Releasing Negative Thoughts & Feelings

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Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
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My previous posts (“Time to Wake Up” and “Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns”) addressed the subject of negative thinking and how it can set us up for failure at what we want to be, do, or have in life. It can keep attracting the same bad situations and adversely affect how we act and react to the world around us. We explored a number of common negative thoughts, so that we could identify the areas in which we seem to have the most trouble. In this way, we are “waking up” spiritually and mentally, by recognizing the numerous negative thoughts we have on a daily basis.  If you did not see this list, please read my last post, “Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns” or listen to the audio version: https://anchor.fm/edlspirituality/episodes/IDENTIFYING-HABITUAL-THOUGHT-PATTERNS-e1svc1s

This post will explore in simple steps how to begin to change your circumstances for the better, and how to cooperate with our Creator to bring more joy, peace and abundance into your life.

Turning Negative Thoughts Around

Once we’ve identified some of our negative thought patterns, how do we turn things around? Most negativity is an expression of what we hate, fear, and want to avoid — in other words, all the things we DON’T want! Thoughts are energy, and because “like attracts like,” constantly dwelling on what we don’t want will keep bringing what we don’t want into our lives. The subconscious mind accepts everything you tell it, whether good or bad, positive or negative. For instance, if you keep thinking, “I don’t want to be poor,” “I hate being poor,” “I have no money and no prospects,” or “I need to get out of debt,” you are still focusing on poverty and debt, and probably fearing it, which is subconsciously setting you up to fall prey to more circumstances, people, and bad decisions that will keep you poor and in debt! The negative energy you are emitting will draw those negative circumstances and people to you.

To bring about change, we need to focus on what we love and yearn for, rather than what we don’t love and don’t want. Think of it this way: Supposing you went with a group of friends to an all-you-can-eat buffet. You go down the buffet table, looking at all the varieties of food, and every time you see a food that you dislike and would never want to eat, you add it to your plate. By the time you get to the end of the buffet, your dish is filled with food you can’t stand. You pay for it and go sit at the table with your friends. You sit there, not eating, feeling hungry and miserable, while your friends are heartily eating and enjoying their food.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Who the heck would do that?” Well, we do exactly that every time we waste our valuable energy by thinking and talking about what we DON’T want out of life! The friends who are enjoying their meal represent the people who focus their thoughts and energies on the things they truly want and to which they aspire — the people who love their lives and feel happy and satisfied. Meanwhile, you look on and wonder why you are so miserable. Would it help you to resent and envy them because they are enjoying their food and you’re not? No, because you chose the food yourself!

This life is a precious treasure — God’s gift to you. Your power to co-create with God the kind of life you truly want is part of this gift. Why would you waste it on things you don’t want? Why would you expend your precious time and energy perpetuating a life that is unsatisfying to you?

Remember, a random negative thought or two will not bring a host of bad things upon you. There is a time delay between our thoughts and their consequences, and positive thoughts are a great deal stronger than negative ones. That’s the good news. The bad news, though, is that sustained or habitual negative thoughts, especially when accompanied by strong emotion, will eventually attract negative things into your life. Like the food you chose at the buffet, the currency of your thoughts and feelings is capable of bringing both good and bad things to you. It’s a matter of which ones you choose.

As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute; if there is any excellence, and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

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Photo (without text) by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

Because we have tens of thousands of thoughts a day, it is impossible to monitor each one. But an easy way to identify your predominant thoughts is to tune into your feelings, because your feelings are the result of your thoughts. Are you feeling negative emotions, such as boredom, irritability, disappointment, anger, worry, depression, hatred, envy, guilt or fear? Or are you feeling positive emotions like love, gratitude, joy, excitement, enthusiasm, hope, satisfaction?

