“If you don't transform your suffering, you'll transmit it."

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I went to a clergy sexual ethics workshop yesterday.   During the workshop each of us (11) shared one case study that we had written up concerning sexual boundaries that were crossed in the church setting.  As we all listened and often wept at the pain and negative energy these stories produced in us, (I mean some of these stories were horrific), our facilitator (who I later learned is connected to Bear Creek UMC, you may know her as Carol Sorenson) shared a well-placed quote by Richard Rohr: “If you don't transform your suffering, you'll transmit it."

As United Methodists we live by three simple rules: The first one seems so simple, but the more I live in this world the more I have realized that this first rule is the key to it all: DO NO HARM!   Why is it that so many people inflict pain unto others, especially when it comes to issues of sexuality?   Much of the reason is that we haven’t dealt with the pain of our own suffering. Each of us has encountered pain in our pasts: neglect and abuse.  For many of us that pain was inflicted by our families, but if we were blessed enough to have a healthy family then this pain often came in our tender, coming of age years, or in college.  As adults, our job is to own that pain and accept that this is a part of our story…it’s a part of who we are. And then, to do all we can to transform that negative energy into something that gives life instead of takes it away.  We can’t just sit there and play the blame game, we need to own this chapter in our lives and learn to give it over to the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

I don’t know too many people who haven’t been wounded sexually.  I know I have. For many years I struggled with this part of my life.   I hid the wounds. I pretended that it didn’t happen. I crawled in to that wounded space and camped there, often blaming myself.  Later, with some great counseling, I learned to properly place the blame for that wound on the perpetrator. I got angry! This was a good stage, but it still didn’t transform the negative energy!  I kept misunderstanding God’s call to forgive.  I thought that in order to forgive the person who “took a dump in my garden” I had to restore my relationship with him or her.  But I knew I couldn’t do that. This person wasn’t trustworthy. Every time I thought about forgiving this person, I thought like I was being a door mat and just letting this person back into my life so they could run me over again.   I played the angry victim a long time!

But somewhere along the line I began to look at forgiveness differently.  To forgive someone is not to restore that relationship back to what it was or what it was supposed to be.  Somehow, I had this idealistic idea that forgiveness was going to go back and make all that past right again.   During my struggles with this issue someone gave me a copy of Ann Lamott’s book “Traveling Mercies.” And it was here that I read this one sentence that began to set the transformative powers of God at work in my life: “Forgiving yourself and others means giving up hope for a better past.”   As I read this sentence and took it into my heart I began to realize that much of my resentment and anger was for a past that I should have had.  But there was no way I could go back and change that.  I was facing this huge wall of “stinking thinking” that I could do nothing about.   The way forward was to learn to accept that past. To say, “hey it happened” and then…and believe it or not this was the hardest part…to let it go!  

You’d think I would want to let that chapter go right?  Wrong! It was hard for me to let that go because that chapter gave me all sorts of excuse to underperform in my life!  It gave me a reason to not embrace a God that was holding a beautiful future for me in her hands.   Holding on to this blame and anger was the easy way out for me! The more difficult journey or as Paul would say, “the more excellent way,” was to let that past go and begin to claim a future I thought I never could have!  It was when I started to lay claim to this truth…that I was the only thing getting in the way of something positive happening in my life…that things really started to open for me in my life.   In some senses I was born anew.

How about you?  Have you learned to settle in your life?   Do you find yourself saying “it is what it is” over and over in your life?   Do you hold a past that wasn’t perfect? Do you find yourself angry and bitter about it?   If you do, then watch out! You are in danger of transferring that pain and attitude on to your loved ones!  Today the God we know in Jesus Christ is calling you to lay claim to your past and to LET IT GO! It is not too late!  As Jeremiah states in chapter 29 of his prophecy: There is a God out there who “knows the plans I have for you. Plans of welfare and not harm.  Plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Isn’t it about time you claim it?

Your pastor and friend, learning to transform the pain into a future that only God knows, Brook

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Tim Schaaf