In “It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way,” Lysa TerKeurst wrote about handling life’s disappointments, detours, and derailments. Lysa had been enduring a separation from her husband who had been unfaithful, while also dealing with serious health concerns that almost killed her.
True to form, Lysa didn’t hide her feelings. She spoke as if someday we would meet for coffee in person. Despite the painful topics she covered, Lysa infused humor throughout. (For example, she had a colonoscopy gone wrong in the most humorous sense. I remembered to tell my G.I. doctor to ensure I stayed under for that procedure last year.)
“Forgiving What You Can’t Forget” is her follow-up to that book. In this work, Lysa explored her struggles to forgive others during those tumultuous four years. She opened and closed this study of “the beauty of forgiving” with empathy for her reader. She had processed grief as she worked to forgive her own pain. She said she left an open chair for the reader at the gray, wooden table where she wrote this book. She and her group of friends sat at this table together to work through “the teachings in the Bible and in this book,” so these exercises were tested first.
Lysa wanted to help readers understand their own “marked moments,” those memories that stood out and shook up their world, like those she and her friends shared at that table. She wanted them to correct stinkin’ thinkin’, as my therapist would say, about the world, other people, and God, and replace those with truth.
Her own “marked moments” were hard to read, and after reading I wanted people who hurt her in her childhood to pay. Big time. She did too back then. She filed away hurts as she built her case against those who hurt her, as if she soon would take the complaint to court.
Some people spend their whole lives though collecting and pulling out the evidence, she said. They rehash what’s been done to them. They play the blame game. They stay victims. They stay in the past. They stay focused on grudges. They don’t see they are holding their peace hostage.
Meanwhile, those who’ve hurt us are often living unaware of the offence. Lysa said the act and process of forgiveness will take the power away from the ones who hurt us. The hurt loses its grip on us when we forgive.
God commanded us to forgive those who hurt us, just as He forgave us, in the Lord’s prayer. Forgiveness frees us from becoming paralyzed by a bitter, unforgiving spirit. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the person who wronged us is free to go, free to harm someone else. Lysa said, “God’s mercy is not void of His justice” (19). God will vindicate us.
The process of forgiveness sounds easy when we think of how many times God has forgiven us, but we still have to walk through pain, acknowledge it, and process it. Lysa said “unresolved pain triggers unresolved chaos” (29). She “want[ed] her reality to stop being defined by a hopeless pursuit of rewriting what happened yesterday” (32).
Lysa’s first exercise for readers came out of a therapy session with her counselor Jim Cress. He had her write each hurt she needed to forgive on a 3×5” card. She placed each card on the floor, and they snaked around the office. The counselor then handed her red, felt squares cut slightly bigger than the cards. As she forgave each offence, she “sealed each forgiveness declaration by placing a piece of red felt over the top of the card, symbolizing the blood of Jesus and His ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our forgiveness” (43). She could visualize her act of forgiveness at the same time she spoke it.
Lysa’s second forgiveness exercise made me think about cognitive behavior therapy because it involved recognizing what we think and changing our thought-processes and the ways we react. She wanted readers to see the connecting thread that led to certain beliefs we hold today. Lysa again supplied her own story and timeline to show how she “collected the dots, connected the dots, and corrected the dots.” Our childhoods have “marked moments” that formed our personal belief systems that continue to inform us as adults.
Lysa said, “We write scripts to help us navigate life experiences based on our past experiences, and…those scripts turn into belief systems that inform our actions” (57).
Collecting and connecting these pieces can help us correct belief systems and change those scripts. This will also change our vision, like putting on new glasses.
Then, Lysa talked about boundaries when it comes to forgiving others. While we need to forgive people who hurt us, she made it clear that reconciliation may not always be possible. Some people aren’t repentant. Some aren’t willing to reconcile. Some relationships were toxic, like in cases of abuse.
Most people know they can only change themselves. We can’t fix things in another person’s life. That said, Lysa knows boundaries are needed in relationships with loved ones. We may want to intervene, especially when we see danger signs in front of those we love. It’s like they’re lying down on the tracks with a train barreling down on them, she said. We feel like we need to do something, like we have some kind of power to get them off the tracks. If our loved ones aren’t willing to change, then we can find ourselves in the path of the oncoming train with them, she said. What we’re doing is enabling the unhealthy behavior to continue and we’re dragging ourselves into our loved ones’ messes. That can wreak havoc on us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Chapter 13 on “bitterness” toward the end of this book may have been my favorite chapter. Yes, that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Lysa talked about how bitterness from unresolved, unforgiven wounds can cause us to over-react and lose it the next time we are wronged. I was reminded of all those YouTube videos where people lose their minds on the dumbest things. Just one more thing reminded that person how unjust and unkind life has been to them.
Lysa said, “Bitterness over one thing will locate bitterness hiding inside of us over other things. It will always intensify our reactions, skew our perspective, and take us further and further away from peace” (191).
“Me not forgiving the people who hurt me was agreeing to bring the hurt they caused into every present-day situation I was in – hurting me over and over again,” Lysa said.
She likened bitterness to a corrosive acid that “eats away our peace” (191). She said she needed to add something to the healing process of forgiveness. She needed to add humility. And this prayer she wrote on page 195 is one I decided to hold onto for the rest of my life it’s so good:
“God, I give this situation to You. I release my need to see this person punished. I release my need for an apology. I release my need for this to feel fair. I release my need for You to declare me right and them wrong. Show me what I need to learn from all of this. And then give me Your peace in place of my anger.”
As I read this book, I felt like I had read Lysa’s journal as she learned about the process of forgiveness. Lysa has been in the trenches with her Bible in hand. Her illustrations and personal stories enhanced the passages of scripture that helped her defeat the enemy, change her mindset, and walk in victory with her fellow soldiers out of that battlefield.
Her writing style is sermon-like and makes for easy digestion. She used personal stories, repetitive phrases, alliteration, and rhyming. Like her other works, Lysa’s painful struggles became teachable moments for her and for us as readers. I could see the evidence of Jesus walking with her and those around the gray table in these pages. This book has a DVD and study guide you can purchase as well as a leader bundle for a Bible study group. Lysa has a journal now that goes with this, and I will have to pick it up. For more information about her ministry, go here.