"If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
So I am preaching on Forgiveness this week.
Forgiveness is hard. I think it is life long.
When I was around 15 my Mom married a man who turned out to not be a nice man. He was manipulative and emotionally and verbally abusive. I have not talked publicly much about this time. Occasionally this part of my life comes out in the Call story- because it is indeed significant to my call and my understanding of God's everlasting love and presence. But usually, I just skim past this-- its not a pretty story- its the ugly side of life- that God indeed transformed into beauty. I don't think my life had to have a "sad" story- a story of woe- a "nobody knows the trouble I've seen" kind of story in order to be reclaimed and redeemed- in order to know God's saving grace-- but it is my story. This is part of me. It kind of lives with me still. It doesn't really go away. Survivors of abuse- no matter what kind of abuse- sort of live like that I think. He did not beat me, he did not strike me...but he did leave some scars. Thankfully God grace is like a never ending tube of neosporin... the wounds heal.
At first I embraced him and loved him. He was smart, intelligent, full of life experiences and stories. It did not take long to become worn down, it did not take long for charm to give way to abuse. It seemed like so many were blind to it-- and I was angry at him and at the blindness of others. I had close and wonderful friends who saw all and held me through it.
Once in college-- and after a year of being a camp counselor at Camp Hat Creek - after growing closer into knowing God was calling me-- every day in the rhythm of worship, and love, and grace, and joy-- I began to feel that God must really want me to forgive him. It was the one place in my life still darkened.... I felt this weight that I must forgive. I began praying on this and praying. On Fall break or Thanksgiving break my sophomore year I felt this need and felt and felt a gnawing. But where was justice? He was still abusive, and manipulative-- he would still dig in these words that slaughtered me over and over... But I prayed- I just kept praying. Kept talking with my chaplain, with my friends.
Shortly after I returned from break, my mother called me. She had awoken in the night and felt as though the Holy Spirit had led her to discover the depths of his abuse. There was more than I had ever imagined- the lies and manipulation, the darkest parts of sin. The very very ugly of life.
My mother soon moved to be closer to me and divorce came. It was like she had woken up out of nightmare that she didn't see, one that I had been fighting already.
I didn't want to forgive then. I thought I could- but NO- I didn't want to say it was okay-- none of this was okay.
I used to say he was my reason for believing in hell.
That may sound harsh-- but I knew there had to be justice for this kind of evil.
That was a long time ago now.
He still represents the darkest parts of my life. Those wounds no longer control my worth. Although every once in awhile the scars seem to ache.
I still believed and I do today that God's grace can break anyone and thus make them whole.
Whole in brokeness.
And I still have hope that this includes all people-- even abusers.
This has been my greatest struggle with forgiveness.
I will never see him again.
He no longer has power.
But I cannot not forgive.
But it is not a one time thing.
I think every time the hurt, and shame, and pain, and fear, and self doubt arise-- its like I'm going back to that place where he had power to hurt and injure. Where darkness sought to erode the light.
I'm reading UNconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness by Brian Zahnd. I want to read Unbroken
I have learned and I know cognitively that forgiveness doesn't mean it's okay.
Whenever I am teaching forgiveness with my girls- one has been in the wrong- and I they say they are sorry-- I have the other say, "I forgive you."
Not "It's okay."
Because it isn't okay.
Someone has done a wrong- you can't go back.
But, forgiveness is possible. And justice will come.
How does justice come? What does it look like? What does it mean?
These are places for me to continually explore while I trust in God.
Forgiving is not forgetting- but forgiving ends the cycle- it ends the anger- it ends the desire for revenge.
I think memory is powerful.
God continually tells the people to Remember-- Remember I am your God who brought you out of slavery-- Remember I am God. Remember what I have done for you.
When I remember- forgiveness gives the ability to remember what God has done- -not what he did.
I cannot deny that there is a possibility of forgiveness- "to deny the possibility of forgiveness is to deny the very heart of the Christian gospel."(Zahnd, 11)
If I am to live out my faith. I must forgive. I don't need to understand the exacts of how it all is working. God is doing the work. I am living the results.
Brian Zahnd says, "The Christians life is a prayer of forgiveness:
'Forgiveness us as we forgive them.'
The Christian life is a suffering cry of forgiveness:
'Father, forgive them.'
The Christian life is a commission to forgive :
'If you forgive anyone, they are forgiven." (page 11)