Don’t feel guilty or afraid because you are experiencing a negative emotion or thinking a negative thought, as that is just adding more negativity! We don’t want to deny our negative emotions and pretend they don’t exist, because they often serve to point out areas in our lives that need our attention. Also, it’s natural to feel negative emotions at particular crisis points in our lives, i.e., loss of a job, end of a relationship, death of a loved one, etc. If this is the case, you must allow yourself to experience the emotions, and seek help if necessary. We’re also not talking here about serious mental or emotional illnesses, for which one needs to be under medical supervision, but rather the typical thoughts and emotions that most of us experience on a regular basis. However, even if you are going through a life crisis or suffering from a mental illness, you can still apply these principles in addition to any other help you may be receiving.

Self-awareness is the key

Once you are aware of why you are feeling a particular way, you can understand what your emotions are telling you and what changes you can make to improve your circumstances. This then allows you to achieve mastery of your conscious thoughts. One way to do this is to practice a simple form of meditation. Don’t let the word “meditation” scare you. I don’t mean that you need to sit in Lotus Position for two hours every day and chant “Om” (although this is perfectly fine if you want to do it)! The objective is simply to quiet your conscious mind for a while. You need only a few minutes, and the following practice is very simple and will become even easier with time:

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. Sit comfortably in a quiet room. Turn off all electronic devices and ask to not be disturbed. Begin to focus on your breathing and/or picture a blank movie screen in your mind.
  • As you sit there, thoughts will naturally bubble up. Just “watch” the thoughts. Don’t get involved with them; just witness them, and then turn your mind gently but firmly back to your breathing or to the blank movie screen.
  • If the thought that comes up is negative, acknowledge that you had a negative thought. Do not try to resist it, because resistance means you are focused on it with powerful emotion, which only will make it stronger. Just release it without judgement or guilt.
  • Continue this way until the timer goes off.

Make an effort to do this every day, or at least several times a week. You will find that you feel more relaxed and focused after this, and may want to do it for longer periods. Eventually you will reach a point where the intruding thoughts will decrease, and you will experience longer periods of peace as your mind lets go of its constant chatter.

How to Deal with Persistent Negative Thoughts

If you are feeling particularly sad, angry, depressed or fearful, and these same thoughts stubbornly keep recurring, you can use the following, more in-depth exercise to get to the root of your feelings and release them:

  • As in the previous exercise, sit in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed, with all electronic devices turned off or in another room. Focus on your breathing until you become more relaxed.
  • Ask yourself why you are feeling unhappy, and express the reason out loud, i.e., “I am afraid that I won’t find another job,” or “I’m sad and lonely because my love life is terrible right now,” or “I’m depressed because I’m not feeling well.”
  • Once you have identified the emotion and its cause, don’t try to resist it or force it to go away. “Fighting” an emotion — like “fighting” an illness — usually doesn’t work, since it involves negative emotions like anger, resentment or resistance, which actually can attract more negativity to you and make the condition worse.
  • Face the negative emotion and ask it what it might be trying to teach you. Let it speak to you, without forcing it or censoring it. Learn from what it is telling you. For instance, if you are depressed because you’re sick, the reason you might hear when you ask this question is that your life was out of balance. You were stressed, rushing around, not taking time to relax, not eating and sleeping right. The illness was your body’s way of telling you to slow down and take better care of it, to bring your life into a better balance of mind, body and spirit.
  • Now, ask yourself if there are actionable steps you can take at the present time to help ease this negative emotion. Just writing down some small actions you can implement right away is a very effective way to ease the tension and stress you’re feeling. You can follow-up after your meditation session by doing some research for additional ideas. Eventually, you can build upon these small successes, until you begin to see a measurable improvement in your situation and your mood.
  • From now on, reframe your fears and negative statements into positive affirmations. For example, “I have a career that pays well and is personally fulfilling to me;” “I have many positive, loving, and uplifting relationships in my life;” “I feel healthy and whole in body, mind and spirit.” In other words, you are stating what you love and aspire to, rather than focusing on what the less-than-ideal situation might be at the current moment.
  • At the end of your meditation session, thank your subconscious mind for giving you the reasons and the suggestions. Tell it that you will heed the lesson, and that you no longer need to experience the negative emotions. You can picture yourself letting go of the emotion in any way you like: i.e., blowing it away like dandelion fluff, releasing it as a balloon, or watching it wash away like sand in an ocean wave. Once you learn the lessons that your negative emotion is trying to teach you, it will no longer have a strong hold on you. You will be able to release it and move on.

