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Don't Forgive Too Soon: Extending the Two Hands That Heal Paperback – April 1, 1997
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Healing reaches out to me even in the title of this book. --The Provident Book Finder
Landmark book. --Crux
Offers simple, healing processes for all those who struggle for the freedom to forgive. --Barbara Shlemon Ryan
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The soldiers were trying to evict the women from their squatters' village to bulldoze it. But as a result of the women's nudity, "The soldiers turned and ran. The squatters' community still retains possession of its village" (p. 1).
The Linns quote Jesus, "If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well" (p.5). The authors explain how this saying ... really does mean exactly what the women were doing. (I mention this episode so that no one else will be taken by surprise when they first open the book, and to confirm that the nudity is not gratuitous, but an essential part of the Linns' overall message.)
The authors go on to clarify another saying of Christ, "If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also". The Linns explain, "Imagine that you are a poor slave in ancient Palestine and your master is facing you and about to strike you. He cannot use his left hand, since it was used only for unclean [toilet] tasks. Therefore, he must use his right hand....In Jesus' culture hitting someone with the back of the hand....was used only by those in a position of more power to humiliate those with less power.
"If you...[then] turn your other cheek (your left cheek), and your master still uses his right hand, then he can no longer backhand you. If he hits you again, he will have to use a fist. [Why he cannot hit with his open palm is not explained, leaving me a bit baffled.] Hitting another with a fist was a gesture used only between equals. Thus, by turning your other cheek, you have reclaimed your dignity and communicated that you refuse to be humiliated. You have also invited your master to reclaim his true dignity by examining the lie by which he lives, that one human being is better than another. And you have done all this nonviolently, without striking back" (pp. 5-6).
This passage expresses the core theme of this book--standing up for yourself (but not striking back), while at the same time forgiving your offender.
The Linns got these new insights into Jesus' sayings from Scripture scholar Dr. Walter Wink in his award-winning book, "Engaging the Powers".
In case you are wondering what the subtitle of the Linns' book means, "Extending the Two Hands that Heal", chapter two explains. "Nonviolence gives us two hands upon the oppressor--'one taking from him what is not his due, the other slowly calming him as we do this'--Barbara Deming" (p. 9).
The Linns devote chapter two to examples of nonviolent resistance against oppression. The story that stands out for me starts in Billings, Montana when a new-Nazi hate group threw a brick through the window of a Jewish family displaying a menorah of lighted candles in their window one December evening.
So "'The Billings Gazette' published a full-page color menorah and encouraged its 50,000 subscribers to hang it in their windows....Many churches and Christian homes that displayed menorahs were attacked by the new-Nazis, but the community refused to back down....Since then, terrorist attacks against minorities have stopped" (pp. 19-20).
In chapter three, the Linns describe Kubler-Ross' five stages of dying, starting with denial and progressing to anger, then bargaining, next depression, and finally acceptance.
Just as a physical wound normally heals slowly and naturally--although occasionally a miracle of healing can be instantaneous--, so also in a few rare cases "an emotional wound can heal in a sudden and miraculous way in which we are given an immediate free gift of forgiveness. Normally, however, we go through the five-stage process of forgiveness that is as natural to human beings as the formation of a scab over a physical wound" (pp. 29-30).
Chapter four is about denial, with a list of symptoms to help the reader recognize when they are stuck at that stage, like "telling myself, 'It's not so bad....If I ignore this it will go away....Don't rock the boat'" (p. 38).
Also listed is "How others can help me when I'm in denial : Love me just as I am without trying to fix me or change me. Listen to what I am feeling and feed back to me what you hear so I know I am understood" (p. 39), and so forth.
Chapter five is about anger and its symptoms (like criticizing others' anger, or aggressively cutting in front of other cars while driving, etc.) , as well as how to help myself (such as physical exercise, write a letter to the offender and decide later whether to send it, share with a loving and understanding friend, ask myself if my present injury is triggering a past deeper hurt also, confront the other person without blaming).
One part of this chapter I like is called, "What's healthy about anger?" and answers that it "Energizes us to correct what needs correction. Helps us protect ourselves", and similar other benefits (p. 45). I have felt all my life that anger is bad, so this provides a corrective, a new way to view my anger and use it constructively.
