadows, always out of reach...
...And then we realize that we are destroying ourselves
Pushing away that part that has been injured, a cavernous wound within the soul,
Throbbing with inflamed hurt caused by another, filled with their own agony.
It becomes clear...we have been running away from ourselves,
Terrified of facing that haunting presence,
Believing it is repulsive, evil, destructive, impure, unloveable;
It bleeds into every part of our soul, consuming all of the self.
And we surrender all of ourself,
Laying down the surgical instruments of self-alteration, operated in self-hatred.
And a loving Presence reveals Himself in the midst of ache,
Pouring over the wounds, cleansing them with an oil inimitable, 
A richly tender balm that smooths over the rough, gritty, calloused layers,
That have obfuscated the true self, obstructing us from seeing the shamed parts in truth.
A burtal but satisfying restoration,
The true self surfacing out of the rubble of shame,
The scars, a marking of the painful process of healing,
A symbol of a Love transformative and the self becoming united with the Loving Healer.

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An Apology That Builds Closeness

I recall a conversation with a close friend of mine, in which he shared how after a heated quarrel with his wife, she vulnerably opened up about feeling embarrassed over her reaction towards him. My friend expressed how meaningful that was to him for her to share vulnerably the impact her own actions towards him felt for her. He mentioned how he felt closer to her and how it was much more moving and healing to hear her share heartfelt embarrassment, entering into a vulnerable realm in their relationship.

Impacted by this story, I pondered on how we and, more specifically I, attempt to repair the hurts that come up in relationships. I notice with myself that I will quickly apologize often in the delivery of "I'm Sorry." But honestly, this is a reflexive response, quite automatic and self-protective when I encounter another's hurt in effect to my actions. My intention is to avoid the emotional blow amidst another's bruising. How painful to experience that someone has been hurt in the realm of our relationship and I want to cover up the ache and embarrassment.

But a "sorry" doesn't quite reach a satisfying mending. There is still an open gash that exists. An apology seems like a quick fix that truncates building intimacy. Sometimes the other may feel hurt despite no intention of harming, but listening and engaging and seeking to understand is integral. And yet, there are moments where I react out of hurt, with intention to wound the other. True ownership is the vulnerable expression of feeling toward's one's own actions and motives done in humbleness.

Expressing embarrassment and sadness over my own actions towards another with no intention to stifle their hurt and pain is far more powerful in reparation than a quick-fire succinct apology. When deeper levels of vulnerable expression and exchange occur, repair naturally happens, bringing a greater closeness and connection that inevitably strengthens the bond. Like any physical wound, relational wounds take nurturing and care between one another for wholistic healing to take effect. 

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The Beauty of Weakness

The acceptance of weakness is the prerequisite to fulfillment. This clashes with and confronts the objective that we have to be "strong" or "successful," but such objectives are futile. Within such a drive is the deep desire for meaning and fullness, but to sustain such personal advancements in life requires a constant dependence on our own self, continuously pumping fuel into our own tanks, living in terror of uncertainty and overworked to exhaustion and sickness. In fact, this lifestyle inevitably drives one to a state of helplessness and weakness that they are actively avoiding.

Taking it to a personal note, as I entered into the field of therapy, I encountered my own restless desire to be known and to be great...if not the greatest. Almost constantly, I was tormented with this insatiable need to get it right, even before I entered into sessions with clients, having to be flawlessly competent, possibly omniscient, leaving no mystery or uncertainty to face. But this interfered with my humanness, my vulnerabilities, the beauty of mistakes, the gift of learning and being taught.

I wanted to annihilate any opportunity to screw up, protecting myself from shame and its destructiveness. Yet I have learned that my messiness is a bridge for connection and healing. I have learned that there is beautiful healing and closeness in relationship when we own and share the areas of our hearts that we judge as shameful and grotesque. Jesus said that he came to heal the sick, but it is beyond the physical; it is the ownership and recognition that I am weak, that I have no control and am powerless. It requires acknowledgement that I have deep needs to be known, seen, cared for and loved and all my striving to gain this is to deny that I am helpless and powerless to meet such needs through my own efforts.

Those that own and enter into a state of weakness, which I believe is the state of being, experience intimacy and closeness and life versus the heart that attempts to manufacture living through a vehicle of unending consumption that unavoidably leads to a state of helplessness. I am not yet at a place where I have completely accepted my powerlessness. Striving and a drive to consume still surface, but more and more I am led into this place of weakness, where life not only begins, but is encountered and experienced richly.

