For a long time, certain triggers made me feel as if someone had poured acid; to forgive implying a gross injustice. The thorns of forgiveness rebelled against the unfairness of all.
It’s hard not to harbor bitterness.
For years I nurtured a dark, deep-rooted hatred for my father. I didn’t realize the volatility until one day, in innocence, my (at-the-time) young daughter asked about her grandfather.
Her grandfather? My churning stomach recoiled at the bite of her words. She would call the man who abused me her grandfather?
I offered some lame rationale which satisfied until her older years brought us face to face with the aftershocks of my young life. One day my daughter uncovered an article of mine, which shared an overview of the abuse I suffered at the hands of my father. She had questions for me; questions I wasn’t ready for.
I wish I could say I gently sat her down and explained how God’s grace covers a multitude of sins, how the same Jesus who died for me and her died for my father, and how, as fleshy humans in a fallen world, we are all, unfortunately, capable of evil to some degree.
I did not. I spewed vicious, hurtful words about his atrocious behavior which planted seeds of hatred, fear, and confusion in a fragile teenage heart.
And I am a Christian. A Christian taught to forgive.
Well-meaning pastors, counselors, and friends had urged me, “forgive.” But all I heard was cajoling manipulation designed to trick me into excusing wrong behavior. Forgiveness was something I couldn’t offer from the heart.
“Someday, God.” I made a dangerous promise.
Out of a sole fear of divine punishment I repeatedly promised God I would forgive. Someday was easier to digest. It was “out there”—an elusive future promise never to materialize, a commitment that offered temporary protection.
But God called me to forgive now. Today. In this go-round on earth.
It was a heart-work only God could do. Eventually, I surrendered the work to Him. For on my own, I could never yield my right for vengeance, my need to understand, or the anger which camouflaged my pain. But I knew the right thing to do. Motivated by a love for God (just as I chose Christ as my Savior) I had to choose, in faith, to forgive my father.
God honored my commitment. Completely unaware to me, he worked in my heart as the days passed.
A couple months later I stood in my kitchen, alone in the house. The aroma of freshly-chopped garlic signaled me to turn on the stove. Momentarily distracted, I watched the black stovetop surface molt into vibrant color. Flame red. An unpleasant thought scorched my mind. I envisioned my father spending an eternity in hell. Tears formed in my eyes and trickled down my face. With Christ’s heart in me, I realized I no longer wanted revenge. I wouldn’t wish the ravages of hell on any man—including the man who had brought so much pain in my own life, my father.
Grace does such cool things in one’s heart, unexpected.
How about you? Someone God has called you to forgive, yet it feels impossible?
Father, we sometimes struggle with this issue of forgiveness—as if forgiveness somehow makes what the others did acceptable. It’s not acceptable Lord, and in our humanness, we can’t always comprehend or allow forgiveness. What they did was wrong, excruciatingly painful. But Lord, truth is, we’ve done bad things too. We have turned away from you; we have hurt people. Please help us grant those who have hurt us your mercy, and please (supernaturally) release us from this pent up pain of not letting go.
I would LOVE to know your thoughts. Leave a comment and be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Max Lucado’s new Grace Happens Here.