Once again, do not worry or become anxious about having negative thoughts, as this will attract more negative thoughts to you. We all have numerous negative thoughts occurring throughout each day, but they become a problem only when we dwell upon them and repeat them often or infuse them with strong emotion. Instead, say to yourself, “All my negative thoughts are weak, while my positive thoughts are very powerful!”

Simply by having read this post and the last one, you have become much more aware of any negative thought patterns you have. Congratulations! From now on, you will not be on “automatic pilot,” reacting in the same old way to everything that happens in your life. You now will be aware of your reactions (your thoughts) in each situation and can take action on them! Now you are in the driver’s seat of your mind, rather than a helpless and clueless passenger!

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Photo (w/o text) by ANDRIK ↟ LANGFIELD ↟ PETRIDES on Unsplash

The simple forms of meditation practice given here are an excellent way to become more observant of your thoughts and feelings in order to learn to control them. Meditation has tremendous benefits for mind, body and spirit. There are many excellent books, blogs, and videos about meditation if you would like to explore this practice in more depth.

In the words of Charles Haanel, New Thought author who lived from 1866 to 1949: “Be careful of your moods and feelings, for there is an unbroken connection between your feelings and your visible world.”

Next time: How to deal with challenges to staying positive.

Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns

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My last blog post, “Time to Wake Up,” addressed how what we think consciously and believe subconsciously affects how we act and react to the world around us, and how our thoughts can directly influence our future. This principle, nowadays called “The Law of Attraction (LOA),” has actually been around for thousands of years and can be found in the Bible and many other spiritual texts and teachings. So it is important that we first identify our habitual thought patterns, to see which ones are serving us and which might be holding us back from achieving the sort of life we would like to have.

Following is a series of questions to help you in this thought identification process.

Do you often say or think any of the following:

  • I’m too ___ (tired, sick, achy, weak, old, young, fat, ugly, stupid, etc.)
  • I’ll never be able to _____ (fill in the blank)
  • I’m not ______(fill in the blank)
  • I’m a bad sleeper
  • I can’t relax…I can’t concentrate…I can’t lose weight…I can’t get up early…I can’t _______ (fill in the blank)
  • I’m always late / I’m always running behind schedule
  • I never have any money
  • I’ll never get out of debt
  • I’m never at the right place at the right time
  • It’s all the fault of my dysfunctional parents/family…my bad childhood…the traits I inherited from my parents, etc.
  • I’m just a victim of ______.
  • I have no control over what happens to me
  • I never get a break
  • It’s Murphy’s Law
  • I just look at food and gain weight
  • I’m getting…(old, fat, sick, worn out, forgetful, poorer)
  • I’ve only got a few more years left
  • I’m not ____ enough (i.e., smart, attractive, thin, talented, skilled, educated, rich) — or:  I don’t have enough ______ (brains, education, looks, money, ability, luck, talent, etc.)
  • Something that good can never happen to me
  • I’d never be so lucky
  • I never win anything
  • Other people get everything, and I get nothing
  • This is just my luck (or) I never have any luck
  • I hate that person
  • I look horrible in everything I put on
  • I never take a good picture
  • I’ll never have enough ____ (money, time, ability, health, etc.)
  • I’m so afraid of _____ 
  • I really dread _______
  • I’m not feeling well – it’s probably cancer
  • I will probably get (name the disease), because it runs in my family (or because so many people get it).
  • I live in constant fear of getting (this disease).
  • I HATE (cancer, diabetes, asthma – or any disease)
  • We must FIGHT cancer (or other disease or problem)
  • Getting old sucks
  • I’m getting senile
  • I just can’t lose weight
  • I can’t cope with this
  • What if _____ (imagining something bad and then worrying about it)
  • I always have too much work
  • I hate my job and I’ll never get a better one
  • I don’t have enough to give to or share with anyone else
  • I’ll never forgive _____ (fill in name(s))
  • I’m too…(old, tired, busy, far gone)…to care about my looks or my health anymore
  • Everyone gets (fat, sick, high blood pressure, diabetes, memory loss) as they age.
  • I’m just falling apart
  • It’s hopeless
  • I never get good weather on my vacations or when I plan something

