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  • Stephen

Sometimes it feels like different situations arise in my life that don't appear to be related, but they come together in a way that they remind me of deeper realities. That happened this past week.

First, I attended a conference over the weekend that was studying the dynamics of group relations in real time. Because it was an experiential conference, I was both a witness and a participant in a few very difficult conversations that had diverse outcomes. Second, this week we collectively honored and remembered the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was clearly a man that was willing to have difficult conversations with lots of different outcomes.

While you may think I want to reflect on difficult conversations, what I am actually interested in is the key ingredient to the way the various outcomes of those conversations unfolded. In each of those examples, it seems like the outcome is directly impacted by the posture of the participants. Specifically, we lean in to learn, or we lean out to avoid.

I will illustrate with a conversation I had at my conference. At one point I was both a witness and a participant in pointing out to a fellow attendee that their behavior was assuming a significant amount of authority to act and speak on behalf of others when they hadn't really asked for permission to do so. When this individual was confronted with their behavior, rather than lean in with some curiosity and vulnerability, they leaned out, and in fact, withdrew themselves from the situation. They avoided any attempt to learn about themselves, and instead just avoided any kind of growth opportunity. They doubled down on being right and everyone else not understanding them. However, I also had some difficult conversations with people where everyone was leaning in, which resulted in some really powerful learning and growth!

I think we can see very similar reactions to difficult conversations MLKJr attempted to have in our world. If people were willing to lean in and learn, change was possible. But many people weren't willing to do that, and eventually he was killed because people wanted to totally avoid it!

How and where might this apply to our lives? Are there difficult conversations we need to have with family members or colleagues? Are others engaging us in difficult conversations? If so, what kind of a posture are we going to adopt? Will we lean in with the possibility of learning and growth, recognizing that it will be hard but worth it? Or will we lean out and take the easier road of just avoiding the struggle altogether?

I hope that in the days to come we will all continue to lean in and discover the possibilities for learning and growth that might be present for us!

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  • Stephen

As a Spiritual Guide and Mentor over the years, I have frequently dealt with the issue of forgiveness in people’s lives. Gradually over time, I began to realize that forgiveness is a pretty messy, and not very clear cut reality. As a result, I found myself using language with people that said something like,

Forgiveness is a journey, not a light switch.

That was an attempt to articulate the messy process of forgiveness, rather than some simple decision or a state of being we turn on or off.

But what I also discovered over the years was if people were willing to give themselves to this process in a wholehearted way (shoutout to Brene’ Brown for the language there!), they could discover a sense of real freedom in their lives. In fact, maybe it would be more accurate to call this The Journey of Forgiveness that Leads to Real Freedom (but the shorter title fits better on the slide).

Recently I have begun to discover some concrete handles and descriptors for what I believe are the four movements or sections that make up this journey:

The Offense: The Originating Wound

Preparation: Courageous Honesty

The Release: Unlocking Yourself

Affirmation: Ongoing Movement

Let’s unpack each of these sections of the journey, and if you want to listen to a podcast about these ideas while you review these notes, click here.

The Offense: The Originating Wound

Obviously, forgiveness can’t happen unless we have something to forgive. This is The Offense, or what I also refer to as The Originating Wound. There are some characteristics to consider that will help us better identify and understand this first movement.

  • One-time or repeating event: Some wounds are caused by a singular event in time. It happened once, and never happened again, like I was wrongly accused of stealing from my company by my boss. Other wounds happen over time and are often a result of repeated events, like an abusive partner, or someone who constantly lies to me.

  • Individual, group, or institution: It’s also important to recognize that the offending party could be an individual, but it also could be a group, like several “friends” who regularly bully me. But the offender can also be an institution, like a church or a company, or even an entire system, like in the example of racism or sexism.

  • Whenever I have experienced a wounding, it’s possible the offending party may or may not be aware of their offense. That doesn’t change the fact that I have been offended in any way, it simply means they aren’t mindful of what they have done. This can especially be true when the offender is an institution or system.