 

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Vulnerability: The Path to Life

Vulnerability, in my opinion, runs the risk of becoming a buzz word, evolving into a cliché that becomes overused, idealized and continuously invited to partake in, with little understanding of its rich meaning and application. But the word points to something so significant and life- altering that it deserves both understanding and exploration.

Vulnerability, now earning more conversation, particularly because of Brené Brown, is a powerful experience of the human self, that has transformative qualities, invoking impact to the revealer and those within the revealer’s presence. It is a bold and courageous endeavor to move past the layers of shame, fear and judgment, pasted on our identities, to get to the coreof our selves.

When researching the origin and meaning of vulnerability, I found that its roots stem from Latin, which defines it as a “position to be harmed, maimed and/or marred.” Crazy! Vulnerability is a state and action of exposing one’s innermost being with risk of being hurt, even profoundly wounded. It is about getting to the heart or root, and revealing the emotional/needy self without our manufactured defenses.

This literally pushes itself against the grain of how humanity lives and functions, which is caked in defense, self-protection and primed to move away from the innermost self. We’re talking about deeply, entrenched, neurologically carved-out reflexes to avoid any more relational pain.

What we call weakness, is actually strength; to literally move in the opposite direction of what our forceful self-protective impulses tell us. And yet, regardless of the muscular defenses, we’re invited to enter into vulnerability? Huh?

This certainly warrants some unraveling, especially since vulnerability is what we are asked to return to from Jesus (he did not explicitly say this, but it is implied when in his talks about becoming like a child and being “born again”- he is actually referring to this state of vulnerable being).

The Child that Leads us to Life

Who are the most explicit, blatant, uninhibited vulnerable persons in our world? Children. They are naturally and authentically human, profoundly operating out of their uniqueness, even if they are unaware of it for a period of time. Children reveal to us our true selves and can disarm even the most calloused, hard-shelled hearts. They are innately and expressively sincere and genuine.

There are likely a multitude of qualities that children imbue, but specifically they hold a pureness and innocence. Their motives are uncontaminated, unscathed by injured ways of getting needs met. They have an inherent discernment for trust and danger. Despite their ability to put language to what they intuitively sense, children connect so purely to the heart, knowing who is trustworthy and who is not.

They are confident to connect to their caregivers and express their needs. They carry a boldness, curiosity, courage, a natural inclination to explore, wonder, and discover. They do not hold judgment towards themselves for their inabilities or their ever-progressing development. Some may be bolder than others, but with an adequate amount of support they step into risk and adventure.

They also radiate forgiveness and tenderness. When children experience the modeling of vulnerability from their caregivers, who own their shortcomings, and express care for their child’s own personhood, children develop this understanding and strengthened capacity for empathy and compassion, not stuck guarding their hurt and pain.

Children are also at the greatest risk of pain, because of their innately vulnerable natures. Some of the greatest hurts are created when we are young, birthing this “frozen” effect where we are stuck in a child-likeness that is wounded and underdeveloped. And when the hurts continue unhealed, we develop more walls and protectives to avoid damage, thus burying our vulnerable self.

I believe one of the gifts of children is to both to remind us and draw us back to our True Selves, teaching us the ways of living a full life, vibrant and connected. It makes sense then when Jesus’s caveat to being and experiencing the richness of life and God’s presence is to become transformed into child-likeness.

Adam and Eve: Vulnerability Ignites Closeness

There is so much to learn from Genesis, which I will be writing about more and more. For now, I want to highlight an important element before shame and hiding entered into the picture. When God introduced Eve to Adam, something fired up within; an excitement and delight for which his loneliness called.

When they stood before each other “naked and unashamed” they saw each other fully. There were no layers of protectives, or walls or guards. They were in full vulnerable operation.

There was nothing hidden, except the mystery of learning, exploring and discovering one another, including their own selves. There was pureness, trust, and security between the two. There was no calling one another out of shame and having to navigate defense after defense to get to the vulnerable self. Nothing inhibited connection.

And what was the response? Reflexively they drew closer to each other. They became sexually intimate, sealing a bond. They were now united, attached, deeply connected. When we enter into a state of vulnerability together, working through the gripping force to hide, instinctually we feel compelled to draw closer, whether sexually or in proximity.

