Gerhard and Charlotte,
You are both so close to my heart. You have witnessed my life, my mistakes, and my hurts. Your love carried me through the lonely patches. You taught me all about unconditional love. I wish I had had more wisdom when you were growing up and that I had had the ability to connect the dots sooner … I wish I had known that there is a lot of giving in forgiveness.
I had the definition of forgiveness all wrong. I felt so burdened. It felt as if I had to suffer the consequences of other people’s actions without any guarantee that they would ever know the depth of my hurt. My thoughts attacked my heart, saying that my anger was not justified. It felt as if I was exaggerating my circumstances. My mind ran a closed circuit, accusing my heart that I was condoning the wrong actions of other people. I forced myself to have relationships with people that I no longer trusted.
I wanted to be unburdened, but I didn’t know how. Initially I expected instant healing, when I ‘forgave’ people. I expected a release of the hurt that I felt. When that did not happen, I feared life, thinking that I might be trapped in a prison filled with toxic emotions for the rest of my life.
Forgiving doesn’t erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. (Louis B. Smedes)
I spent numerous hours reading my Bible, trying to find answers to my questions. It did not help me, the call to forgiveness in the Bible is clear.
Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21, 22)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)
So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (Luke 17:3, 4)
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
I felt pressured to forgive, because I wanted to do the right thing. I didn’t want anything to be a barrier between myself and God. I repeated patterns and you bore the cost. I forgave people and took them back into our lives, and their actions caused you harm. I wanted you to have normal relationships with family members and in doing so, I put you in harm’s way. I have realised over the years that they might be completely indifferent to the pain they caused you.
I had to learn that I was wrong about forgiveness. I had to give myself permission to push the reset button, to see things as they truly appeared. I had to let go of people that I loved. I learned that some relationships cannot be repaired.
I had my battle with God. I tried to align God’s Word with my feelings. It did not work. Some obstacles in life leave you gasping for air. You have to figure things out the hard way, through blood, sweat and tears. I reasoned with God and again He was clear.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18)
But God’s forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practise in my daily life. It calls me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one whom I am asked to forgive. (Henri Nouwen)
True forgiveness taught me to use my energy in a different way. I learned to focus on moving. I consciously chose serenity and happiness over my righteous anger. I blessed myself with a new beginning, a clean slate. There was a lot of work involved. I had to examine my own actions. I evaluated my own responses to events that had happened in my life. I looked at my past relationships and made a list of all the people that I felt had wronged me (and you!). It helped me to define their actions and to acknowledge to myself that those things had actually happened.
I had to forgive myself. I made a commitment to myself that I would settle my boundaries. I wanted a life that would honour my early warning system. My thoughts were tormenting me. I had to deal with the denial that tried to rob me of my memories. I made peace with the fact that I had to give up my right to seek revenge.
In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am. By forgiving I release my own right to get even and leave all issues of fairness for God to work out. I leave in God’s hands the scales that must balance justice and mercy. (Philip Yancey)
I want to thank you today, for your forgiveness. Thank you for loving me, for cheering me on when I focussed on letting the rope go … I know that you didn’t always understand my actions. Thank you for crying tears of relief with me when my wars were over.
God is so gracious and full of mercy. He worked through all the events in my life to bring healing. I found my peace in different narratives of the Bible. Joseph was betrayed by his family (Genesis 50:20); David held on to truth when he could have retaliated (2 Samuel 16:11-12); Paul challenges our perspective in life (Romans 8:28); even Philemon got closure when his servant returned home (Philemon 15).
I pray that you will be practical, that you will apply these lessons to your own lives and that your hearts will expand in gratitude … live your lives well! I pray that you will apply your energy towards reaching your own goals in life. Remember you have the power to let go! I will be waiting for you in the cloud of witnesses. I want to hear your life stories, including all your victories!
As always, with all my love,
This article was inspired by a conversation I had with my son.
A common misconception is that forgiveness entails the removal of the debt caused by injustice. The fact is, forgiveness shifts the responsibility of the burden from the perpetrator to the victim.
By forgiving someone, the victim, in effect, says to the perpetrator:
“Your actions of injustice caused harm to me. You should bear the responsibility to rectify the harm. But … I remove your debt, and I will take the responsibility of bearing the burden myself – rather than holding you in my debt.” (Gerhard Borstlap)