My pastor has been doing a series on forgiveness called Christmas is Forgiving. As he was preaching Sunday morning, I was reminded of a time when I couldn't forgive. I was so angry at what had been done to my dad, that I felt hatred for the one who hurt him. It affected every area of my life. I opened a door to the enemy to wreak havoc, and that's precisely what he did.
You know how they say that unforgiveness affects you more than the one who has hurt you? It's true! The one who hurt me when he wronged my father didn't even know I was hurting. I only saw him from a distance. I knew telling him would do no good so I remained silent and in pain. My dad knew how hurt and angry I was and he told me not to leave the church until I had forgiven him.
I went from feeling justified in hating him for what he had done to knowing I needed to forgive but not wanting to. He did not deserve forgiveness. My dad had forgiven him immediately and moved on. He got a job as the senior pastor in a church in a different city after about a year. The whole family moved except me. I had recently been married, and my husband and I were living in Peoria. I trusted my dad's advice, and we stayed at the church.
One year turned into two years. I still hated the person who hurt me. I couldn't let it go. Two years turned into three. I didn't want to forgive him. He was wrong. It was probably close to ten years before I was able to forgive this person. During those years, I went from hating him to hating that I couldn't forgive. It didn't make sense to me. But I finally came to the point where I knew I needed to forgive him for my sake, but still didn't know how.
I believe that God always wants us to forgive. He knows there is freedom in forgiveness that we will not find any other way. There is no formula. But God will always be by your side and make a way. When I was finally ready to forgive, God did make a way for me. He used a therapist who told me to write a letter to this person, but I wasn't going to give it to him. The letter would say everything I felt. I brought the letter to my next session, and there was an empty chair set up across from the chair I sat in. He told me to picture this person in the chair. I could read the letter or just say everything I felt. I'm telling you, when I was done, the forgiveness was complete. I felt no anger, no ill feeling toward this person, and a weight had been lifted. I was free! Since then, I have been at peace and even if I tried to feel angry, I couldn't!
As amazing as that experience was, that way of forgiving never worked again. Over the years, I've had to forgive others from time to time. In the beginning, I would write a letter and set up an empty chair, and say everything I felt. But I wouldn't be free when I finished. Instead, God taught me the value of letting go. He opened my eyes to see that I'm the one hurting more than the other person. He showed me it's not worth it to hang on to unforgiveness. And as hard as it can be at first, giving the hurt and pain to Jesus has never disappointed me. Forgiveness is always the answer. It is complete freedom!
Today, I find myself in a place of needing to forgive again. I don't want to. But as I write, I remember the things God has taught me, and I know forgiveness will be worth it. I didn't respond well at work when I heard the news. The few people who knew could see I was visibly shaken by the news. I found out that a girl who had hurt me so badly had just been rehired. The day she quit was such a happy day. If you asked me if I had forgiven her, I would have told you I had. My reaction this morning let me know I was wrong...I still needed to forgive her for all the things she had done to me, or I perceived she had done.
I told my co-workers who are not believers that I had to pray and ask God to change my attitude; that He was the only one who could make it possible for me to look at it differently. Right away, God went to work on me. He reminded me I was not the same person as before. The circumstances are entirely different now. He told me I knew instantly what I needed to do and that I was so far ahead of the game compared to when I was going through it. I began to believe it would be okay.
Right now, I feel nothing...no anxiety and no anger. I believe that God will redeem this situation. I forgive, and He will do what only He can do. I will go to work and be at peace. I will be free! And the change will be noticeable to those who saw me so upset. They will know that God did it! In fact, I am starting to get excited about what God is going to do!
This is the way forgiveness works! I know it's not easy and compared to what some people have had to endure, my situations may seem small! I get that! God gets that! He is the One who can and will help you wherever you are on your journey to forgiveness. Just be real with Him and willing to forgive from the heart. Take the step and let God do the rest!