Baggage gets a bad rap.
I get it, I get it. This isn't a blog about being tolerant of carrying around our past emotional scars and victimhood and then unpacking it all over the next person that will let you set up camp. I am not an advocate of hurt people hurting people. I've recently done that - not a proud moment, and so not cool (but we are great friends and will be forever, right coach?). I've recently been a recipient of that, again, so not cool. But, what if we looked at our left behind baggage with an appreciation of who we became because we schlepped it with us for a brief period in life? Could we learn to be proud of it because after having carried the bags they forever changed who we are?
I am seriously tempted to tell some crazy stories of my past dating relationships right now while I am still waiting to meet my Breakfast of Champions (read about that here). Trust me, in the 16 years I've been divorced I have more dating stories than I care to admit to choose from. And yes, some of those mishaps were completely because of my personal bad judgments, choices, and neglect in unpacking my baggage so I'll refrain from sharing (for now). However, those wrong choices in dating, those extremely deep lapses in judgment, those emotionally scarring, heartbreaking, massive disappointments made me who I am right now and right now, I am so not the same person I was when I made the bad choices. I am different. I am better. Thank you, Jesus.
This past weekend my pastor preached on the book of Ruth. Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, lost her husband and two sons. As a result, she changed her name from Naomi to Mara, which means bitter. She would never be the same after having suffered such tremendous loss. And that caused me to think, could we be better instead of bitter after having suffered loss? Could we become a better version of ourselves? Could we be proud of who we are after having had the difficult experiences? Let's talk about three attributes we can cultivate after disappointment to become better.
1. Become more forgiving
When we carry around the baggage of our past hurts while looking behind at what happened to us, we get emotionally stuck in the place we refuse to unpack those emotions in. When we refuse to believe that our best days are always out in front of us we stay in victim mode of what we've had to endure. Are you wallowing? If so, there is a high probability of becoming bitter.
All bitterness starts out as hurt. Stephen Diamond, Ph.D., defines bitterness as “a chronic and pervasive state of smoldering resentment” and deservedly regards it as “one of the most destructive and toxic of human emotions.” Whoa. (why would Naomi change her name to that?) Almost everything I have studied about bitterness regards the ultimate remedy to be the best way to cure it. Forgiveness.
Forgiveness alone enables you to let go of grievances, grudges, and resentment. It’s the single most potent antidote for the venom bitterness poisons us with. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves and it's a truly better way to be.
2. Become more grateful
There are people so fueled by rage, or so blocked by fear, they cannot allow themselves to put down the shield and open themselves to love, and that it a very painful way to move through life. Even if your love was not met with the respect, kindness, tenderness and cherishing it deserved, you can still celebrate the fact that you know how to give your heart to someone, and that is beautiful. Whenever we’re hurt, we have two choices–we can let the pain harden us or soften us; I highly recommend softening.
We get to choose the lesson we have from every encounter we experience. Choose to find the good about yourself and be grateful that the experience has taught you something.
3. Become more encouraging
I don't know of anyone in history who went through more episodes of discouraging circumstances than the apostle Paul. Read this list:
I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather.
And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. 2 Corinthians 11:24-29
Seriously? How in the world do you continue on after all that? Yet, continue on he did and is known as the most encouraging Christian in history. Real encouragement comes from the heart. So have you turned your heart back on after loss & disappointment? Christ's heart, not Paul's heart, lived in Paul and that allowed him to overcome any set back. Encouragers have a heart for people, an empathetic ear, an eye for potential, are a consistent source of hope and set an inspiring example. I can't think of a better thing to become.
So can loss change us forever. I dare to say it does. But we get to choose how it changes us. Choose better. Choose healthy. God uses it all for our good, if we let him and the reward is hearing him say...."well done".
How have you allowed hurt, loss and disappointment to change you? Talk to me.