Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
In the days following Hank’s death, I prepared myself for the funeral. I had reintroduced myself to the church, but it had been well over four months since I had seen my former friend—the woman having an affair with my husband. Because Hank was a mutual friend, I knew that she would be at the funeral.
How do you prepare yourself for an encounter such as this? Once again, it took every ounce of strength and courage that I could muster to attend the funeral—and a lot of support from friends. The morning had been well planned: I would meet the children’s minister near the fellowship hall. From there, we would walk to the sanctuary together just before the service started to seats that had been saved for us. The goal was to minimize a chance encounter with her.
But God had other plans…
As I sat through the service, a single thought plagued my mind: Extend forgiveness so that she can get rid of her guilt and shame and put her life back together. Over and over, the thought ran through my mind.
“But I DON’T forgive her!” I argued with God.
“Offer forgiveness,” He said.
After the service, the foyer of the church was filled with familiar faces, many of whom I had not seen in months. My eyes scanned the crowd until I found her. Still arguing with God, I began to walk toward her.
When I got close enough, I put my arms around her and I whispered in her ear, “I forgive you. If we will allow God to, He will take this entire mess and make something beautiful out of it. He promises to work all things to our good when we love Him.” And with that, I walked away.
Suddenly, the weight that I had carried for months lifted. My burden no longer felt so heavy. I felt different! I had planned to whisper those words to free her, but the prisoner I freed was ME!
No longer did I carry a load of anger, hatred, and bitterness. By God’s miraculous power, forgiveness had truly flowed through me—even though I didn’t mean the words when they were uttered. By choosing to act in obedience, God had truly done a work in me!
To be honest, I don’t know if those words meant anything to her. I later learned that she was still secretly seeing my husband, and she continued to see him for a number of months after this encounter. There was—at that time—no repentance, no remorse. But, it didn’t matter. I no longer harbored the anger that had been growing within me for months, and I was reaping the reward of obedience—and I had taken yet another step toward healing my own heart.
Even as I type this post, the song Forgiveness by Matthew West is playing on my radio…
It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you…
Show me how to see what your mercy sees
Help me now to give what you gave to me
Forgiveness is a choice. We can choose to harbor anger and bitterness, or we can choose to walk in obedience to Christ and extend forgiveness to those who have hurt us. My husband and this woman had betrayed me in a deep and intimate way. They had broken a covenant relationship. Neither one deserved my forgiveness. They deserved to live with the knowledge that they had sinned, that they had ripped a family in two, that they had shamed the name of the Savior they claimed to love and worship.
Then again, I didn’t deserve Christ’s forgiveness when He willingly laid down His life at Calvary and died for me. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NLT). I didn’t have to change for Christ to forgive me. If this is the type of forgiveness He offers me, shouldn’t I be willing to extend that same forgiveness to others?
Anger and bitterness will eat at the core of your being, preventing you from enjoying the abundant life Christ came to offer. Christ came to set us free, to lead us into the promised land! But, when we choose to let unforgiveness rule in our heart, we choose to forfeit the very blessings Christ came to give us. We choose to trample upon the sacrifice that God gave—His very own son.
Sometimes, forgiveness can be a choice that must be repeated frequently. Although I walked away from this woman that day and was able to put to rest the anger and hatred I had toward her, forgiving my now ex-husband has been a different journey. Initially, all of my anger was directed toward her. It was much easier to hate her than it was to hate this man whom I had pledged my life to. As our relationship continued to unravel, however, the anger turned toward him. Because I continue to be in a situation where interaction is required (we do have three children together), there continues to be hurt feelings, miscommunications, and new offenses. Forgiving him is a daily choice that I will make for many years to come. It requires letting go of the anger, asking God to daily direct my steps, and allowing God’s forgiveness to flow through me. It requires me taking up the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), being transformed daily by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).
Perhaps there is someone in your life that has wronged you, someone that you need to forgive. They may not deserve your forgiveness, but I remind you that you didn’t deserve Christ’s forgiveness. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31-32). You are not capable of forgiving on your own; however, God is waiting for you to come to Him, to ask Him to allow His forgiveness to flow through you. Take the step of obedience today, and choose forgiveness. You will experience a freedom that only Christ can give!
One final thought… You might need to start by forgiving yourself. Remember, God considered you worthy of forgiveness. Who are you to say that you don’t deserve a gift the Christ so lovingly lavished upon us?