Do you often:

  • Gossip or complain about someone, or join in gossip/complaining about someone?
  • Try to instigate trouble and bad feeling among others?
  • Argue over and/or ridicule someone’s political or spiritual opinions?
  • End a friendship or become estranged from a family member because of differing political or spiritual beliefs?
  • Feel you have nothing to be thankful for?
  • Compare yourself negatively to other people?
  • Make nasty, snide or critical comments or cruel jokes in person or on social media?
  • Refuse to buy something you really wanted or needed, even though you have more than enough money to afford it, because you’re afraid to spend any money?
  • Make self-deprecating comments or denials when someone compliments you?
  • Criticize someone, and/or try to make someone else do things your way?
  • Harbor resentment or bitterness towards someone? Keep thinking about how to get even? Wish bad things on them?
  • Respond instantly with anger to someone else’s words or actions?
  • Try to control and “fix” other people’s lives rather than letting them learn from their experiences in their own way?
  • Frequently make or share self-deprecating remarks or jokes about being stupid, fat, old, forgetful, or other negative things?
  • Forward emails or share social media posts encouraging hatred against anyone or anything (political figures, celebrities, certain races, ethnic groups, religions, etc.)?
  • Say, “I HATE____” (fill in the blanks)?
  • Talk at length and frequently about your illnesses or someone else’s?
  • Feel envy towards someone? Withhold a compliment from someone because you secretly envy them?
  • Try to take something/someone away from a person because you think you deserve it more? Try to turn others against someone because you’re jealous?
  • Constantly worry about your loved ones and what could happen to them, or about losing your partner, your money, your health, etc.?
Photo by Keira Burton at Pexels

Okay, so you probably identified with at least several – and maybe a lot – of these. Some of them might rarely or never pertain to you, while others are fairly frequent. If so, welcome to the human race! We ALL think, say or do these things from time to time. A fleeting thought or occasional slip-up won’t have a significant effect on your life or your future. If, however, you habitually think, do or say any of them, and if the thoughts carry a strong emotional charge, you are setting yourself up to attract exactly what you say you hate, fear and don’t want! This is because our subconscious mind believes everything we tell it, whether it’s true, false, good or bad. It is merely responding to our conscious thoughts, words and actions, like an obedient, cooperative child. It doesn’t analyze whether the thoughts are good or bad for you, positive or negative. Analyzing and choosing are the domain of the conscious mind; the subconscious just accepts what we tell it.

Consequently, with our negative thoughts we will attract, or subconsciously be attracted to, just the circumstances and people that we want so much to avoid! Also, fighting against something negative is never as effective as striving instead to bring about a positive result. For example, instead of hating and “fighting” a disease, it’s better instead to think wellness and health, and do whatever we can to promote these positive qualities. Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, was quoted as saying:“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

Negative thinking also will block any good things that God wants to send us. Nothing is forced on us by God, who respects and honors our free will. Negative thinking is like keeping your hands behind your back when someone offers you a gift. You cannot accept the gift unless your hands are open to receive it.

LOA experts recommend that we shift our positive thoughts to at least 51% over the negative ones. Even this 1% over the halfway mark could be enough to dramatically change one’s life. I believe that the more we can shift our thoughts from the negative to the positive, the quicker and more dramatic the change will be!

Legend says that in the Buddha’s travels, he encountered a man who was awed by his peaceful, radiant persona. The man asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being? Are you a god? A magician? A wizard?” The Buddha replied, “No. I am awake.”