11 thoughts on “Forgiven People Forgive People”
I WANTED to hate him, I WANTED to, but somehow I didn’t. I wondered if my lack of the need for vengeance, my lack of blame, my lack of hatred, was just temporary due to the sudden shock and the heart wrenching loss of my parents. That first few days, weeks even after he killed both my parents in a stupid, un-necessary car accident, I was numb, shaken to the core, and I felt utterly alone. How could they BOTH be gone just like that, HE had been so careless and unobservant, yet I felt bad for HIM, and I couldn’t imagine what HE must be going through….. he’d live with what had happened for the rest of his life too. Others, family even, wanted my siblings and I to go AFTER him, cause him to suffer, to blame him in the courts. They wondered how we could just forgive him so easily? I don’t know why, but I never felt anything like that, I think I forgave him, before the thought even entered my head NOT to. I do think though, that is was the grace of God that gave that GIFT to me. Already dealing with other emotional trials, this new one could have brought me to the very edge of life I think, and My heavenly father knew that! Instead I knew for a surety in my heart that it was their time to go, that they were needed for bigger things than this life. So knowing that, I was left with a bit of comfort, yes, also so much grief, so much ache and longing, but no bitterness, no hatred. What a gift to have that kind of burden taken by my savior and to have been spared the kind of turmoil it could have caused in my life as well as the young man who had been the cause. I find it so much more difficult to forgive things in my everyday life, the kind of little things that many of us hold on to, let grow and let fester. Sometimes I wonder why it can be SO hard to forgive, and why sometimes it takes me SO long. Thank you for your post, sharing my own experience has helped me to see that the feeling of letting it go, of forgiving is so much easier on the heart, and holding on to the burden of un-forgiveness hurts me much more than the person I am unwilling to forgive.
I thank God for the grace that overflows from the depths of your heart. Thank you for using your experience to sow into the hearts and lives of others. Thank you for sharing!
Tammy, I love that you shared this and that you made it clear that your ability to forgive, even immediately, was a gift from God. I think that’s what came through in Jo Ann’s message too. It’s the grace of God working in our hearts. Just like we can’t create the fruits of the spirit (hence the name, they are not fruits of my efforts) we rely on God to cultivate forgiveness in us. If we are willing, He can do things we can’t even comprehend, like help us forgive someone who has hurt us so badly.
I love that–they are not “fruits of my efforts.” Oh sweet truth that is. Thank you for sharing, Beth.
Thank you for being so vulnerable and transparent.
I too struggle with the relationship with my
Father.. I have forgiven my father but still love him
From a distance. At this point in my life I am not
Able to fight his demons and mine..
Realizing that I can love and respect him for the fact he gave
Me life..but knowing the wisdom of discerning toxic
Relationships and trusting God to guide me through
The sometimes treacherous road.
Great post! Well said.
Thank you Aj! Your words are a healing balm to many. “Unable to fight his demons and mine…” I pray God continues to honor your surrender to Him and I thank you for your love so sweet for others on the same journey.
This is an article that everyone needs to read. I believe that both Christians and non-Christians often harbor lethal unforgiveness because they cannot let go of the hurts that have come their way from people who have treated them unjustly; sometimes horribly. By making yourself transparent and vulnerable, you give permission for others to do the same. I have learned that being transparent is the only way to make sure that others really listen to what you have to say. I could feel the pain in what you shared and knowing you personally, I know how real it is. I used the word “lethal” with unforgiveness because I believe that harboring unforgiveness can actually make one sick physically, emotionally and spiritually. Someone said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking a bottle of poison and hoping the other person dies!” How true! But Jo, you have the gift of transparency and I surely know it. No small talk with us; we cut right to the heart of what we are feeling. You keep using that gift because it is what makes this site a place where women can really share and find healing. Beautiful article; powerful emotions!!!
By the way, I love the new site. It is very appealing! Love you, dear one!
Thank you Karen for your ever-ready encouragement, love, and prayers. You are a rich blessing to me and many others. And thank you for holding me to the mat on the things that matter most.
Very hard truths to hear. I praise God for what He has done in your life and your heart around the forgiveness of your father. A deep work. And I praise God it is not a work that is dependent upon us getting it right. It is the work of God in us. By the power of His Spirit.
Thank you so much for sharing.
A Deep Work, indeed. 🙂 A could-never-do-it-without-leaning-in-to-HIM-totally work! By. His. Power.
Thank you for being on the journey with me my beautiful friend.
I’ve had to forgive my father, too. He beat my mother while she was carrying me and left me physically damaged for life. The emotional wounds are beginning to heal by the grace of God, as He helps me work through the anger and bitterness and reminds me that He chose life for me in spite of my father’s actions. Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of his death and there are so many things I wish I could have said to him, but distance prevented it. God did not allow this man to be part of my upbringing.
Thank you for your words. Yes, unforgiveness is lethal…but forgiving restores us to life.