This is the eighth of twelve steps in Monbourquette’s forgiveness. How do you keep relationships open in your family?
We are stuck
|‘I’m doing better now’, says Erna ( ° ) in the peer group. ‘I got my life back on track. I have a dear friend that I can go out with. I am enjoying my work again. But that doesn’t change the fact that I spent more than twenty-five years of my life trying to save an alcoholic man. All my childhood I gave away to that man, and it did not help. I’m not mad at him anymore, I have compassion for him. But also with myself and my children: I have wasted a large part of my life on a lost cause, I have raised our children in an unsafe environment, and that cannot make up for the present or the future.’|
Everyone needs a meaning for his or her life. If you don’t find meaning in life, it can also be difficult to find meaning in life.
We have to take that very literally. The psychologist Victor Frankl, survivor of Auschwitz, concluded that “man is ready and willing to endure any suffering as long as he can see the benefit of it.” Those who found a meaning of life that transcended the injustice and suffering in Auschwitz had a much higher chance of survival than those who did not.
We too gradually build up our sense of life with our personal dreams and desires, values and ideals, knowledge and experience. Injuries seem to damage this precious structure, serious injuries even seem to raze it to the ground.
Can we discover meaning in our lives despite our injuries?
Or do we dare to say that partly thanks to our injuries we discover a deeper meaning in our lives?
Hurting and learning about life
There has never been a time when such a large proportion of people believed in the malleability of life. The sky’s the limit. You can do it if you think you can. Yes, we can.
This way of thinking created and continues to provide great dynamism . Many great and good things have been accomplished by people who believed they could. At the same time, it casts a great shadow on our society.
If we completely determine what our life looks like, the jet-black counterpart of this philosophy of life immediately looms up: it is therefore our fault if it turns out that it didn’t work out. It’s no coincidence that self-rejection, self-blame, and even self-loathing ( see Step 6 ) are so abundant in our society.
In other words: since life can be made, the realization of all our dreams is achievable. From there it is only one step towards thinking: we are entitled to the realization of our dreams. When our dreams don’t come true, we are not only disappointed but also deeply hurt and angry because we didn’t get something that we were “deserving” to.
Every age has its own myths. It is easy for us to bust the myths of the Middle Ages or the Victorian era, but we breathe our own myths daily through media, conversations with other people, education, … These myths are not questioned. We don’t even recognize them, just like a fish is unaware of the water it swims in and how polluted it is or not.
It is because we get hurt that we question things.
Can life be made? Is it so obvious that I have good health, trusting relationships, steady work, youth and a slim line…? On what basis would I have ‘right’ to this? Is that even the most important? On what basis do I know so clearly what is good and important for me and my environment, and what is not?
In this way injuries refer us to a wider and more realistic world view. This certainly does not mean that we have everything in order. Perhaps this more realistic worldview holds more questions than answers. ‘I will never know, but that, I know’, Jean Gabin already sang. We also find this thought in the Chinese legend below.
|One day a farmer loses one of his most beautiful stallions. That beautiful horse just ran off. His friends try to comfort him. ‘What misfortune do you have,’ they say. The farmer replies, “It is possible.”|
The next morning his stallion suddenly appears, flanked by three wild mares. The friends rush to congratulate the farmer on his newfound wealth. Again the same laughable answer follows: ‘It is possible’.
One day the farmer’s son breaks his leg while trying to ride one of those beautiful mares. The friends rush again to express their condolences. But the farmer replies in the same neutral way: “It is possible.”
A few days later, a group of soldiers enter the village to recruit youths for the army to go to war. They are not interested in the disabled farmer’s son with his broken leg. ‘What luck’, the neighbors exclaim to the farmer. And the farmer repeats: ‘It is possible.’ Source: J. Monbourquette, How to forgive? Forgive to heal. Healing to Forgive , Altiora Averbode, 2001, p. 154.
Often it is through prejudices and entrenched ideas, influenced by the myths of our time, that we become frustrated and disappointed.
By this we certainly do not want to minimize the tragedies and wounds of life.
The pain of losing someone or something we love is deep, real and universal. The pain because we think we are entitled to all these good things, the disappointment because we thought we could make or deserve them is not universal and typical of our culture.
|My great-grandmother had 14 children. Only 7 of them have reached adulthood. A few died as babies, a few as young children from measles, scarlet fever or some other disease. As a child I loved listening to my grandmother’s stories about her childhood. But I couldn’t grasp this story. I was especially shocked by the calm way she spoke about it. I didn’t understand how you could go through something like this and not die of grief yourself. “But weren’t you and your mama terribly sad?” I asked. “Of course we were sad,” she said. “But children died in every family. It was part of it.’|
Because of his worldview, the farmer in Mali whose crops are half destroyed by drought may be less hurt than the family whose skiing holiday cannot go on due to lack of snow. Because of her outlook on life, the young woman in Venezuela will hardly think about what she looks like, while someone her age in Europe is literally unhappy because she weighs a few kilos more than her ideal beauty.
