Although Tara and I have learned a lot about forgiveness within our marriage, God showed me how crucial forgiveness was before I had even met her. I had many people hurt and abuse me growing up, almost all of them, people who should have protected me. At 18 years old I found myself finally free from those abusive relationships and situations but in reality, I wasn’t free at all.
I was quickly becoming someone I didn’t recognize as the bitterness from those hurts began consuming me.
Little by little, God had been nudging me every day about forgiveness. I am grateful for people in my life at that time who reminded me that I needed to forgive those who abused me. The list was long, and it was the last thing I wanted to do. I fought and fought God on it for over a year because I didn’t want to let anyone off the hook for the things they had done to me. The damage they caused. All they took from me. It was totally unfair.
WHAT FORGIVENESS LOOKS LIKE
In my situation, there was someone in my life that I needed to forgive face to face as a way to try to reconcile our relationship and for my closure. There are a thousand other scenarios where this is not a good idea. And there are plenty of others I forgave who I could not or would not want to see face to face. Always seek God and other wise counsel before putting yourself in potentially dangerous situations.
Forgiveness wasn’t really about the conversation, it was about what was happening in my heart.
1. I chose to let them off the hook.
Forgiveness is saying they don’t have to pay me for what they have done. It was truly believing that they didn’t owe me. I had to give up my desire to see them suffer for how they hurt me. If God had truly forgiven me for my sins, then what right did I have to hold un-forgiveness over anyone else?
2. Reconcile that they may never fully understand how deeply they hurt me.
After I forgave them, I assumed there would be some sort of acknowledgment of what they had done, an apology at best, or maybe a thank you. But there was none, and I was shocked at how much that bothered me. They truly didn’t think they needed to even be forgiven: what they had done hadn’t been hurtful.
This was a huge hurdle for me because more than wanting them to pay, my inner wish was that they would understand and see how much damage they had done. I thought, once they got that, then I totally would forgive them. God, can’t you make them see what they did?
But if this is your mindset, then there’s a good chance you will never be able to forgive. They may never own what they did. For me, accepting that reality was a huge step.
3. Begin to pray for them.
Instead of praying that they would understand, I prayed they would come to know Christ and his forgiveness. Pray for the burdens they carry and that they can also forgive those who hurt them.
Not only was I free after I forgave, but God did something even more surprising. Through the act of forgiveness, God opened my eyes to see their pain. Instead of hoping that they would feel the same hurt I felt, I began to have understanding and empathy for the hurt they carried in their life.
There are times when the hurt creeps back in and I find myself having to repeat these steps. I still struggle with that at times, but I have had to continually submit it to God and keep praying for them when I start to feel that way. I learned that forgiveness was a one-time event but a lifelong process.
I often think about the different trajectory my life would have taken had I not taken that step of forgiveness. The bitterness would have defined me. One thing I know for sure is I would not be the type of man that Tara would have fallen in love with. Being able to live in that forgiveness made me a much more lovable person and much more able to love others. I didn’t realize it at the time, but forgiving those in my past was the first step of my healing and it helped build a great foundation for our marriage.
Who is God asking your to forgive?