Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ideas for Lent; Repeat this 490 times

It used to be that one way that teachers would discipline students was to make them write "standards." Standards were where kids would write something one hundred times either on the chalk board or in their notebooks. "I will not talk without permission in class, I will not talk without permission in class, I will not talk without permission in class,etc. etc."

Today's teachers tend not to use this approach, not so much because it's cruel or unusual, but because they want their students to enjoy writing, so they'd rather not have the kids associate it with punishment. But believe it or not, this old fashioned penalty could give us an idea for new-fangled  prayer and meditation. Follow me...

Someone once said that forgiveness is like an onion, you have to peel away the layers and it often causes tears. Before you compare forgiveness to Shreck, hear me out. It's one thing to verbally offer forgiveness or offer release from any further responsibility for however they wronged you, but you may be left with plenty of residual hurt and harm. Emotional pain freezes us sometimes, we are scarred and like a physical scar, you may heal but part of you is hardened. You may have forgiven the person who sinned against you enough for them, but you probably still have to revisit the hurt and continue to forgive them for your own sake, over and over, sometimes for years.

In William Paul Young's book, 'The Shack,'  a father grieving for his kidnapped and murdered daughter comes to a point when for his own healing and spiritual growth, he has to forgive his daughter's killer. He dosen't just say it once. He has to constantly remind himself that he forgives this heinous criminal. He repeates over and over again- "I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you."

This sounds like having a nervous breakdown, repeating a frantic wish over and over while rocking in a fetal position in a corner or something, but actually repetition has a great deal of emotional, psychological, and educational merit.

'Power of Positive Thinking' author Norman Vincent Peale counseled people to repeat Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," at least ten times a day in order to build both self-confidence and faith and trust in God.

There are new age and success gurus who tell you that if you write a goal at least a hundred times, maybe even write it a hundred times a day for twenty days- you will make it happen. Somehow, they believe, you alter the very fabric of the universe, or draw positive energy toward yourself. Others explain this away by saying that essentially you convince yourself that whatever goal will come to fruition and therefore, subconsciously or however, you work to accomplish that goal.

Whether it's some kind of metaphysical trick, or just cognitive therapy, there's something about repetition that helps get things done. Athletes can't train their bodies by working out just one time. They repeat sets or repetitions of particular exercises as part of a workout and they come back and workout again and again every day or at least every other day for weeks, months or years. Why should spiritual discipline be any different?

People drink 8 glasses of water a day to try to flush their system of impurities. If you've been smoking or drinking, or eating junk food for years, you can't expect to detox your system with just one day of drinking more water than usual, right? It may take weeks of green tea and water- not to mention abstaining from the fat, sugar, yeast, alcohol, tobacco or whatever poison to fully remove the impurities.

Jesus taught His disciples about the "office of the keys" in Matthew 18. He empowered us to free people from the shackles and manacles of sin and anger and grief, or jealousy and resentment and offense. But He also makes clear that it isn't going to be easy. It isn't just a quick fix of snapping your fingers and saying some magic words. Peter asked Him how many times do you have to keep forgiving people who mistreat you? And Jesus answered him with what seems like hyperbole, emphasizing the point that it should be constant and continuous, not just a one-shot deal:

18"Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
 19"Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.
 20"For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
 21Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"  22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. ~Matthew 18:18-22
Jesus, expert in the Torah that He is, was may have been referring to Genesis 4:24, where an angry grandson of Cain, named Lamech, warned his wives that anyone who tried to hurt him would be cursed- "If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold."

So now that I've prefaced this to death, let me get to the practical, life-applicable idea. Whether you do this silently in your head, verbally like a Zen Buddahists focuses on a word or sound to help them meditate, or whether you sit down with a piece of paper and write it out, this is what you do-

Think of something that someone has done which hurt you, and say "I forgive you." They don't have to hear it, it's for you and between you and God. Be specific, "Joe, I forgive you for taking credit for my idea in the meeting."  "Dave, I forgive you for moving in on the girl I was interested in."  "Janice, I forgive you for laughing at me." But don't just say it once. Say it twenty-five times as part of your prayer or devotion time, and do that for three weeks. You will forgive them over 500 times. You may do it all Lent long, or just for a few days. 70x7=490 is not a magic number, the point is to keep working on it until you're able to finally release it and allow Got to take it away from you for good.

Maybe you've already forgiven the person in person. Maybe after practicing this exercise enough, you'll come to a point when you'll want to forgive them in person. Maybe it wouldn't be appropriate or tactful to actually say something to them. Maybe they have no idea that they did or said anything to hurt you. Maybe they'd never apologize or ask for forgiveness even if they did. That's not the point. The point is to keep pealing back layers of that onion until you are free of the hurt.

It's a great way to ask God to help you live a lifestyle of forgiveness, which is what I believe He wants for each of us. You'll be suprised by how theraputic it can be too. Of course sometimes, it will be humbling because God may just reveal to you that you're perspectives or priorities are a little skewed- that you've been obsesssing about some things that weren't as big as you imagined. You might even end up asking for God's forgiveness, or seeking it from others.

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