Today I wasn’t really in the mood to sketch in church. As the sermon went on, though, an image coalesced around a few bits I was thinking about.
First of all, the shut door — was not in the mood to engage much with anyone about anything.
Second, the dad walking the baby around — a lovely older lady was asking the husbands in the congregation to do a little extra around the house so that the wives could be sure to go to a particular church event this week. Friends, dads are not babysitters — being involved with their kids is just plain part of being a dad. Or should be. Or, as Hand in Hand puts it, “fathers are primary parents.”
Third, the “Limitless” doormat — and the meat of my visceral response to a good sermon about forgiveness. There is really nothing I have to say against anything in the sermon — it was good. The problem was with something that was not really said — a hint at the end, but not enough. And I get that sermon time is limited — perhaps he’ll be able to address my concern in another sermon, or one of his emails to the church.
Here’s the problem. For certain kinds of folks, sermons about forgiveness sound like mandates to be doormats — limitless doormats. They hear “forgive seventy-seven times” as if it means the same thing as “let him hit you seventy-seven times” or “stay in that house despite the verbal abuse” or any number of other obligations to do nothing but forgive when others hurt them.
Yes, they hear the pastor say that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, and that they might still have emotions about the hurtful thing. Yes, they hear him say that forgiveness begins a process toward reconciliation, but does not constitute reconciliation itself. And they hear him say that forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no consequences.
And yet… more is needed. They need to hear that the wrongs they have suffered are real wrongs and worth being upset about — worth months, years, of grieving and raging and bitterness and whatever else comes up from it.
And here is where I get in trouble, because some folks are going to think I want people to have permission to just wallow in it and feed their bitterness and resentment forever on end. The thing is, no one can define for anyone else where that line is, the line between healthy healing acceptance of and experience of and metabolism of feelings on the one hand, and unhealthy, morbid, festering, faithless clinging to and wringing out of feelings on the other hand. Maybe for one person, it really does take fifty years to faithfully work through a big hurt. Maybe for another person, they can metabolize an upsetting experience in three minutes. Maybe for one person, the emotional work of healing is loud and messy and dramatic and full of “I” and full of unpleasantness. Maybe for someone else, it is quiet and interior.
It’s tricky to define that line for yourself, too. You don’t come to emotional work neutral, unbiased, and objective anymore than you come to anything neutral, unbiased, and objective. You have a whole host of inborn and internalized ideas about what is healthy emotionally and what is permitted and all that. One thing I learned in therapy, though, is that it often gets worse before it gets better — just like having an incorrectly healed bone broken and reset feels a lot worse — but will result in better functioning and ease later.
They also need to hear about boundaries — to have fleshed out more how forgiveness does not mean no consequences. That no one need stay in an abusive marriage. That no one need bare their soul to anyone who is not safe to bare their soul to. That people can put a safe distance, physically or psychologically, in any relationship.
It’s another very tricky topic. In order to be available for real relationship, we have to be open to risk — everyone will hurt us. And yet… I really don’t think we’re called to absolute vulnerability to everyone all the time. The middle ground is for each individual, with God, to negotiate.
This drawing is dedicated to my friend Beautiful Dreamer.