A Vulnerable God

If we are mirrors to reveal God, then children are the purest, clearest reflection of Him. So, children, who are naturally vulnerable, reveal a God who operates in this way. Jesus displayed this profoundly in his life. God in human skin, living an exposed, authentic life to reveal his heart to all. If vulnerability invites an instinctual closeness, then God lived it so deeply and purely in Jesus that his desire was to draw those to him; to experience connection and the richness of life.

Those who became child-like, who experienced the “born-again” paradigm, and their inability to bring fullness to their own needs, saw the light and drew towards him boldly, unwaveringly. Encountering their own heart, neediness and humanness allowed them to see True Life and move towards it. They were no longer buried under shame and hiddenness, experiencing and indulging in the invitation for Eternal Joy.

We see a God who poured himself out, becoming one of us, so secure in his needs being met, that he could both serve and honor others, as well as care for himself when he hit his limits. His capacity to pour out revealed that he had first experienced a pouring in, which vulnerability with God invites. And when we choose to connect intimately with God, we don’t have to convince ourselves to see the abundance provided, we actually see it and enjoy it fully, inviting others into the feast.

Lastly, Jesus said in the beatitudes, “blessed are those who are persecuted…blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” That is not exactly an incentive to live life abundantly and joyfully. That might leave one looking around every corner and approaching situations with extreme caution. But the vulnerable life Jesus taught, which shares genuinely one’s own heart, and speaks to the heart of others, actually lives a rich, challenging and joyful life. They are living out meaning, fullness, security, and wholeness, because it has been given and continues to be.

Jesus’s modeling of vulnerability, not only drew those whose hearts were now exposed and wide-open, but such pureness drew out the lack and stirred up the insecurity in others. The motives of those who attempted to kill or harm him, stemmed from their own self-hatred and self-judgment. Such exposure was too terrifying and they sought to annihilate what they believed to be the source of this internal torment, by destroying him. The issue is that the judgment they carried, stemmed from shame, not God.

Closing Thoughts

 The vulnerable heart operates out of reality, precisely seeing the deepest intention of others; their destructive behaviors and misaligned identities stemming from shame, drawing out the True Self hidden within the shadows of judgment. Such a heart confronts the wrongdoing, the pains caused, the destruction and harm done to others, and the distortion of an intimate and vulnerable God.

It lives to share a love imprinted and solidified in the heart, giving voice to sadness, anger, fear and longing within the injured soul. A person who moves out of the True Self is honest about their own hurts and pain, sharing so to build bridges, instigate closeness and mend wounds. It is a risky and bold way to live, putting one in the position to be harmed, encountering the projections of a wounded and shamed heart.

This vulnerable heart has become “born again”, living in their child-likeness, filled with joy, wonder, curiosity, bravery, and a hunger to radiantly express the Love they have encountered poignantly. The vulnerable heart has the greatest impact, rippling out to those within its path, revealing, challenging, healing, and transforming, even at the cost of “losing one’s life”.

 

 

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The Tumultuous Path of Forgiveness

Part of the tension and mystery in this life is discovering how to be with ourselves and how to be with others. The struggle is learning how to exist in our own bodies and in our own selves; accepting and embracing our “otherness”, our separateness, including our own emotions, needs, wants, desires, fantasies, dreams, passions, sexuality, talents, gifts, etc. We are also struggling to learn to embrace another’s own otherness. How do we be together and separate at the same time, connected to our own selves and yet connected to another without losing our self? When we do not properly differentiate or separate ourselves from another, we stay stuck in a state of fusion or an enmeshed identity with another. Their pain is our pain and vice versa. It is an identity entanglement.

Unforgiveness facilitates fusion with another. What it does is cultivate and perpetuate hurt and pain that places responsibility on the one, who either intentionally or unintentionally acted in a way that created hurt, for mending, restoring and healing that damage. Unfortunately, such expectations do the exact opposite. It feeds the hurt all the more and the individual who has been wounded never touches the pain that only they can face, burying further in defense and compulsive coping strategies.

Fusion means we create dependence between ourselves and the other for our own emotional states and well-being. No longer is that person seen as an “other” but becomes enmeshed in my own pain, who then is obligated for the relief of it. So, if I am sad, then I believe it is another’s responsibility to take care of my sadness; or loneliness, or emptiness or hurt, etc.

If the other fails to do so according to my illusory expectations, then I build up a defense of anger, and unprocessed anger leads us deeper into dimensions of anger such as bitterness and hate. Admittedly, in our overwhelming place of pain and helplessness we want to consume the other in our hurt, subjecting them to the pain we feel. In other words, we desperately want them to see how deep the cut goes as a result of their actions.

