Forgiveness is an extremely difficult process, but when you have experienced deep, life changing hurt, it feels almost impossible.
When I was 13 years old, I was assaulted by an older boy. I couldn’t talk about it for many reasons. Not even to my best friend and mom. If what he did to me wasn’t bad enough, he lied to cover it up. So, I not only had to deal with his assault, but bear the consequences of his lie. I decided to thank God it wasn’t any worse than it was and hope the consequences of his lie wouldn’t get out of hand. I just wanted to pretend as though it never happened. About a year later, when circumstances were different, I tried to talk to a friend about what happened. Nothing I said made any sense. I was so frustrated. I couldn’t be honest with myself about what happened – much less somebody else. After hanging up the phone, I remember thinking that I was NOT his victim and if I had to bury what happened in the deepest recesses of my mind, I would. And that’s what I did.
You want to know what I’ve learned? You have to deal with your issues. If you don’t, you’ll never heal.
Forgiveness is not pretending like it didn’t happen or like it didn’t hurt. That’s called lying. Forgiveness is a decision to release a debt regardless of how you feel. –Tony Evans
Fast forward to five years later. I was attending a funeral in support of a, once very close, friend. I was standing at the graveside service when I felt someone looking at me. You know how the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Yeah, that happened. I glanced around me and saw him. At least, I think it was him. Five teenage years can really alter the appearance. I wasn’t close enough to really tell if it was him or not. And I wasn’t about to look directly at him. If it was, I did NOT want him to think in his SICK mind that I was checking him out. Just the thought – that he could be standing in the same vicinity as me – enraged me. I don’t just mean angry. I struggled with my temper a lot in my early life. I knew what anger felt like and this wasn’t it. The only way to describe it was like a white hot fire deep inside me. I have never felt that way in my life – before or since.
“Who ever angers you, owns you.” – Anonymous
Simultaneously with the rage, I felt utter and complete fear trickle down my spine. Fear and rage warred until rage won. I was wearing my absolute favorite shoes that I had just picked up in New York. They were thick black strapped wooden clogs. Don’t hate, they were the bomb in 1998. It took all of my self restraint not to hurl one of those clogs into the side of his head. I had to keep reminding myself that I was more than my emotions and I needed to get control of them. And then I had to remind myself that I didn’t even know if it was him. Wouldn’t that have been bad if I threw my shoe at some complete stranger – in the middle of a funeral? I could just see me being arrested for starting a brawl at a funeral then later trying to explain to my church friends what happened. I know these thoughts weren’t very Christian, but they were human and Christians are very human. *Pause* This is an example of why I’m a Christian. I’m not one of those people who thinks I’m perfect and needs no help maintaining my perfection. I know I’m a mess, which is why I need Jesus in my life. Desperately. I am such a mess that I still manage to ignore his presence, at times, and do what I shouldn’t. I would NOT want to imagine my life if he were absent. *Unpause* God reminded me in that moment why I was there. I looked over at my friend who was clinging to the casket of the girl he loved and I felt a new resolve steel my spine. I was there to support him. This was about him, not me. From that moment, it didn’t matter if the devil himself were there; I was focused on praying for and being a support for my friend. That’s when I learned love IS stronger than hate.
You see, love is strong. Stronger than hate even. Love is the only thing that can kill hate, nothing else. You see, hate destroys and that’s why love is stronger. It builds. Peter Abrahams
You would think after that day, I would start getting over it. I didn’t. I tucked it right into the back of my mind where I thought it belonged and didn’t think about it again for years. When I was FINALLY ready to deal with my “issues,” it took a lot longer than I wanted it to. I wanted to forgive him. I really did. For my sake. I would pray about it and say that I did, but then the same feelings of anger would find me the next time I was reminded of it.
I felt like a failure. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t snap my fingers and be done, especially when I would think about Dawn Smith Jordan or Nate Saint’s family. What I went through was nothing compared to them and they were able to forgive.
I’ve learned that we are all different and the way we heal is different. We can’t speed up our soul’s healing by wishing it so, anymore than we can wish a broken bone to be healed. It takes time. There should be no guilt in that.
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic[a] either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
One night, I was reading a book, “Tarnished Silver” by Chautona Havig when a light bulb went off in my head. The whole forgiveness thing finally started to make more sense. The conversation I was reading about reminded me of a passage in Matthew.
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him,“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. – Matthew 18:21-22
I think Jesus answered him in this way, not just to express that we are to love above all and we should constantly forgive, but sometimes even, we need to forgive over and over for the same offence. I have always felt like a huge failure when I couldn’t just forgive an offense like a snap of the fingers. But, we’re human and sometimes we have to not only change our attitudes, but make a commitment to forgive. Sometimes, we have to continuously forgive someone until our mind and emotions are caught up with our actions of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process and it’s hard, but it can be done. A lie that so many believe is that some things can’t be forgiven, but Jesus’ words in Matthew prove otherwise. He expects us to. Jesus would never expect us to do something we couldn’t.
Something that helped me was to change my perception. When someone hurts us it’s hard to see past what they did to the person they are. When I started to realize that he was just another messed up human being that God loves, my heart started to thaw a little. No, he doesn’t deserve God’s love, but none of us do. God doesn’t discriminate, he loves everyone more than we could possibly imagine. Even those that have wronged us. Our attitudes should reflect his love. It’s all about love. Love requires obedience and dedication – so does forgiveness. Isn’t forgiveness an act of mercy and mercy an act of love? It’s all connected.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34
1 Peter 4:8 English Standard Version (ESV)
8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”
Where am I at today with my forgiveness regarding this issue? I can honestly say I have forgiven the person that assaulted me. I didn’t think I would ever be able to say that. I wish him no ill will; I really don’t. Above all, I truly hope he’s gotten help for his very serious issues.