What does this word really mean, how am I affected if I do not forgive? Does it mean; “No matter what a person does to me, no matter how great the injustice, I give them a free pass, a pardon, I am letting them off the hook”? Does it mean; “I forget what happened and let that person back into my life time and time again, only to cause me more harm”? You may say, “You have no idea how severely this person has hurt me, I will never forgive them!” I completely understand, I have said all these things too. I have been hurt, just as we all have at some point in our lives. If we live and interact with other human beings, we all are going to be hurt. Some of us have suffered grave injustices, unthinkable and intolerable wrongs and others have suffered horrific crimes committed against them. Whatever you have been through, if you are reading this now, I extend hope and offer a way to healing for you and freedom from the pain of your past. I by no means will ever try to trivialize your pain and what you have endured; I will however be as honest as possible and share with you my path I have traveled to find forgiveness, healing, restoration, love and ultimately a peace that really does surpass human understanding.
What I have learned about forgiveness; it is the act of letting go of the hurt, pain and resentment I have toward another person that has hurt or injured me and in doing so, I am releasing the ties and chains that have bound me to that one for the wrong done to me. I am no longer enslaved to them and I am the one that is set free! This is forgiveness.
You may say, “That is so much easier said than done!” Not really, it is so much harder and demands so much more energy to hold on to the pain, fear and anger, allowing the negative seed of hate to take root in your heart and grow into a life filled with bitterness, resentment and distrust. When one refuses to deal with unforgiveness, you may suffer great personal problems. You may experience bouts of depression, anxiety issues, phobias, fears, paranoia, troubling nightmares and other sleep related issues. You may suffer with the inability to enjoy normal, healthy relationships and more often than not, other physical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, heart problems and eating disorders also mental health issues can surface affecting one’s career and the inability to function from day to day.
Unforgiveness also has serious repercussions in our spiritual lives as well. It interferes with our communication and relationship with God; it blocks and stifles the flow of communion and blessings from Him. Jesus taught about forgiveness and the importance of it as we as children memorized it in part of “The Lord’s Prayer”, Matthew 6:12 “Forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive our debtors (those that trespass against us)”. Jesus goes on to say in verse 14 and 15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins (against you), your Heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” That is very strong wording and it necessitates the emphasis if we desire to have our Father forgive us, we have no other option but to forgive others.
Please understand I am not advocating anything I have not experienced myself. I have walked through this and I am a living testimony that forgiving someone for the pain and injury they inflicted upon me was the most liberating and freeing experience of my life. Today, I can boldly and with all sincerity proclaim, “Once I let go, the mere mention of this person’s name does not bring a sting of pain to my heart. I can speak of the events of my life and the twenty years I spent with this person and not have waves of negative emotions engulf me. I can see a picture of them and not burst into tears. I finally do not wish them any ill will, I do not wish for them to suffer. I have forgiven them!”
You may ask, “But how do I forgive?” Let me begin with what I did. I began my journey of forgiveness, because I realized I did not like the person I had become. I was angry and cold and withdrawn, I needed to get closer to God and restore my relationship with Him. I experienced salvation and baptism at a young age, but the harshness of life and a marriage filled with secrets, lies, pornography and infidelity and all the pain of the emotional, mental and sexual abuse that transpired, caused my heart to be hardened. I did not trust people and especially men; I lived a guarded life, I sealed my love and emotions away and kept people at a distance, never letting anyone get too close. I was ashamed, embarrassed and lived in a state of humiliation of the way my life had turned out. The compromises, sacrifices and string of bad decisions I had made getting to that point and then choosing to remain in such an unhealthy relationship for nearly two decades was overwhelming for me in so many ways, I disappointed myself greatly. I had justified my staying and ignoring all the many warning signs along the way, by telling myself that I was doing the right thing. We had two children and even ministered together in church. I somehow believed a lie that I could love him enough and be a “good” enough wife and lover that he would one day want me. I was trying to win his love and approval and acceptance. There were times I was so sick of my life and the way I was living, I contemplated leaving. Then he would come to me and ask that I forgive him. I would say, “I forgive you”, but it was merely words. I would recall Jesus’s teaching on forgiveness and knew that I must forgive him seventy times seven, in other words always! Well, that statement is true, however what wasn’t right was that I did not forgive him in my heart. I tried to act like I did, but the resentment and anger and bitterness was hardening my heart even more with each time. I began to question my own salvation and sanity. My relationship with God suffered, my relationship with others suffered and when I did try to pray, I felt as if my prayers were falling out of my mouth onto the floor. I reached a breaking point, realizing the children were old enough to see how truly dysfunctional and unhealthy we were for each other; his addictions and my enabling. I mustered up the courage to leave, filing for divorce in the process. This action only seemed to bring on more humiliation and embarrassment for me and my family and church, which strongly did not believe in divorce, my life was a big disappointment to not only me but for everyone that expected more from me. There were days and nights that turned into months and years that I cannot recall. I had no more fight in me, I felt dead inside. I was exhausted, nearly giving up several times to reconcile because even though the marriage was bad, divorce was worse. I was surviving only and attempting to function as a “dead woman”, no feelings, no emotions, no caring, and no hope. I could not carry on a conversation, I could not think, I could not write in my journals, my words were stifled. Writing had always been a passion of mine and had been a great source of healing for me through the years. I had difficulty working and caring for my children. I felt nothing. There was no amount of my trying, even praying, to get past the death I was experiencing. Our marriage was terribly painful, but the divorce became the most evil, slanderous battle I had ever encountered. I will not go into much more detail now, but let me say, three years and multiple tens of thousands of dollars later, two dozen court appearances, hundreds of documents filed and many psychological evaluations, counseling for myself and my girls, along with parenting classes and anger management classes: I was finally awarded a divorce and gained custody of my two children. But I still had not forgiven.