With unforgiveness we no longer see that person as an individual who acted out of their own wounded ways to try to mend or medicate something broken within. Unforgiveness is a defense against our own bleeding. Now, it does not make the act right or just in any way, nor does it mean we ignore our own pain. Responsibility needs to be put on the other for what they did that violated and caused harm to our own hearts but making them healer for our own pain only leads to ruin and a disconnected self that remains saturated in hurt.

 

THE SCARY HEART JOURNEY OF FORGIVING

The journey into forgiveness is a harrowing one that I think gets distorted. It can be a very difficult and tumultuous process. Sometimes we default to saying the magical words “I forgive that person”, but our heart is unaligned with the mantra. Others may encourage us to “get over it” or “let it go”, but they fail to miss the deeper reasons why we “can’t just move on”. Because the truth is that it is not a “cognitive” or “intellectual” process. What I mean is that forgiveness can only come from the heart and the release of that person happens when we commit to journeying into the pain that we feel in response to the act done to us.

However, forgiveness has no time table, it only takes shape and form when we choose to step into the messiness of it. Practically speaking, if we don’t feel “ready” to forgive, then owning that and talking about it is necessary. God does not force us to forgive; however, it is an inevitable venture towards freedom and healing.

Usually when we are not “ready”, it is because we are scared to face the intensity of the pain. We don’t want to even acknowledge that we feel hurt by another’s actions. Our bodies recoil at such weakness, exposure and vulnerability. We are also scared to admit how much we are angry or hate the other, avoiding acknowledgement and actually letting ourselves feel the emotion. Or sometimes that is all we allow ourselves to feel, believing in its protection. At times, because we are so hurt, we develop a sense of pride, or an elevated perspective of ourselves over another, dehumanizing them to generate an imagined control.

I believe that when we take the steps to acknowledge our anger (and actually express it), our “readiness” and our fear, we have begun to move into forgiveness. We may pull back because we are scared but embracing and allowing ourselves to feel that fear instead of pushing away or judging ourselves for it is important to stay in the healing process. It is normal to encounter the ebb and flow of pushing into the pain and then pulling away from it. Sometimes we believe we have forgiven, despite more emotion stirring up down the road. But again, the best action to take is to embrace feeling it when enters back into the scene.

As we engage in the pain of being wounded, we experience the thick presence of feeling lost, helpless, and powerless. We grieve what has been done and the impact the person had on us, as well as the change in the relationship. It is an important time of acknowledging and seeing our humanness.

Eventually as we develop compassion and care for our own hearts, we begin to see the other in a different light. No longer are they vilified, enmeshed and devoured by our own hate. Enigmatically, their humanness becomes clearer to us, and the compassion we have for ourselves pours out to them. It does not mean we reenter back into relationship with them, especially if it endangers ourselves or others, but we no longer view them through the scope of vengeance. Their own fragileness and brokenness that were obfuscated by revenge, are now all the more tangible.

The continual process of forgiveness progressively moves us into a state of a transcended self, more deeply connected with God, greater attunement to His Kingdom, and strengthening our capacity to care for those that wound us and others, no longer seeing them as enemies, but attempting to find their own true humanity through broken and bent ways. Forgiveness is more than “letting go” or releasing or no longer feeling pain; it is about moving further into our God-created selves.

 

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Addiction is Romance

Addiction, in whatever form, is romance. It is the most extreme and severe form of it. It is an infatuated relationship; the object becoming one’s lover and the heart enveloping itself within it. Liken it to human romance. When a connection occurs, the individual is flooded with pleasure and satisfaction, the romantic interest etched in the brain.

The person gets lost in preoccupied wonder, abandoned to fantasy, strongly desiring to maintain connection. And as the bond strengthens, both individuals begin to turn increasingly more to one another. When they feel sad they look to each for nurture, or scared, for comfort. Their heart leaps and salivates over the thought of being together, of the future encounter.

When there’s rupture, or distance, they either protest and hungrily seek out that lover or collapse into sadness and despair, terrified at the permanence; a hellish, eternal disconnect. The pull for connection is an intense magnetic force, driving the two towards closeness. Any foreign obstruction that drives a wedge is vilified and becomes the enemy, infiltrating and blocking intimate engagement.