In discussing Bargaining, chapter six strikes a balance between forgiving and bargaining. Specifically, "Forgiveness does require us to release the other person whether they meet our bargains or not. Otherwise, we will remain tied to that person. But forgiveness also requires us to continue to do everything we can to get our bargains met" (p. 54).
Depression is the focus of chapter seven, and finally in chapter eight Acceptance is explored.
One key insight that had an impact on me is that "To the extent that we offer ourselves the unconditional forgiveness God is always offering us, we can offer that same unconditional forgiveness...to others" (p. 73).
Reading this book has helped me forgive myself for being a doormat to a large extent during much of my life up til now, .....especially when I was reading, earlier in the book, about an incident involving a rotten salad bar and how the authors stood up for themselves-- that it is natural to become a victim if one has no supportive, loving, encouraging friend nearby,..... since I have been single and lived alone and tended to be a solitary loner.....and this self-forgiveness and self-acceptance that came to me as I was reading the salad bar story ..... feel like part of a longterm healing process that I am have been going through. So self-forgiveness has been brought home to me in a new, deeper way by reading "Don't Forgive Too Soon". (I guess ultimately the one I need most to forgive...is myself!)
The Linns also surprised me by asserting that "...to the degree we can be grateful for the new life coming from the hurt, we are healed" (p. 75). Their example from their own lives concerns a deep hurt they felt for years about some unfair criticism they received.
The authors explain, "The talk John criticized was our early effort at what eventually became the theme of our most stretching book, 'Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God'....In researching the [theological] questions John raised we ended up with more than enough material for an entire book, 'Good Goats'" (p. 75).
The idea that something positive can come from my own past emotional pains...is a hopeful thought!
Some key symptoms of acceptance that stood out for me are, "I can more readily love myself with whatever I am feeling and forgive myself when I make mistakes...[and] I enjoy each moment rather than hurrying to finish" (p. 77). (Enjoying each moment more, with less rushing to get through an activity, is an ongoing project of self-improvement for me lately, since I have been a hurrying person all my life...so this 'being in the moment' is a helpful encouragement for myself.)
I also noticed the part about "How other can help me when I am in acceptance:....Affirm me in using my gifts. Healing deepens as I use my gifts to give and receive life with others, God,and the universe" (P. 78).
Again, to make a personal application of this truth in my own life: by writing even this review, I am finding the new truths of "Don't Forgive Too Soon" are getting deeper into my heart and mind...as well as being affirmed by other reading matter that seems to come my way. So my gift to others (the review) is partly a result (benefit/fruit) of my own past hurts surfacing and needing to be dealt with, which is what led to my reading "Don't Forgive Too Soon" in the first place. And my gift to others--writing a review--is indeed deepening my own healing!
Because I get a bit befuddled by the five stages of forgiveness, I found that chapter nine, "You Don't Have to Figure Everything Out" was reassuring. The Linns explain, "...perhaps you don't know how to figure out what stage you are in....Actually, the stages are not about figuring anything out. Rather, they are about letting yourself be loved wherever you are, with all your thoughts and feelings regarding the hurtful situation. When you do that, you will automatically move from one stage to the next" (p. 81).
In chapter ten, "Tomato War", Matthew Linn tells how once he realized that "When I want to understand another's world, it helps me to try to become that person and walk in his or her shoes" (p. 91), he was able to understand and empathize with and forgive some neighborhood boys who had a tomato fight with tomatoes picked from the prize tomato plants in his garden.
Matt goes on to ask, What if the boys kept on raiding his tomatoes, even after he confronted them about it? His conclusion is that "...forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, and the five stages do not guarantee that the person who hurt us will respond in a way that makes reconciliation possible.
"What the stages DO guarantee is that WE will be different as we forgive" (pp. 93-94). In fact, the boys ended up helping to take care of the tomato plants, once Matthew promised them a share of the harvest (to take home and eat, of course).
Chapter twelve examines the possible "Childhood Roots of Nonviolence", reasoning that maybe "...we split ourselves into a 'good' self and a 'bad' self'" (p. 120), after parental discipline for some disapproved/forbidden deed we have done.
