Friday, November 30, 2012

Streets to Avoid on the Journey of Forgiveness (Wisdom from Portia Nelson)

This poem is often discussed in Twelve Step groups and in addiction and recovery treatment centers, because people in recovery usually end up there because they get involved with hopeless relationships with other people who do not really want to grow. Dysfunctional relationships keep us trapped in cycles of futility, and they operate on the fuel of shame and blame. Addicted people use substances (or behaviors) to help them to escape the hopelessness and the helplessness they feel when they're stuck in bad relationships. They believe that they can't get out of the painful relationship, so they seek to feel better by numbing the pain with either a substance or a behavior that creates a neurochemical in the brain that is actually stronger than many addictive drugs.

And in some sense, we are all recovering. We all experience some degree of shame, even if it is just shame over sin or our sense of inadequacy from falling short of the perfection we so desire. Some of us have more shame than others, but in some sense, we are all in recovery from shame.

As we've noted in the Path of Denial and the Path of Bitterness, much of forgiving deals with the appropriate sharing of responsibility in relationships, something we must learn as we grow. Portia Nelson offers this lovely insight into one of the more obvious pitfalls of hopelessness and how we can learn to avoid it. I think it's an essential consideration when considering those difficult examples of forgiveness when we are left with situations that are less than ideal – situations that aren't specifically and clearly addressed in Scripture.

Keep in mind.  Upcoming posts will refer to its wisdom when discussing how to avoid getting trapped in denial and bargaining and bitterness in the process of forgiveness.

Autobiography in Five Chapters

A Poem by Portia Nelson
  1. I walk down the street.
    ....There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
    .... I fall in.
    .... I am lost — I am hopeless.
    .... It isn't my fault.
    .... It takes forever to find a way out.
  1. I walk down the same street.
    ....There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    .... I pretend I don't see it.
    .... I fall in again.
    .... I can't believe I'm in the same place.
    .... But it isn't my fault.
    .... It still takes a long time to get out.
  1. I walk down the same street.
    ....There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
    .... I see it is there.
    .... I still fall in — it's a habit
    .... My eyes are open
    .... I know where I am
    .... It is MY fault.
    .... I get out immediately.
  1. I walk down the same street.
    ....There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
    .... I walk around it.

  2.   I walk down a DIFFERENT street.

When we face situations that expose us to chronic abuse or require us to accept the behavior of those who treat us with disregard, it is tantamount to falling into that hole in the sidewalk, over and over again. At some point, wisdom should prompt us to avoid falling into situations that tempt us to be offended, something that actually fosters offense instead of tolerating it. It also depends on the maturity of the person and the nature of the offense.

Sometimes it is necessary to avoid the whole situation, especially if it happens again and again without change. Sometimes, we “give the devil opportunity” when we keep doing the same ineffective things, over and over (Ephesians 4:25-27).

There's more to come about how
release someone to God when ideal forgiveness
is impossible or unlikely.