It is also why human relationships, especially romantic ones, suffer so greatly from addiction, because those addicted have turned away from the bond established between they and their lover. We were created to be connected. It is also the reason the one addicted cannot “just stop”; beyond just the physical dependency. Emotionally, the heart is connected to that which soothes, comforts, nurtures, beckons, brings pleasure, satisfies, adds creativity, excitement and creates a sense of wholeness. Despite actual reality, such outlets lack the scary experience of vulnerability which exist in human relationship. There is no “perceived” threat of harm, rejection, unavailability, or abuse.

Beneath the compulsive force to escape into one’s “lover” is a deep and omnipresent shame and suppressed rage towards those with whom the heart has been wounded by. The individual is fighting to bury such intensity and the excruciating pain of acknowledging that they have been hurt by those they love. Such intensity is channeled through the “high” of the “drug”.

Actual human relationships carry both pains and joys. It is terrifyingly vulnerable to experience the depth and hunger of one’s need for connection conflicting with the reality that the other is human, fragile at times, unavailable, angry, hurting, distant and capable of hurting. Any addiction is the fruition of a person’s felt need, emptiness, pain and the heart’s desire to comfort it.

The romance between the person and his “lover” is so powerful that the body literally becomes shaped and oriented to its ability to bring temporary satisfaction and a brief sense of wholeness. The lost self is searching to be found and creating fusion with the substance’s overwhelming presence of relief, pleasure and satisfaction. The person forgets himself as he finds refuge from the omnipresent existence of loneliness, emptiness and rage. The addictive outlet becomes the source for more than just escape, but the discovery of his own self, looking for identity and fulfillment, and yet needing to increase the substance/outlet’s presence and its effect on the entire body to sustain that state of “being”.

Usually, the person that becomes so entrenched in addiction and recreating that “lover’s presence” within himself, is one that not only feels a great pain, but also one that is completely lost and feels the ache of emptiness, most likely stemming from relational injuries in his past. More than likely, the person lost in the throes of addiction is trying to suppress a very overwhelming state of hate/rage.   

The goal, is for that person and those surrounding to look at their own hearts and how they contribute to the disconnected/abusive/addictive patterns within the relationship. An addiction is an actual relationship, one that has become a substitute and a “safe haven”. The shift happens when individuals begin to look at themselves, their wounded ways of trying to sustain relationship, but actually perpetuate disconnection from one another through enabling, as well as invalidating ways of responding to one another. Healing from addiction is not only an individual’s work, but a familial/societal one as well. 

 

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Confrontation: An Act of Intimacy

Confrontation has unfortunately developed both a negative connotation and a tarnished reputation. In its expression it often gets imbued with criticism, defensiveness, sometimes rage and shaming. The recipient can end up shell-shocked, disoriented, lost in the shrapnel and atomic dust clouds of being ripped apart, scattered and trying to gather him or herself back together.

And that is the issue, that confrontation can be fueled by suppressed anger and hurt, no longer able to be restrained; and when the container bursts, anger is unleashed in fury and vitriol. The deliverer is saturated with hurt as he unveils his pain to the other with unbridled and raw force, at times attacking another’s heart and personhood.

But confrontation is actually intended to be healing for both parties. Its delivery is not done in nose-to-nose combat and hostile words, but a compassionate and vulnerable revelation, allowing the receiver to see one’s self more clearly; for we are all lost in the shadows of ourselves to some degree.

When the deliverer shares honestly about how they are impacted by another’s behavior, the hurt that surfaces and how it is obstructive to connection, it can create a subtle shift within the other. Sharing from a place of how one is impacted and feels in the context of another’s behavior is far more powerful than an attack towards the other, which tends to quickly kick the walls up. What becomes clearer to the receiver is his own self and injured/unhealed ways of operating in the world.

Confrontation is about connection and generating greater closeness with the other. It is a sacred opportunity to reveal one’s self even further and the other’s impact to their own heart. It is meaningful to both, including the relationship as a whole. The message communicated is that, “something is obstructing or inhibiting our closeness and you living out of your true self; the way you are coping or handling life is blocking you from thriving and experiencing freedom.”

It is like a relational “splinter” where every time you step, that nagging, acute pain makes its presence known, hindering engagement. That “splinter” is usually defined by defense mechanisms and/or destructive coping habits that guard against emotion and the vulnerable self.

Confrontation is also for the well-being of the deliverer, in the sense that they heal when they care for their own heart and the pain felt within, and are vulnerable before the other. It is a mirror for both, that can result in beautiful growth and flourishment, instead of detachment. Although scary, it is an integral part of becoming authentically human, alive and more connected. 

 

 

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