Result: we then treat other people, also, as either a 'good' person, or a 'bad' person.
"Conversely when we treat others as belonging...no matter what they do, we heal the split within ourselves. ...The connectedness of all life...begins within" (p. 102).
Consequently, we "may need to apply the five stages of forgiveness to any parts of ourselves that we have learned to see as bad. ...Unconditional love [for self]....can...empower us to love [others also] unconditionally (p. 103).
The final two chapters (13 and 14) each contain a healing prayer to aid the reader in practicing forgiveness.
In chapter 13, the Linns tell how they discovered a way to respond to those who hurt them. Writes Shiela, "I noticed that my shoulders were hunched over and my breathing was shallow" (p. 108), when she was about to send an inappropriate letter (overly self-defensive of her theology)...in reply to someone who had criticized her inappropriately (trying to shame her, not just criticizing the Linns' theology).
Then, "I recalled a friend's comment that 'God loves us all a lot more than God loves our theology'. At this, my whole body relaxed, my shoulders straightened, my chest felt open and I began breathing normally. My body knew I was on the track of a creative solution that avoided both responding with violence (anger) and taking abuse (depression). Staying with that relaxed and open feeling, I composed a letter that matched it....
"The process of listening to my body that I have just described is known as 'focusing'....The focusing process is a way of allowing the story [our experience of the five stages] to unfold, especially as it wants to unfold through our bodies" (pp. 108-109).
"In focusing we will automatically move through the stages of forgiveness as our bodies keep confirming for us the next step God in inviting us to take" (p. 110).
The chapter concludes with ten "how-to" steps that lead the reader-participant through the "Focusing Prayer Process" (pp. 110-111), to begin healing--and perhaps finding a creative solution emerging also--from an emotional wound one has felt in one's life.
"Emmaus Prayer" is the topic of the final chapter (14). It retells how, after Jesus' death, he comforted two of his disciples walking (incognito) with them on the road to Emmaus, and how they recognized Christ only when he broke bread to eat with them. The chapter concludes with six steps to pray the "Emmaus Prayer", by imagining yourself walking with Jesus, telling about your emotional injury, and then creatively imagining what his response might be.
This prayer / meditation concludes, "Finally, ask Jesus to show you if there is some creative way of nonviolent engagement that will protect you and invite the person who hurt you to conversion as well..." (p. 117).
I purchased this book for someone else, yet surprised myself by deriving some benefit from it for my own life. Somehow I expected it to be about forgiving childhood emotional traumas inflicted by others, but discovered that is not really its focus.
Nevertheless, it has helped me forgive especially myself (for being imperfect, not always loving, making mistakes including inadvertantly hurting others occasionally, and especially being too much of a passive doormat, letting others hurt me.
For much of my life, I have misunderstood Jesus' saying, "Turn the other cheek". The Linns' clarification of the true meaning of these words of Christ have provided me with a much-needed and helpful correction.
Now when I "turn the other cheek", it is to stand up for myself, while also confronting the offender in such a way that they can see the wrongness of their action and feel invited to a change of heart.
For example, in the past when I would hear someone using swear words loudly in public, I would just put up with it. Nowadays, however, if they seem like they might be open to correction, I feel free to walk up and say (in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way), "Sorry if you're having a bad day, it happens to the best of us. Hope it gets better!" with perhaps a slight smile or wave. This often curbs their behavior, and sometimes they even respond with friendliness!
In conclusion, this book seems to me to be about three related topics in equal measure:
1. Self-healing (from hurts inflicted by others' offenses); and...
2. Nonviolent communication / nonviolent conflict resolution; and...
3. Forgiveness of others (and oneself) for wrongs done that have hurt anyone.
A distantly-related book about healing oneself is "Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self", by Sandra Ingerman. It tells how to encourage your lost "inner child" parts (which may have split off due to childhood emotional traumas)...to return home again to yourself; how to re-unite with your inner child, in other words. (Though its viewpoint is not Christian or religious, but rather spiritual and shamanic in tone; still I like it alot.)