Injuries give us a more realistic worldview. A more realistic world view can help us to experience the injury as more bearable.
Hurting and learning about people: others and yourself
Injuries also have the power to change our view of others and ourselves.
They break our tendency to divide people into black and white categories. People we trusted disappoint. Our own reaction to an injury disappoints us. People we didn’t expect are there for us after we’ve been hurt. People from whom we expected support are not giving it.
It all turns out to be different and more complex than we thought.
|‘I do my group work together with Daan ( ° )’, says Ewout.|
Hanna looks at her teenage son in surprise.
“I thought you didn’t get along with Zane.”
“Yeah,” Ewout says. “He’s still chill.”
“How did that change?”
‘Yes. Do you remember when Dumbo called me…’
‘Do you mean Mr Van De Velde?’
‘Yes that one. When he made fun of me like that and the whole class was laughing, Zane was the only one who didn’t participate. And in the lunch break he helped me with my math. I thought he was such a pusher, but he’s not too bad.’
A deep injury also forces us to look for a deeper identity. When our old self-image is damaged or even shattered, we have the choice: to mourn this for a lifetime or to go deeper and search for a new self-image from that depth.
‘ Who am I? ‘ is not just a question that preoccupies teens and adolescents. In every hurt or loss experience is an invitation to find a new answer to this question. The question sounds after the loss of a loved one, a dream or ambition, a relationship or a role. The question is when we turn 20 or 50, retire or finish one job and trade for another.
It helps to break this big question down into smaller questions.
What have I learned from the injustice suffered?
What have I learned about myself?
What limits have I discovered in myself?
What resources or life forces have I discovered in myself?
To what extent have I invoked that?
Have my relationships with others changed, and how?
Has my image of God changed?
What new life goals have I set for myself?
|‘I had a wonderful childhood, one with a golden edge. I am still grateful to my parents for that’, the twenty-something tells the supervisor. “And I still remember the moment when the bubble burst.” The attendant nods and is silent, waiting for the young woman to say more.|
‘I walked around in our garden. I’d done that so many times, each time feeling like Alice in Wonderland, but somehow the garden looked different now. At school someone had laughed at me for being fat. Even my friends had laughed. Suddenly I realized that life was much harder and uglier than I thought.’
“That must have been a painful moment for you to remember.”
“Yes,” the young woman nods. ‘But I still see it as something positive. It was the moment when I started to go my own way. I became a little more ‘myself’.
Hurt and learn more about God
A deep injury also affects our image of God.
The God who looks suspiciously like Sinterklaas and who guarantees us ‘tasty’ if we are ‘good’, cannot stand when innocent people experience injustice.
The distant, indifferent God proves worthless and meaningless when we are lonely and desperate.
The God who, like a bookkeeper, keeps track of every resentful thought, only deepens our misery.
The God who immediately punishes the guilty clearly falls short. And so we can list a few more examples (see further step 11 )
All false gods, who remain calm as long as all goes well, fall from their pedestal when there is a real, deep injury. This causes great confusion. Whoever dares to go this way of uncertainty can discover a new and greater image of God. An example of this in extreme circumstances can be read in the diary of Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived in Amsterdam. Her diary begins in March 1941 and ends in 1943 in the Westerbork penal camp.
|Friday morning. Sometimes it’s a Hitler, sometimes it’s Ivan the Terrible for my part, sometimes it’s the resignation and sometimes it’s wars or the plague and earthquakes and famine. Ultimately it is about how one bears and tolerates and processes the suffering, which is nevertheless essential for this life and that one can keep a piece of one’s soul intact through everything.|
And this is the only thing we can save in this time and also the only thing that matters: a piece of you within ourselves, God. And maybe we can also help dig you up in the ravaged hearts of others. Yes, my God, you don’t seem to be able to do too much about the circumstances: they are just part of this life. I’m not holding you accountable for it. You can hold us accountable for that later.
And almost with every heartbeat it becomes clearer to me: that you cannot help us but that we must help you and that we must defend to the last moment the house within us, where you live. There are people, it is true, who at the last minute bring vacuum cleaners to safety and silver forks and spoons instead of you, my God. And there are those who bring their bodies to safety who are, after all, only enclosures for a thousand fears and bitterness. And they say: they will not catch me in their clutches. And they forget that one is in no one’s clutches, when one is in your arms. I’m starting to calm down again, my God, from this conversation with you. Source: E. Hillesum, The disturbed life, diary of 1941-1943 , Uitgeverij Balans, 2014.
Building a new sentence with this new data
So injuries don’t have to be the end, they can be the beginning of a new road.
Those who deal with injuries in a good way recognize three steps in the processing: the mourning, building a better knowledge or deeper understanding, and finally moving on with your life, building a new project.