I knew what the scriptures said about forgiveness, but I rationalized that forgiving meant I had to go to that person and tell them, “I forgive you for what you did to me.” Somewhere, a long time ago, I was taught that “forgiving someone meant that you allow that person access into your life again. You had to somehow forget what they had done and act like it never happened”. Let me say here, that forgiveness is not staying in an abusive and unhealthy relationship, actually that would be the definition of insanity: to continue doing the same thing over and over again and yet expecting a different result! For me, even being in the same room with him was not possible, so I remained trapped, tied to him and my past even though we were divorced. I was bound to him due to the unforgiveness in my heart.
I moved on with my life to a new city with my daughters, we attended a new church and I got a new job. Everything was OK or so I thought. I met a good Christian man, we married and we worked hard to provide ourselves and my daughters a good life. Things had turned around for me and I was walking down a healthier path, however something was still not right with me; my relationship with God was not right. I desired a change and I needed God to forgive me. I began to seek God early in the morning and my prayer was for Him to change me. The unforgiveness I still held toward my ex-husband blocked my relationship with God and emotionally and spiritually, I needed help. The Lord asked me one morning, “Are you ready to forgive, so I can forgive you?” I heard his voice, I was ready to forgive. The key to my healing was when I prayed for God to change my heart, to create a clean, pure heart and a make a right spirit within me. I prayed for him, only in thought though, because I could not verbally say the words out loud, “God I pray for _______, please touch him and bring him to a place where he may know how much You love him and how much You care for him. Extend Your grace and mercy to him. Bless him abundantly, In Jesus Name!”
I envisioned myself and him chained together, with thick heavy chains wrapped all around our bodies from head to toe. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the key (it was there all along), I inserted the key into the lock and the heavy chains dropped to the floor. I not only set myself free from him, but he was set free from me. Forgiveness was and is the key to freedom. Free, Free, Free at Last! Tears of joy and excitement swept over me and the darkness and the heaviness that weighed on my heart and mind were gone. My Life changed in one moment, I was set free!
As the years have passed since the utterance of my prayer for him, I still to this day pray that same prayer. I have heard he has suffered some physical problems so I pray that God will heal him. If I never see him or speak to him; it is OK, because I have forgiven him. I do not need to rehash anything from the past, it is just that: THE PAST. The inner peace and contentment I have is a gift from God I would not have received, had I not chosen to forgive. I have no more hurt feelings toward him, only a God like love from one human being to another. I have experienced a deep inner healing of my mind, memories and emotions. I continue to be restored, refreshed and renewed every day as I choose to forgive and walk in that forgiveness and love. My road to recovery is not over, I learn new things about myself every day; however my relationship with my Heavenly Father is more intimate than ever. I value the time I spend in His presence each morning. I have the desire and passion to write again, thus this blog. I am far from perfect, but I am continuing to grow, mature and learn more of His amazing grace and mercy for me and His children. It all amazes me and I am so thankful for my life today. I marvel at how far He has brought me, the beauty that surrounds me and the richness of His blessings and all the little miracles that come my way are His way of saying, “I forgive you, welcome home and I love you My Daughter.”
The gift of forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself, so you may be the best you can be and live the life God destined for you to live!
Tonya F. Henshaw
August 17, 2012