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This “homework” is designed for and best attempted when you’ve blocked out an intentional block of time to be alone with God. That block is strategically chosen so you can protect your time with God from life’s distractions and responsibilities and from people and interruptions. The goal is to be able to talk to God honestly, freely, openly, and for as long as needed. You can find additional help on how to plan for an extended conversation with God in “How to Talk to God.” The primary focus of this exercise is on forgiveness of others and also on healing of an event(s) that have no predominate person attached to them. This includes dealing with our responses and reactions to the person/offense/event that still have the “power” to cause us and others pain.
To work through unfinished issues that are outstanding (still “in play”) in your life:
1. List everything that comes to mind that has happened in your life to cause you (and others) pain, hurt or regret. Use a prayer like this: “God, show me everything You know I need to deal with in order to be free from my past, and my wrong responses connected to it.” You’re looking for God to show you where He knows you need to begin. The Spirit won’t walk you through every last offense. He’ll be concerned with the key ones that He knows were transactional – life altering, perception changing, default setting, half-truths, decisions and vows – and became powerfully manipulative in your mind and heart from that point on. Often a single event will represent a whole string of subsequent events, and dealing with that initial one will apply to them all. These are key incidents that gave rise to multiple and representative hurts, words, beliefs, and conclusions that stand for or mark the beginning of a wounded/ing trajectory. Be willing to list things that you think you’ve already dealt with. If someone or some event or words, other than where you thought you needed to go, persistently surface, write them down. If unable to get them out of your mind, switch gears and in prayer, make a list connected to where God seems to be directing. Don’t fail to record what you don’t understand or what you feel to be insignificant or stupid. If God caused you to recall them those things are often what He uses to “turn on the lights.” You may have little or no helpful memories but those few details may be all that’s needed.
Like currency, there are two sides to forgiveness that together make it effective: 1. “Heads” – “What was done to me?” 2. “Tails” – “How did I react?”
2. Ask God to remind you how you felt and/or what you were thinking during and just after the event. Ask yourself and God what feelings or thoughts were attached to the event(s). Things that helped you process it or helped make some sort of sense out if it at the time. Do you involuntarily react when you hear the name of that person who hurt you? What subsequently helped maintain that person’s and/or event’s hold and it’s negative influence over your life? Was there some conclusion about relationships, God, men, women, or life that you made that became a destructive “lens” that you now view life through? It may be a feeling of embarrassment, fear, anger, confusion or other emotion. Or for example it may be a lie about your worth or false guilt that something you had no control over was really your fault. It may help to ask these same questions about things going on now in your life in order to remember how you felt or thought in the past. Remember that the lack of a reaction, like having no feelings in response to something that should be deeply felt, is just as much a reaction. If it doesn’t indicate that you suppressed something it at least points to an unnatural numbness that may be significant. If you were taught to bury your emotions, that they were bad or not permitted, that no one cared how you felt, or that anything hard or uncomfortable should be avoided, then your response may be passivity. If you need to know, God will tell you.
3. Now ask how you outwardly responded to the hurt. The step above is directed at your internal reactions – thoughts, emotions, beliefs, conclusions, vows, justifications, etc. This step is targeting the outward actions – what you said/say or did/do. Once you have a person’s name, a particular event or sequence of connected events, a group of similar words, memories, or occurrences, and maybe a few ideas of how you reacted internally, see if God wants to tell you about your external responses. Emotional outburst, retaliation, words, gestures, oaths uttered, withholdings, attacks, escapes. What about any “counter-punches” or various “medications” like shopping, work, play, pornography, food or any substance, etc.? Don’t doubt that He’ll help you and don’t hold back any willingness to hear what He may lead you to deal with.
Keep James 1:5-8 in mind as you ask God for His leading: If you need wisdom – if you want to know what God wants you to do – ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to answer, for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can’t make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do.
4. Finally, list those things that you discover are “drivers” in our life. Many of those responses, especially the internal ones, can take on a life of their own and come to dictate our decisions that reek havoc in our minds and hearts. Look for regrets, broken dreams and/or promises, disappointments, missed opportunities and anything else that you wish you could go back and change, correct or recover. How do these memories or regrets make you feel? What has never been grieved? What’s never been accepted as gone forever? What’s never been left with God to heal? What loss are you still trying to recover, what void are you trying to fill, vicariously through a child, a lifestyle, or a substitute relationship? What are you trying to ignore, forget, escape or numb? What “medication” has become an addiction that manages you more than you it – work, play, sex, substances (food, drugs, smoking, drinking, et al) shopping, sports, collecting, serving, enabling…?
When you have something on paper, call to make another appointment. You don’t need extensive notes. There’s no right amount and you may only have a few lines. Don’t think that you can’t come back unless you are “all done making your lists.” Often I’ve been told that God didn’t say anything. They sat there for an hour talking to God but they didn’t “get” anything and they feel that they failed. But how do you call spending that much time alone conversing with God a failure?! I call it a smashing success! These folks often discover that God gives them the info they need as they go on with their lives, through their normal day, at some time after the conversation.
Many have also told me that it seemed like “all hell broke out” against them every time they have scheduled a time to do the homework. You know you’re on the right track when Satan does all he can to keep you off it. The kids get more squirrelly than normal, things go nuts at work, people get sick, cars break down, friends need you, spouses get called to work, the weather changes your plans… If that happens, be encouraged not discouraged. Know that you must be doing something right in order for the enemy of all that is good and right and holy to get so worked up! Just reschedule another block of time and be persistent. That tenacity makes a statement to both the opposition you’re facing and God that you’re serious about your pursuit of Him!