First of all, there is mourning for the injustice suffered. This grief is, of course, directly proportional to the depth of the injury. Sometimes we tend to ignore certain injuries because they are ‘small’ or ‘just part of life’.
Yet everything that we feel as a wound also needs care.
When a child comes home crying because it was laughed at school, there is a need for that moment of ‘mourning’, where the story is listened to and the pain is acknowledged.
When a teenager experiences that the boy or girl he or she was in love with is starting a relationship with someone else, there must be time for “mourning.”
When someone is disappointed in their partner, it doesn’t help to say that this is part of it. A dream has been lost, and that is to be mourned.
When someone retires and feels written off, it doesn’t help to fly right back into volunteering, they must first mourn what has passed.
If we make time for that mourning at all, we tend to jump straight to step 3 afterwards. ‘Tears away, and go back to play!’ It seems like we keep saying that to ourselves all our lives. And that is a missed opportunity.
If we do not make time to reflect on what has happened and thus arrive at new knowledge and insights, we have learned nothing from it. Next time we may be hurt in exactly the same way.
Of course, insights don’t protect us from new injuries. Yet from this insight a firmer foundation emerges: a healthier and more realistic view of life, a more nuanced view of others and ourselves, a growing awareness of who we really are, a more mature view of God.
On the surface it seems as if we are losing time and keep kicking on the spot. Nobody sees how a tree takes root in silence. It’s not until next spring that everyone will marvel at the larger bloom.
And so we come to the last step. With a healed heart that took the time to grieve and with a renewed outlook on ourselves and life we are ready to hit the road again, take on a new project.
|Marie-Jeanne ( ° ) is almost sixty. She never worked outside the home, her whole life was devoted to the five children. When the last child also leaves home, she has a very hard time. Secretly she thinks that her children are far too little to hear from themselves. They’re all so busy, she knows that, but wasn’t she busy too, when she made time for them day and night? All these years? It happens that she doesn’t hear from them for weeks.|
It doesn’t help that her husband says this is normal after all.
It doesn’t help that her friend says she is lucky, that her children have turned out so well. That it is only annoying when they stay at home and don’t find a job or love, like her own children.
It doesn’t help that another friend praises exciting city trips now that she and her husband are finally ‘free’ again.
Marie-Jeanne feels depressed, redundant and hurt, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that. After a conversation with a pastor, she decides to allow herself the grief. She cries about it, she writes about it in a diary. Over time, she begins to question who she really is, now that she is no longer the linchpin of a busy and lively litter. Who was she before she had children? What did she like to do? What made her happy?
She takes the time to think about this. A year later she is a new woman. She has enrolled in a watercolor painting course and is doing yoga.
“See, being free is cool!” says her friend. And Marie-Jeanne can confirm that now, but only now.
|STEP 8 IN A NUTSHELL|
Without ‘meaning in our lives’, we have no ‘meaningfulness in our lives’. Injuries seem to damage and even destroy the ‘meaning of our lives’. At the same time, every injury offers an opportunity to learn more about God, the world, and ourselves. After an injury, we cannot move on right away. We must first mourn, take time to arrive at new insights and only then can we move on with renewed meaning.
|STEP 8 AT YOUR HOME |
Parents and educators want children to learn to… learn from their injuries. Sometimes we want this too soon. Help your child not to skip the first two steps. Give your child who has been hurt time to grieve. Don’t be afraid of the tears of a child or teenager, they usually feel very fine when enough has been ‘mourned’. Maybe you can invite your child to make a drawing about it. Or maybe you can put a glass jar on the windowsill and invite your child to throw a marble in it whenever they feel sad. This is how you teach your child that ‘mourning’ is okay.
Children often need some help with the second phase: self-reflection. Ask a few simple questions.
You look happy again. Who or what has helped you?
Are you going to be friends with <name>?
What are you most interested in now?
What have you been missing lately?
What do you need now? Do not have a ‘correct’ answer in mind, make room within yourself to receive every answer from your child and offer him or her a safe environment for his or her way. Talk to your partner or a close friend about the meaning of life. You can work with questions on cards, each picking one you want to answer. What do you get up for every morning?
What helps you to persevere?
What makes you happy?
What do you want to pass on to other people?
Has the meaning you experience now always been the meaning of your life? How come this has changed so much?
Look ‘backwards’ at your life… suppose tomorrow is your last day of life, what would you like to have done/experienced/passed on? Then look for a symbol for what gives your life meaning. Put it in a visible place. The home furnishings often tell us something about the residents’ ‘meaning in life’. Take a ‘zen sense walk’ through your house, perhaps with your children. What do the furniture, decorations, … say about your ‘sense’? ‘There are big windows because light makes me happy. This sun on the wall gives ‘light’ even on a dark day. This yellow paint reminds me that there is always a new day to come. Plants in the house are new life. Cosiness is very important, just look at that soft pillow in the seat. This cross reminds me that God is always with us, even when the going gets tough. …’