Jesus told His followers that if they had faith “the size of a mustard seed” they could move mountains. He also told them that, with enough faith and belief, they could do all the things that He had done, and even greater things.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

We cannot even begin to improve our lives unless we become awake and aware of the negative thoughts and lack of faith we harbor on a daily basis. Otherwise, we walk around in a perpetual state of “automatic pilot” and unconsciousness. Once you become aware, you will begin to notice any instances in which you are thinking or speaking negatively. You also will be shocked and dismayed at all the negativity you will notice around you from other people! In upcoming posts we’ll examine these negative thoughts and attitudes and explore ways to bring about positive change and achieve our goals and dreams.

Have a positively wonderful day! 

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Pt. 2

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

FOR THE AUDIO VERSION, CLICK BELOW:

In Part 1 of this two-part series,  we defined forgiveness as a process that moves us from the cold, unforgiving emotions of bitterness and resentment to warmer, more altruistic feelings of love and compassion towards the one who has offended us. We discussed why it’s important to forgive and how we can prepare ourselves to begin the process.           

 Steps to Forgiveness 

Following are a dozen steps to bring you through the forgiveness process, and ways to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive. You may need to implement only one or two of these steps, or you might need to use all or most of them. It will depend on your particular situation. They do not have to be done in any particular order; it’s all a matter of what works for you.

1. Personal Encounter: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar; go first and be reconciled with your brother” [Matthew 5:23-24].  After a cool-down period of mental and spiritual preparation, arrange a discussion with the person who hurt you. Often, much of the anger will dissipate once you are face-to-face. If handled correctly, conflict can lead to positive change.  Ask for an explanation and try to clear up any misunderstandings. It is only fair to others that we clarify what kind of behavior offends us. Do not use confrontational, accusatory language. Be respectful. Preserve your inner peace. Repeat the other person’s words back to ensure you understand their meaning. Don’t argue in circles or bring up past hurts. Keep in mind that you cannot always change someone’s point of view, and forgiveness does not always lead to reconciliation, which needs the cooperation of both parties. If you cannot resolve your conflict with someone by yourselves, call in an objective third party to mediate.

Never arrange a face-to-face meeting where you are alone with someone who has a violent temper, is abusive or otherwise unstable, or if you have difficulty controlling your own temper!  If you have been the victim of abuse, you may need to seek the help of a professional therapist to help you work through the trauma. Your safety is of paramount importance!

2.  Written Communication/Social Media: It’s important to realize that it is much easier for us to offend people or feel offended as a result of written communications as opposed to phone or in-person conversations. In this era of social media, texting and email, where communication is instantaneous, allowing little opportunity for rewrites or careful selection of our words, more and more of us are finding ourselves dealing with real or imagined offenses. 

When you feel offended by something that was written to you, do not hastily dash off an angry, written reply. Take a break and then slowly re-read the message. You might find that you missed or misread some words, or “read between the lines” something that wasn’t actually there at all. If you still feel hurt or uncertain about the meaning of what was written, call or meet with the other person, if at all possible, and ask for clarification. You will then be in a position to discuss the situation and clear up any misunderstandings.

If verbal communication is not feasible, after a period of prayer and reflection, write a calm reply and ask the person to clarify their meaning, or present your side of the situation in a non-confrontational manner. If the other person insists on being rude and argumentative, the best response from you is none at all. There is no value in arguing with a person whose mind is closed and who does not want to compromise. If certain people are often negative or offensive on social media, it’s usually best to quietly disengage from contact with them. Most of the time, other people eventually will see these people for what they are and disregard their negative comments or cut off contact with them as well. But if other people believe the negative person’s lies or unkind remarks about you, they probably are not the kind of friends you want, anyway!

3. When no contact of any kind is possible: If the incident happened a long time ago, the other person is deceased or their whereabouts unknown, or if meeting/talking with them is inappropriate or unsafe, work through the rest of the steps in the process to bring you to a point of forgiveness and inner peace. It is not always necessary or possible for the other party to know you have forgiven them.