  • It is also possible that I may not be aware of the depth of the wound I have experienced. There may be times when I have diminished, either on purpose or out of self-preservation, the degree to which I have been hurt. That lack of awareness also doesn’t change the fact that a wound has occurred.

This first movement on the Journey of Forgiveness, the Offense, is all about recognizing and naming the offense that created the originating wound that needs to be healed.

Preparation: Courageous Honesty

As we move closer toward forgives and freedom in our lives, the next section of the journey is about being fully prepared to actually forgive, and it involves a lot of courageous honesty.

  • It begins with digging into the wound and being fully honest about how deeply we have been hurt and the exact nature of the offense from the originator. To do this well we really need a space that is very safe, and we may need some professional assistance in the process, but when we are ready and have the room to do it, we must be honest about the wound.

  • As I continue to prepare, what I also must be honest about is who is actually going to find freedom through this journey, and that’s me, the person who has been wounded. I am the one who needs to heal and find freedom through forgiveness, which isn’t dependent on the offender in any way.

  • However, it is important to recognize that when I am ready to forgive my offender, that does not mean I am also giving them absolution or removing the consequences that may come with their actions. In other words, real freedom through forgiveness doesn’t say to my offender, “what you did was ok” (absolution), nor does it say, “and you don’t have to face the consequences (boundaries) of your choices.”

  • As I begin to get honest about what forgiveness involves and doesn’t involve, what starts to emerge is a picture or vision of imagining a healthy life beyond forgiveness. This is when we look forward and can actually begin to see what real freedom might look like. And when we do, it becomes an invitation to actually being ready to act on forgiveness.

This second movement on the Journey of Forgiveness, Preparation, requires my willingness to be courageously honest about what forgiveness and freedom will and won’t mean moving forward.

The Release: Unlocking Yourself

Having travelled the journey to this point, and fully immersed myself in the preparation process, I am now ready to actually forgive. That is what this third movement, The Release, is all about.

  • Choosing to let go. This is the moment of actual decision we must make with our will - to let go and release the actual offense. It isn’t about letting go of the offender or ignoring the wound, but is about letting go of the actual wounding.

  • As we make this choice, sometimes engaging in some type of tangible action may be helpful and necessary for us to actually let go. For example, we may need to write out a description of our wounding and then burn the papers, or maybe we need to release a balloon into the air.

  • Sometimes the action of release may involve telling the offending party we forgive them. If we want to make this a part of our choice, we need to remember their reaction isn’t what’s important or even necessary, because we are the one finding freedom through this release.

  • Another tool that is important in letting go and unlocking ourselves is also in our ability to tap into our support networks. This may involve asking people to accompany us as we take the action steps of release. It may also involve relying on our religious or faith practices that are stabilizing to us in our lives.

This third movement on the Journey of Forgiveness, The Release, includes the moment of decision when I actually let go of the offense and in the process, unlock myself.

Affirmation: Ongoing Movement

Once I have actually made the decision to let go and embrace forgiveness and freedom, the journey is not over, but continues with the ongoing life of affirmation and forward movement - learning to live into the fullness and freedom that my forgiveness brings.

  • One of the reasons this is important to recognize, is because I may have to face the wound again, including facing my offender again. It may be that we will continue to have contact, or I may still have at the very least, the memories of the offense that will come back around.

  • Whenever I am confronted with either the real pain or the memory of the pain of my wound, I may be tempted to pick the grudge back up again. Sometimes this can happen because it was more “comfortable” to still carry it around, or at least it’s more familiar to me than the freedom I am learning to live into. When this happens, it will be important to revisit and perhaps even re-release the offense again.

  • As I continue to travel this journey of forgiveness, having actually released and chosen forgiveness, it is also highly critical that I now maintain healthy boundaries. This connects back to the points during the Preparation when I was recognizing forgiveness isn’t about absolution or removing consequences for the offender, as well as living into the healthy view of freedom I envisioned back then.

