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Looking Back on Relationships

(This post comes from Roger Mann.)

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while now is how my abuse affected me in the area of relationships and how I chose relationships.

The abuse left me feeling worthless. Without really articulating it as such, I had the feeling that my only worth to another person was as a sexual object. Hence, when I met someone I was interested in, or who seemed to like me, I assumed it was for sex.

That left me feeling shameful and guilty, so I gravitated toward people I felt were worse off than I was. If someone was attracted to me and they seemed too nice, I’d discourage any further interests. If someone who was a mess was drawn to me, I cultivated the friendship. I felt in some cases I could benefit them, but with others I had the advantage or power in the relationship and it would feel safe for me.

Even though the situation might have been less than ideal, I felt that it was more than I deserved. Those relationships didn’t last long and ended badly.

It’s taken me years to sort this all out. Now I understand why I did what I did. And that helps. But as I look around at the people in my circle of friends, I notice others doing the same thing. They see someone they’re attracted to but won’t go after them. When questioned, they usually look down and shrug.

I know that look and that shrug. They belong to a person who doesn’t feel worthy, who doesn’t think they deserve that kind of happiness. They won’t say it, and may not even understand what’s going on, but I can see it in their faces. I’ve seen that same face in my mirror.

Things are different now. I have a wonderful wife, but when we met, I once again wrote her off as too good for me. Over time, though, it began to feel right. She’s terrific and exactly what I needed. I thank God for her every day. Some days she annoys the heck out of me, but I need that. I’m glad she does. She’s been the engine of change that I think God has used to make me the man I need to be.

"I Could Never . . ." (Part 7 of 7)

All of us have harmed others, and we’ll do it again. We probably find it easier to forgive ourselves for those simple, thoughtless deeds. We tell ourselves, “I was having a bad day.” Or, “I received a bill for a huge amount and couldn’t find the cash to pay it.” Or, “Our son got in trouble with the police last night.” Our self-excusing goes on endlessly. We provide the rationale behind our foolish actions.

That’s not to equate what was done to us as minor. Our tendency is to condemn our abusers by focusing on the horror of what they did to us. “I would never . . . ,” we say. Or, “I could never . . .”

I think of a Bible verse I memorized many years ago: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

We’ve all made mistakes and harmed others; we will again. We may rightly call them minor, but it’s only a matter of degree.

We find it easier to practice forgiveness when we can imagine that the roles could have been reversed. Each of us could have been the perpetrator rather than the victim. Each of us has the capacity to commit the wrongs that were done to us. Although I might say, “I would never . . . ,” genuine humility answers, “I hope that, given the same circumstances, I wouldn’t . . .”

But can we ever really know? “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Because I’ve learned to forgive the simple things I’ve done to others, 
I can learn to forgive the serious things others did to me.

Forgiving Unconditionally (Part 6 of 7)

Forgiving unconditionally is different from forgiving with conditions. True forgiveness is a grace—a gift not deserved.

Forgiveness on our part frees the perpetrator who inflicted the pain. That’s where some falter, unable to let go. I understand that, but by letting them go, we also give up all claims to waiting for them to change or to confess they’ve hurt us.

By the simple act of wiping away their evil deeds from our hearts, we also free ourselves. We no longer feel a gnawing ache when the other person is mentioned. The tension leaves our body. It becomes like an old toothache—we may remember the experience, but we’re free from the agony.

I’ve learned that I need to have experienced undeserved pardon before I can pass it on. For me, as a Christian, that’s at the core of my faith. I didn’t deserve divine forgiveness, but I joyfully accept it.

Only as I understand unconditional forgiveness for myself 
am I able to offer it to someone else.

It's Not Up to Them (Part 5 of 7)

“When he admits what he’s done, then I’ll forgive.”

“I’m willing to forgive him for molesting me, after he admits what he did to me.”

We’ve all heard people say those words. What they can’t seem to accept is that forgiveness isn’t dependent on actions of others.

Of course, it’s easier to forgive when the perpetrator expresses remorse. Then we can feel as if we’ve been paid back in some way.

For many, forgiveness is the understanding that we offer to someone—a gift—but it has strings attached. The if-you-will condition is implied.

By adding conditions, they become the chains that bind us to the person who harmed us. We may set the conditions for granting forgiveness, but the person who harmed us decides whether the conditions are too costly.

If we wait for those who harmed us to repent, 
we may never be healed.