4. Examine your own actions. Ask yourself honestly: “Am I being overly sensitive? Did I do something to cause or exacerbate the situation? Could I have reacted more appropriately?” If you find that you are also to blame for the situation, acknowledge your part in it, apologize to the other party if possible, and above all forgive yourself as well as the other person. We all are human and we all make mistakes. Acknowledge, make amends, and move on.

5. Talk it out with someone whose judgment you trust. Don’t whine, play victim, or place blame, but discuss the event as objectively as you can. Then ask for honest feedback and receive it with an open mind. Sometimes another person’s viewpoint can help you see the situation more clearly. Tell your impartial friend not to allow you to discuss the matter repeatedly, and don’t go complaining about it to everyone you know. Continual rehashing of the incident will only deepen your feelings of resentment. Seek help from clergy, a counselor or a therapist if you continue to be deeply troubled about it.

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Image courtesy of Serge Bertasisu Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

6. Keep a sense of proportion. Hatred and bitterness arise out of our failure to realize that “we are not in the flesh, but in the spirit.” [Romans 8:9].  As spirit, nothing and no one on earth can destroy us. Superficial differences and petty arguments become meaningless when viewed in the vast panorama of eternit

7. Shift your perspective. Although we don’t have God’s ability to see into anyone’s soul, attempting to see the incident from the other person’s point of view can often help us to forgive. One way to do this is by writing out an account of the incident as seen from your opponent’s perspective. Were there extenuating circumstances, personal problems or pressures that may have been contributing factors? By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, feelings of understanding, compassion and empathy may begin to replace the anger and pain.  

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Image courtesy of nenetus at freedigitalphotos.net

8. Release your emotions. Write honestly about your feelings in a journal, or even in a letter to the person who hurt you. Don’t hold back – this is the time to release all the anger, hurt and frustration you feel. However – and this is vital – NEVER send the letter! Tear it up or burn it as a symbolic way of letting go of the negative emotions. Watch an appropriate movie or TV program, read a story, or listen to music that will help you vent some of your feelings. Don’t be afraid to cry as you watch or listen — tears can have a healing, soothing effect and soften your heart towards your offender. Some people find it helpful to use physical exercise as a safety valve for pent-up emotions.

9. Focus on the other person’s strengths and qualities. If your relationship basically has been a positive one, recall all the good times you’ve shared, the things you like about the person, the many ways in which the association has benefitted you.

10. Take positive action. Many people find peace by turning their pain and anger into constructive endeavors, i.e. working to change laws, raising public awareness over social injustice, giving time and effort to charitable organizations, etc. This brings good out of the evil that was done to them.

11. Recall a specific occasion when you offended someone and were forgiven. Remember the freedom and gratitude you felt as a result of being forgiven. How would it feel to do the same for the person who hurt you? Remember, at the same time that you are praying to forgive someone, someone might be praying for the grace to forgive you!

12. Find comfort in knowing that Divine justice will ultimately prevail. If someone has treated you unfairly, and no human justice is forthcoming, don’t become discouraged or seek revenge. We have God’s promise that all will be made right, if not on earth, then in the next world:  “The Lord remembers what their enemies have done; he waits for the right time to punish them…The Lord will rescue his people when he sees that their strength is gone. He will have mercy on those who serve him, when he sees how helpless they are.” [Deut. 32:34,36].

Following Through on Forgiveness

Once you resolve to forgive, follow through on it. Write out a pledge to God and the person you are forgiving, and display it where you can see it often. Tell a third party about your commitment. This will make you more likely to stick to it.

After you have forgiven, let the matter rest and don’t bring it up with the person again.  When Jesus said to forgive someone not just once, but “seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18:22), He meant, “Don’t keep a scorecard!”     

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Forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting. There may be times when you’ll recall the incident and feel the pain all over again. It’s human nature to remember things that hurt us, part of our survival instinct to protect ourselves from being hurt in the same way again. As long as you don’t deliberately dwell on the memory to the point where you stir up bitterness and resentment again, you have not reneged on your promise to forgive. Accept and acknowledge the memories as they arise, then release them and move on.