  • This is also where my support network can be a critical piece in my journey, because they can help me keep a good perspective on where I am, what this life of freedom looks like, and even point out when I may be picking the offense back up again. Whether it’s the healthy people in my life or the spiritual system I live in, those support networks help me to keep affirming my life of forgiveness and freedom.

This fourth movement on the Journey of Forgiveness, Affirmation, involves the process of revisiting my decision to let go of the offense, making sure I don’t pick it back up again.

The Journey of Forgiveness

Rather than approaching forgiveness as a single moment in time or a state we are either in or not, I believe it is more accurate (and healthy) to recognize that forgiveness is a lifetime journey. As we move through it toward a deeper reality of freedom in our lives, we encounter the four movements or sections that make up this journey:

The Offense: The Originating Wound

Preparation: Courageous Honesty

The Release: Unlocking Yourself

Affirmation: Ongoing Movement

Traveling this pathway isn’t a cure-all for everything that needs to be healed in our lives, but it is a significant part of the overall journey into freedom that must be taken if we are to find and live into the wholeness we all seek.

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  • Stephen

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Everyone needs order to survive and thrive in life. But as we grow and mature, we run up against experiences that can cause our order to be shaken and questioned. When that happens, what are the options we have for facing and understanding what’s happening in our lives?

This diagram is a synthesizing together of a number of different ideas and concepts I have encountered and been processing over the past few years. In recent weeks this visual representation emerged in my mind and heart as a way of seeing all of them at work together.

*To listen to a podcast about this Pattern, click here.

Order - Disorder - Reorder

  • These original three pieces (Order-Disorder-Reorder) are a concept I first learned from Fr Richard Rohr. He uses it in multiple places to help provide a framework for understanding change in our lives. He writes most extensively about it in his book, Falling Upward.

  • It is a framework for understanding how we go about growth and transformation. We are people who live in order, are confronted by life that produces disorder in our lives, and we then must learn how to move beyond the disorder to a state of reorder.


  • Order is the way in which we understand and provide meaning for our lives. It is necessary for us to live well and is a result of our families of origin, education, and life-shaping experiences, to name a few sources. Most of the time we talk about this order in the form of beliefs, tenets, perspectives, or perhaps even a world view.

Life Dissonance

  • As we continue on our journeys, life has a way of naturally bringing events and circumstances to us that don’t fit in the order we have created. The two primary experiences that create this dissonance are necessary suffering (a term used by Carl Jung) and extravagant love (love without expectations attached to it).

  • As we encounter suffering and love, the dissonance can come to us cognitively, emotionally, or spiritually, but is often a combination of all three of those realms, which is why I use the term life dissonance.


  • After we have been confronted with dissonance, we come to the point where we must make a decision - What are we going to do with this disorder? This requires us to really look at and examine the source of the dissonance. This is where help from others, as well as a framework like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral can be so helpful (listen to this podcast for an episode on that).

  • As we begin to look at and consider the source of our disorder, our two basic options for choice are to either Reject & Return, or Include & Transcend, recognizing it’s most likely a combination of both of those choices.

Reject & Return

  • This is the process of examining the source of the dissonance in our lives and deciding that it would not be healthy for us to accept it. We decide to return back to the order we had already created, rejecting the notion of the disorder.

Include & Transcend

  • As we wrestle with the source of our dissonance, we realize that something in it resonates with a deeper reality than is already a part of our Order. So rather than reject it, we bring it in and assimilate it into our lives in a healthy way. This process of including and transcending is about us expanding our understandings of life, not necessarily throwing out any of our old order.


  • If we have traveled the pathway of expansion by including and transcending, we then arrive at a place of reorder. This can sometimes be a lengthy time as we process all of the ways in which our old order must be reordered by the dissonance we have experienced.

New Certainty

  • What emerges through this process is a new sense of foundational strength and certitude that allows us to keep moving forward with this new order in our lives.

All of this happens in a cyclical pattern in our lives, best represented by a spiraling and expanding of this process, rather than a simple two dimensional image on a page. Each time we go through this we are expanding to even greater depths of understanding, growth and transformation.

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