A little while back, I spent several hours preparing a lesson for our women’s Bible study on forgiveness. It’s something I’ve taught on before, but every time I study it, I am humbled, and my heart yearns to understand it deeper and deeper. Then, a dear friend of mine was wounded by her close friend, and we have since had many conversations about forgiveness.
As I’ve thought and meditated the last couple of weeks, I’ve often wondered, How do I know when I am truly forgiving someone and when I’m just exercising mental discipline in not thinking about them, not allowing them control over me, not attempting to exact punishment?
Then I made this mistake: I asked God to tell me. Eek!
Today I am a heap of hot tears; someone who has hurt my family over the course of many years has stretched out their tentacles and struck again. Toxins seep into my life, the deceit poisoning minds and forcing estrangement from people I once trusted. I beg God to help me forgive. I remind myself that this person’s sin has been paid for on the cross. I tell myself that forgiveness means I exact the cost of the sin. My sisters remind me that not forgiving means I would allow this person to have control over me.
Sometimes knowing all this doesn’t help. Sometimes the pain of betrayal is so sharp and the questions of why this person wants to hurt me and my family are overwhelming. Sometimes I can’t laugh off the lies being spread anymore because of the fear welling up in my throat.
I am reminded of the gross years I allowed this person to have unbiblical authority over me, and I shudder. I fear them having any control over me again. Fear is not a companion I am used to, and I find myself crouching, shaking, hiding in this lion’s den. My wisest friend died of cancer; she knew all about this toxic person and she had my back. I know that if she were here, I could text her or drive over to her house and she would speak truth, comfort, and peace to my heart. I know that being scared makes me miss Kara even more. I know that the safety I found in Kara is gone.
My mommy’s helper is on the couch reading Harry Potter. The babies are napping. My piano student has canceled out of the blue. All is quiet. It’s just me and Jesus.
After a brief water break, I scrolled back up to see where I was with writing this, and I read my own words: I remind myself that this person’s sin has been paid for on the cross. I tell myself that forgiveness means I exact the cost of the sin. My sisters remind me that not forgiving means I would allow this person to have control over me.
I took some time to cry and tell Jesus all my fears and rest in the refuge he offers. I meditated on Isaiah 43, my very favorite, and I was struck—as always—by God’s promise to walk with me through the fires and floods. He doesn’t promise to spare me from them, but he promises his presence. God with us. Immanuel.
This is the only thing that brings comfort to my heart, the only thing that squelches my fears. God’s presence is my only certainty; I can’t count on my friends always being around or people not betraying me. I can’t count on others to not hurt me, or myself to not hurt others, for that matter. I can’t count on people to understand or have my back. But I can always, always count on God’s presence, his love, his kindness.
What grace it was for God to rescue my family from the poison of this dangerous person! What grace it has been for him to provide safe friends since then. What grace it has been for him to not allow me to wallow in bitterness, but to learn the painful lesson of forgiveness. What grace it has been for God to grow me and stretch me and make me uncomfortable because it means learning to look to him, put my trust in him, lean into Jesus. And what grace it is that God is working out his redemption in this story—his story—so we can hope forward toward utter joy in the new heaven and the new earth.
I don’t want to dwell in the darkness of sin against me, of bondage to that sin and the person who hurt me. I want to live in the peace of forgiveness, which frees us from the power of sin against us and reminds us of where our true hope is! Immanuel reminds us that in Christ, we are forgiven, we are loved, we are secure, we are delighted in, we hold a promise of redemption. Because our treasure is with Jesus, we can forgive. Being filled with God’s love enables us and gives us the strength to forgive. Being secure in God’s love gives us the grace to forgive.
The more I understand how much I have been forgiven by God, the more I will be able to forgive others. I want this. I want to be so entrenched in grace that I forgive readily and eagerly. I know there will still be pain. Dan Hamilton says, Pain is the consequence of sin; there is no easy way to deal with it. Wood, nails, and pain are the currency of forgiveness, the love that heals.
And that is why I am deeply grateful for God’s presence in my turmoil, his hand on me as I walk through the fire and flood. Immanuel.
Whom has God asked you to forgive today? What are your struggles in forgiving? In what ways do you struggle to lean into Jesus or to trust that he is with you, Immanuel?