Everyone’s experience of forgiveness will be unique. It might take time for you to be able to forgive. If you go through all the above steps and still find yourself unable to do it, don’t despair. Just continue to pray for the person who hurt you and do not dwell on hatred or bitterness. The challenge of forgiveness is not one we have to face alone. Give the situation to God and trust that He will restore light where darkness dwells, and peace where there is conflict, by infusing our hearts with the precious gift of forgiveness.

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Part 1

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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To listen to audio version, click below:

Are you having trouble forgiving someone?

Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore the challenge of forgiveness and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.   

What is forgiveness?

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards those who offend us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and focus on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems. But we still can let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love (charity), not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians ask God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging.

Here are three reasons why forgiving others is important:

  • It blesses the person who offended us.
  • We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example.
  • Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Steps Toward Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

How to Prepare:

Step 1 – Pray for the gift of being able to forgive

Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in their heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, please heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

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Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 2 – Seek inspiration:

Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.

[Psalm 130:3-4]

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

[Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean.

[Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

[Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good.

[Romans 12:19-21]. 

Step 3 – Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process:

Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part 2, we’ll further examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through on your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

                                                                          

Finding God’s Peace

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To listen to the audio version, click link below:

Some years ago, my mother confided that she had a lot of trouble praying and meditating in her house, because my Dad had retired and was home much of the time. Their house was small, and he often had the TV or radio on, and so there was always background noise, even if she went into another room. She didn’t drive, so she couldn’t go to a quieter place except for the times that I took her with me to somewhere quiet, or on Sundays when she and Dad went to Mass. She said she craved quiet time and solitude, because it made her feel peaceful and closer to God.

I told her I understood, because although my husband worked, on the days he was home I had much the same situation. Neither of our husbands was the type to engage in shared prayer sessions, and besides, there are times when one needs to have private time with God.

Shortly after this discussion, during my meditation time I heard the following words in my mind: “Better to get God’s peace in a noisy place than to go without it in silence.” 

I shared this message with my friend, and we had to admit the truth of it. God’s peace and presence must be found in our hearts and souls; it is not dependent on anything external. There are many people who live busy lives and work amid much commotion and noise, and yet they manage to maintain their inner composure and have a wonderful relationship with God and other people. On the other hand, many of us know reclusive people who live alone in what are probably very quiet homes, yet they are bitter, lonely and isolated, empty of any inner serenity or joy.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t seek solitude and silence, ideally on a regular basis. Our minds and souls need this rest, this respite from noise, confusion, interruptions, and the many demands of modern life with its overload of information and dependence on electronic devices. It is essential that we disconnect from our devices for a period of time each day, take a break from work, from TV, video games, social media and other diversions, and spend some quiet time with God in prayer and meditation. But for some people, it can be very difficult to find a few quiet minutes of uninterrupted solitude. Below are some tips to help you.

10 ways to find inner peace despite your situation:

