We've elucidated many ideas about forgiveness, primarily that it is a journey and that emotional healing is not on a straight time line. It occurs in stages, and healing becomes more like peeling an onion. Each layer brings tears and reminds us of what we've experienced in the past. We find ourselves remembering griefs we believe were healed and we have to reaffirm forgiveness as God takes our healing to a deeper level in our souls. We can take the hard road of the Path of Healing as an act of obedience to God and virtue, dedicating ourselves to genuine forgiveness which honors both the offended and the offender. We must choose to identify and resist both the Path of Denial which pretends in some way that no offense ever took place as well as the Path of Bitterness which deceives us into believing that we are forgiving when we're only gathering evidence to exonerate ourselves from blame and condemn our offender. We grieve quite a bit during this process and must learn to wisely discern true repentance from mental assent and lip service.
Since forgiveness is so important to our walk of faith, we should ask if there are ways of limiting the potential for offense. Developing a more realistic view of ourselves, others, and how much ability we have to direct our lives helps us limit offense, just as well as learning to love ourselves. These areas of growth in our lives make not only easier to love and accept people and situations honestly, they also help us develop realistic expectations which prevent the roots from which bitterness grow. We will inevitably offend one another, either because of our inherent differences or because of sin and failure, so developing these traits become something of both personal and spiritual disciplines. We will be offended, and it is inevitable that we will also be offensive to others, particularly to whom we are closest because of our proximity to them. But we can do more. We can develop our characters as we learn exemplify virtue. What a tall order for beings who are at enmity with God by nature, finding vice so much easier than virtues like patience and self sacrifice, particularly after suffering an offense! This is easier said than done.
Becoming a “Safe Person”
Recent posts discussed “boundaries” in relationships, one of the first steps we can take towards the healthy balance between respect others and a reasonable degree of respect for ourselves in our relationships. Townsend and Cloud authored an excellent, landmark book about boundaries from a Christian perspective, but a book I've actually found their book, Safe People, to be an even more important book in my own personal journey. It frames out the types of struggles we tend to face in life and offers very practical advice, the next step beyond boundaries, in a way. Sometimes it is hard to translate the New Testament's admonishment to into our own lives, and the book offers Biblical advice to help us apprehend those admonishments so that we can live them out with more clarity and honesty.
The book teaches many aspects about “safe people,” whose with whom we can experience trust and forgiveness more readily, supported by mutual respect and care of one another. It starts by defining what safe people are not, listing traits and habits of those who are “unsafe” – those who don't share both power and responsibility in personal relationships. The authors teach the reader how they can identify those who put them at risk emotionally and those who are not capable of respect and intimacy. It also has a section that echos some of the traits of vulnerability mentioned in a previous post concerning hard and soft targets for manipulation. Like the writings of George Simon, Robert Hare, and Harriet Braiker, Safe People explores similar habits in our lives that cause us to choose involvement with people who are unsafe for us.
This information is invaluable to us, especially if we keep repeating the same mistakes within our relationships, while also teaching ways of avoiding these relationship pitfalls. It then goes on, quite obviously, to define what a truly safe person looks and acts like within a relationship with us, and why we need such people in our lives. Jesus said in Matthew Chapter 10 that we should be both as innocent as doves but yet as wise as serpents, knowing when to trust and knowing when to “kick the dust from our feet,” a quite unpleasant act signifying unsafe relationships to say the least. The book teaches how one can learn to see others in a more realistic light, teaching how to discern the true nature of a person and how they will likely treat you and others.
But what I most enjoyed about this book was the way that it works much like a mirror that can allow a person to see themselves, identifying their own strengths as well as their weaknesses. While it is important to identify safe people with whom to develop relationships, it is also important to ask oneself, “Am I also a safe person for others?” Not all of our weaknesses of character involve our vulnerabilities. God calls us to walk with others in an attitude well disposed to forgiveness, kindness, and compassion, and this is a discipline that we learn through experience. So while the book offers the reader way of self protection, it all so sets the standard for conduct which challenges the reader, too.
Building Trust as a Milieu for Forgiveness
Just as we must weigh the motives of those who repent of wrongdoing as a necessary step on our journey of forgiveness, we must learn to have the right motives ourselves. A previous post touched on how to begin to discern true repentance, but Safe People delves further into the topic through the study of traits and character of the person, not just their behaviors associated with their repentance itself. Talk is cheap, and actions speak what words cannot. They create and foster a place where trust can begin to grow and mistrust and betrayal can begin to heal. These actions and traits can be learned through obedience, love, contrition, and honesty with ourselves and others. Books like this one can help us take a step in the right direction. They can help us apply the principles and virtues taught to us in Scripture in more concrete ways through example and modern parables that explain how we can best go about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
If you have someone in your life that has not forgiven you or you are not quite far along enough on your own personal journey of forgiveness with someone who has offended you, Safe People can be another set of tools to put into your toolbox of healing implements. Or would that toolbox be something more along the lines of a first aid kit, complete with a Balm of Gilead?
The next few posts will explore how a person can become a safer person with the express intent of encouraging conditions within relationships that will foster forgiveness, preparing the way for reconciliation.
Even more to come