One of the homework assignments in my Bible study was to prayerfully assign responsibility for what happened. If everyone to blame is identified, including my own portion of the responsibility, then I can move toward forgiving all involved. At first, I felt intimated by the assignment because I knew who I wanted to blame, but was certain that was not how God would distribute the responsibility. As I prayed for His perspective, the Lord led my thoughts. I listed the obvious offenders and then He dug deep down to small and old memories that were foundational to my beliefs and perspectives. These experiences, which were seemingly unrelated at first glance and happened years prior to the nonconsensual encounter, impacted how I responded. They also influenced relationships for years to come as I believed mistruths and measured things by something other than God’s standard. I went on to make two charts – one identifying who was responsible for what happened and another to identify who influenced me to respond the way that I did. This second chart is the one that I have wrestled with the most. The process was breathtaking, I was surprised by who was on the list and my heart softened toward those I was attributing too much responsibility.
The exercise gave me better understanding of other people’s perspectives, their backgrounds and where they were coming from. Their motives and intentions, which is the true measure of their actions, were more visible to me. Instead of holding them to my expectations, however reasonable or unreasonable they may be, I could understand what they were, and were not, equipped to do or understand. My heart was growing in compassion as my focus moved from my hurt to theirs.
This new compassion led me to forgive them of their debt to me and release them to the Lord. One by one, one person and one offense at a time, I prayed to choose to forgive, to release each person to God, for forgiveness for holding unforgiveness and resentment toward them, for my heart to be cleansed, for my negative emotions to be replaced with the fruit of His Spirit, for my wounds to be healed and for God to bless the that person with His abundant mercy and blessings. One by one. Each prayer took a weight off. One by one. I began to sense freedom was at hand.
For those that I held most influential, I stood tall and spoke loudly with conviction. I didn’t want there to be any doubt that seeking forgiveness was an act of my own will. God showed me that He heard me and answered by prayers.
It was hard work and honestly, there were days that I felt very tired of praying for forgiveness. There were days that my immediate reaction to a new memory that I needed to address was annoyance that I was being interrupted again. Thankfully, God is gracious and He encouraged me to press on. When I couldn’t handle more, He gave me rest. I’d like to say that I forgave and I’m done with it. Check that box and cross it off my list! But I’m learning that there are layers. The forgiveness and healing may come in cycles for some aspects of my hurt. I forgive, my heart softens and the next hard spot is brought to my attention. Though the process may seem unending, I press on, knowing that I become more and more like my God and who He created me to be as each new layer is revealed.
Choosing to forgive has given me a growing appreciation for those I forgave. God has given me new eyes to see them and a desire for His love to overflow from me to them so that I can hopefully point them to Him. I truly hope to see joy in their lives. This transformation of my heart can only be from God.
Through forgiving others, I have also been given a more accurate picture of myself. God was deeply grieved by some of my choices in my youth, yet He remained faithful to me and always loves me. My Father must have felt so much pain on my account, yet He never left me or harden His heart toward me. He is calling me to love others that same way out of the overflow of His love – even when they may be blind to the hurt they cause me just as I have been blind to hurting Him in the past. It makes my heart fill with sorrow to realize the extent that I hurt God and wronged Him as He watched. I have also seen that I have more similarities than I would like to acknowledge with those I have forgiven. For years, I was not accounting for their motivations as I resentfully desired them to understand my own. Seeing inside my own brokenness underscores God’s love for me.
Offering others and ourselves forgiveness is ultimately for our own benefit. Through forgiving we avoid giving the enemy footholds, we are less vulnerable to self-centered licking of wounds, we are not distracted by keeping track of wrongs, we allow our hurts to be fully healed, we are able to grow in relationship with others, we can live out the Gospel and we move closer to God so that our fellowship with Him is not stifled. There is no shortage in Scripture calling us to resolve conflict and forgive as we have been forgiven.
Forgiveness is our gateway to freedom in Christ. Growing in joy and appreciation of God’s love and forgiveness, provides me a growing appreciation for those I forgave. I have a new freedom to love and show compassion to others without recalling their past failures. I have a new discernment in viewing conflicts – seeing real motives beyond the reactionary emotions. I am lighter, sillier and more gracious. I’ve seen this impact all areas of my life, including my marriage bed. It’s still a roller coaster ride of emotions, but on the better days, I experience new freedom to explore my husband and reveal more of myself to him. I feel less guarded, less self-conscious and more easily get lost in the moment. It’s really good stuff and I know that God is not done with me.
Is unforgiveness creating a barrier in your life? God desires your freedom and joy!