  1. Take advantage of commuting time to pray or listen to inspiring, soothing music or audiobooks that make you feel more peaceful and uplifted. If you’d like to read the Bible or some other inspirational or motivational book, but find it too time-consuming to sit down and read every day, you can find a good audiobook version and listen to it during your commute. If you’re in your car, any of this can be done without jeopardizing your safety — listening to a recording or talking to God is no more distracting than speaking to someone in the passenger seat or on a hands-free cell phone. If you’re on public transit, you can put on your headset, close your eyes, and immediately be transported mentally to another, more peaceful place.
  2. While doing repetitive chores like housework, gardening, bathing or feeding a baby, etc., talk inwardly to God about your feelings, problems, challenges, goals, and your concern for family, friends, and the troubles in the world. Or visualize your goals and aspirations as if they already have happened. Never focus on what’s wrong in your life, unless you want to attract more of the same! Alternatively, you can practice mindfulness, in which you focus on every aspect of the task you are doing, observing it without judgement. One of my favorite teachers for mindfulness practice is Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has many books and programs available on the subject.
  3. Before starting your workday, during which you know you will have no time to pray or quiet your mind, silently offer to God as a prayer all the day’s work, the little successes as well as the annoyances and irritations. God will take them all and use them for your greater good. He will guide your efforts and decisions throughout the day, if you ask Him.
  4. You don’t have to be down on your knees or in a church, or even in a quiet room, to talk to God. God has no hearing problem; He can hear you even in the midst of a noisy crowd or while you’re running the vacuum cleaner!
  5. If you are able to drive or are within walking distance of a park, a nature trail, a church or chapel, whatever suits your particular needs, this is a great place to connect with your inner peace. Even taking a stroll through an art museum can be very inspiring, allowing you to appreciate the artists’ God-given talents and be soothed by the beauty of the artwork. Take advantage of this change of scenery to put you back in touch with your inner life. It’s much easier to feel close to God and at peace with yourself when you are out in the beauty of nature, or in the serene hush of a chapel. Even if you just walk or sit without words, God will know what is in your heart.
  6. Spend time with animals. Watching horses graze in a pasture, sitting quietly petting your dog or cat, or watching fish while sitting by a pond, are great ways to learn inner silence and peace. Animals do not talk, yet they still can communicate with one another and with us, and they exude a sense of peace and serenity that is very comforting. Being close to these peaceful creatures makes us feel closer to the One who created them.
  7. Years ago I used to do a lot of embroidery, and I found this a wonderful time to pray silently or listen to inspirational music or motivational recordings. Whenever I was working on an embroidery project that I intended to give someone as a gift, I thought about and prayed for the recipient as I stitched. I always liked to think that I was stitching lots of “good vibes” into it along with the thread, and that these would bless the person who would eventually receive the gift. You might try this if you are a “artsy-craftsy” person who likes to make things for other people.
  8. If you live in a noisy environment and cannot get away, purchase a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. You can listen to non-distracting background music, soothing sound effects (water, birdsong, wind chimes, etc.) or white noise while you meditate or pray, and the noise of your surroundings will be much less intrusive.
  9. Remember to listen as well as talk when you dialogue with God. We need to create a quiet space in our minds for God’s still, small voice to get through. Although it is much easier in a quiet environment, of course, it can be done anywhere. God can speak to us in many ways, and He will use any opportunity. So invite Him to do so, and then be alert for the many ways God will use to answer you!
  10. Not only our waking moments can become a prayer — even our sleeping hours can be a means of attunement to God. Before you go to sleep at night, take a few moments to talk to God and ask for guidance and enlightenment while you sleep. This can come in the form of a helpful dream, or you might wake up with the answer to a difficult decision or situation clear in your mind.

Most of all, if we realize that God’s peace is a matter of openness, an attitude of being willing to unite every moment of our lives with the One who created us, who knows and loves us more intimately than any human ever could, we won’t become frustrated or anxious when our outer world does not align with our idea of a peaceful life. God’s presence, love, comfort and serenity don’t require ideal situations to permeate the mind and soul. Although we should never stop trying to find peaceful moments in our daily routines, just invite God in and He will make Himself at home — even in your noisy house!

Do you have any tips for staying calm and peaceful amid all of life’s noise and confusion? If so, please share in the comment section!

 

7 Steps for Sharing Your Talents & Gifts-Pt. 1

To listen to the audio version, click play arrow below:

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God is holding a universal, never-ending talent show — are you a contestant?

“When I stand before God at the end of my life,” said American humorist and best-selling author, Erma Bombeck, “I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” Yet many of us find it easier to be generous with our money than with our time and talents. Giving of ourselves feels frightening and risky, and we tend to put our own feelings before God. Like a mother bird with her fledglings, God wants to push us out of our nest of complacency to use the talents He has given us. We want to try our wings, but lack confidence in our ability. But God is always nearby to answer our call for help. When we trust in Him, He gives us the strength and courage to spread our wings and soar to greater heights.

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…the light of the world. Don’t hide your light under a basket! Instead, put it on a stand and let it shine for all…so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt. 5:13-15, NLT). Let your light shine!

What are some benefits of sharing our talents and abilities?

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