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Overcoming Emotional Hurt

compassion imgWhen people have hurts and struggles in relationships, they tend to work on resolving them by focusing on forgiveness. There’s nothing wrong with forgiveness, but sometimes it’s hard to get there.

Maybe we should be talking more about compassion instead. Let me explain.

We all know that we’re supposed to forgive people who hurt us, but we get hung up on what it means and how to do it. We struggle to make sense of the jumble of emotions we still feel, even after we’ve made that seemingly momentous decision to forgive. The focus of forgiveness is often on what amounts to a quasi-legal/moral decision – to pardon someone, or “let them off the hook.” Then we often struggle to sort out what happens internally after we make that “decision to forgive.”

A Different Way

I want to suggest a different approach. If you’re struggling to let go of some hurt, forget about forgiveness for now, and instead just focus on compassion.

Webster’s defines compassion as: “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Compassion is what happens whenwe focus (ie. maintain consciousness) on the suffering that someone else has experienced. This awareness then allows us to be more sympathetic towards them.

The great thing about compassion is that it doesn’t ask us to make a decision or judgment about someone, in the way that forgiveness does. All it does is help us to view other people in a new way. You might think of it as a pair of glasses, or lenses, that you put on as you view someone. The lens of compassion allows you to see other people from the vantage point of their own suffering, not just your disappointment or hurt.

Relationships Where we Need Compassion

When I work with people in recovery — whether one-on-one or in groups — we often unearth great pain from past relationships. Many people struggle to honestly face the ways in which they have been wounded by parents or siblings. It somehow feels wrong to acknowledge that. Other people have no trouble acknowledging that pain … in fact they struggle with just the opposite: they can’t let go of it. They feel a burning resentment towards the family members who hurt them.

I also see this with marriages. Many addicts struggle at some level with feelings of resentment towards their spouse, which gets mixed in with feelings of guilt and shame for how they’ve hurt them. They struggle with this mixture of feelings, and have a hard time sorting out in our minds how they can love someone, yet hurt them so deeply, and also feel sad and angry about certain aspects of the relationship.

People also struggle to come to terms with the hurts done by other people: old lovers, business partners, fellow church members, ex-friends. They’re not sure how to relate to them, or if they’re really ready to forgive them.

An Invitation for You

I invite you to set aside questions about whether you’re ready or able to forgive these people. For now, just focus on compassion. Think about how they may have been hurt in the past. Some of the suffering in their lives may be known to you, some not. The important thing is to intentionally hold these people in your mind as fully human … trying to do their best, but not having the tools to be the best parents, spouses, or friends that they want to be.

Recognize that these people were quite likely scarred by disappointments and mistreatment in their lives. It doesn’t take them off the hook, but it does enable you to bear with their failures with a little more openness.

Compassion for Yourself

While we’re at it, there is one more person you need to demonstrate compassion to: yourself. We are usually our own worst critics. The loudest voices of condemnation we hear are usually the voices in our own heads … it’s the things we are telling ourselves.

Many of us are merciless on ourselves when we slip up. Maybe we struggle with feelings of deep shame because of how our addiction has hurt other people and damaged our lives.

Forget about forgiving yourself for now. Can you at least show yourself some compassion? Can you at least remind yourself that the choices you have made were often the result of misguided coping strategies? You did the things you did not because you’re an awful person, but because you were a wounded person, looking for love and validation.

So today, have some compassion: for others, and for yourself.

What leaders must do if they want to last

You don’t have to look very far to find scary stats and gloomy pronouncements about the health of church leaders today. In fact, just look at some of the articles on this site! I want to be honest about the concerns I have, which are based on my experiences working with pastors, and my own experience in ministry. But more than that, I want to offer solutions!

Here are three bottom line “must do’s” for church leaders:

1. End denial. Pastors need to be honest about their vulnerability to discouragement, sexual temptation, and burnout. Many pastors are trying so hard to project an air of “having it together” that they manage to convince themselves. At least until they face a crisis and realize how stressed-out, unhappy, and unbalanced they really were. This is what happened to me. I would never had admitted the depth of my internal struggle, even though people around me could sense it and were worried about me.

2. End isolation. Pastors need to be extremely intentional about creating safe relationships where they can have fun, be real, and get honest feedback. This won’t happen in their churches, it has to come from outside. That’s why I am a coach … I want to provide that kind of relationship to pastors, and help them establish other safe friendships.

3. Start taking ownership. People don’t like hearing this, but it’s the truth: pastors have to take ownership of their own self-care, because nobody else will. Pastors who believe that their parishoners will provide the right kind of care for them will always be disappointed. People who haven’t lived the 24/7 life of a pastor don’t understand what it’s like, and the lay-leaders in any given church will always have the church’s interests in the back of their minds, even when they want to help you.

Remember that when Jesus took time to be away from the crowds, people (including the disciples) were often confused and even upset with him. “Where have you been?” they would ask, with an undisguised air of exasperation. Just like those unhappy church people who seem frustrated because it’s so hard to reach you on your day off.

Stressed Out? Four questions to see if your life is in balance

It’s a good idea to pause every now and again to take your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pulse. Recovery and long term health are built on the foundation of a life that is balanced and sane. Take a look at the questions below, and make the changes you need to make.

Take a minute to reflect upon your previous week, and ask yourself:

1. Am I honoring my body?

  • Have I listened to its aches and tensions?
  • Did I take time to rest?
  • Did I get exercise?
  • Have I been eating balanced meals?

2. Am I honoring my mind?

  • Have I taken time to read a good book or attend an interesting class?
  • Was I able to exchange ideas with a friend?

3. Am I honoring my emotions?

  • Was I able to express my feelings in my journal or to others?
  • Have I spent quality time with someone this week?
  • Did I take time to play and laugh?

4. Am I honoring my soul?

  • Have I spent time in prayer, meditation, or solitary thought?
  • Have I gathered with others for worship and spiritual encouragement?
  • Have I read something inspirational or listened to beautiful music?

These questions are taken from a short article by the Hazelden Foundation.

Survey says – pastors “very satisfied” with their jobs

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago recently published results of their recent study, exploring “satisfaction and happiness among American workers.” They found that clergy scored highest on both counts: 87% said they were “very satisfied” with their jobs, and 67% said they were “very happy” with life in general. What?

If you look at the statistics from an earlier post, and from the page on my site about leadership, you find a very different picture. What’s going on here? Continue reading Survey says – pastors “very satisfied” with their jobs