Finding Freedom Through Forgiveness
+JMJ+ In today’s Gospel of Matthew (18:21-35) Jesus speaks of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a tough topic for a lot of us. When someone hurts us, our human inclination can sometimes be to hold onto the resentment and bitterness and withhold forgiveness. Jesus asks just the opposite of us. However, this calling to forgive does not come without effort. Forgiveness - particularly when we or someone we love have been horribly hurt or betrayed - does not often happen in a single moment. For the majority of us, true forgiveness takes time and the commitment to forgive over and over again, even when feelings of hatred rise up.
For years, my heart was heavy with, not only grief, but intense hatred. I hated my rapist. I wanted to see him suffer. I hated his supporters. I hated the community within my beloved church who turned against me. I hated them for defending a monster and for turning the church I loved into a place where I was not welcomed or safe. I hated the people who threatened my life, belittled me and my family. I even resented my own parents (hatred is probably too strong a word for what I felt towards them) who had taken upon themselves the heavy task of praying for the man who raped me and for his supporters. In hindsight, I am most grateful for their courage and example in doing this!! And, yes, I hated myself as so often victims do. I was caught in a world of shame and self-blame made worse by the blame tossed my way by other people. The hatred consumed me. Really, it was at the forefront of my thoughts at all times and I came to the painful realization that I wasn’t truly living, not peacefully anyway. Little by little, as time went on, and with much prayer, guidance, and support, God’s graces were slowly allowed to seep into my soul and the darkness that bound me started to lift. However, I did not truly forgive in a single moment. Although much of that burden was lifted after awhile, the old thoughts still rose to the surface from time to time. That’s when I would have to, once again, allow God’s grace to carry me through the darkness and put everything into His hands. At those times, I had to remember the power of God’s great mercy. We, too, are called to be merciful. Yes, 20 years later the bitterness sometimes rears its ugly head again. 20 years later, I still have to make the decision to forgive and show mercy...even to those who have never asked for it. By the way, showing mercy does not mean we cannot or should not be angry. Anger isn’t always a bad thing! I think it’s important that we always check our anger, explore where it is coming from and whether it is justified or not, and reflect on how we are responding to it. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting nor does it take away the need for justice. Rather, it means coming to a place where you no longer desire evil on another person (or even on yourself). To forgive is to allow Christ to completely transform and restore. It is allowing love and not hate to envelop our hearts. Forgiveness means finding peace and finding freedom from the chains of the trauma you have suffered!
I know it’s not easy! I share these things with you because I want you to know that you are not alone. There are many people out there fighting this same battle of hatred vs love. Know that with God’s Grace, forgiveness IS possible! Freedom IS possible! You are precious. You are loved. You are worthy of peace. You are worthy of being free. Lord help me to rely totally on your love and grace, so that I may experience true freedom in you!