Ever gone on a “bear hunt” with your kids? On your way to find the bear, whether you are facing the tall grass or the squishy mud, the poem repeats, “You can’t go over it, you can’t go around it. You have to go through it.” This perfectly describes my journey with forgiveness. Like it or not, I’m going through it. And, I’ve just about decided that forgiveness is a four-letter word!
I have been hearing that still small voice for months now telling me to study forgiveness and write about it. There was one tiny problem with that. I didn’t wanna.
I’ve got some people to forgive. I’ve got some pretty impossible things to forgive. In each situation, I think I’ve done the right thing to the best of my ability. But, I’m still angry, and I’m still hurt. And, if it was ok, I’d probably punch a few people in the face. I’m just being honest. And, God and I…well, we’ve gone round and round about what it means to really forgive someone who does you harm, whether it is accidental or intentional.
What does forgiveness look like? How do I know when I have truly forgiven someone? What does God ask of me? And, if I can figure that out, does it count if I do what God asks even if I don’t want to do it?
Let’s just use my life as a case study, shall we? Bear with me. The information is oversimplified, personal, and raw, but I think it is useful. I’m banking on the fact that there are other people out there who are wrestling with the same questions, if not the same sordid circumstances. Otherwise, I’d rather keep it to myself…
My friend was watching my daughter for me when she was killed by the driver of a carpet-cleaning van in the driveway of her home. I trusted my friend with my most important possession. And, she was momentarily careless. I know she wasn’t neglectful. There, but for the grace of God, go any one of us moms. But, the truth is that, in that moment, she was prioritizing something besides Audrey. These are her words, not mine. And, I appreciate her candor and her remorse. My husband and I gave her our forgiveness the day the accident happened and have given it many times since. We have had her and her family in our home since the tragedy. Still, seeing her is painful for me for so many reasons. We no longer spend time together or share our personal lives. Does this mean I have not forgiven her?
My husband confessed his bondage to sexual sin just less than one year after Audrey’s death. He lied to me for the better part of a decade. He struggled with internet pornography and hid it from me perfectly. It led to several encounters with women I did not know…and one with someone I did know and trust. It should have utterly destroyed us, but by God’s grace, it did not.
I am truly grateful God provided the opportunity for me to make the choice to stay. Many women have faced different circumstances that forced their hand. I have been afforded the privilege of fighting for my marriage because of my husband’s contrition. And, I love him. And, he loves me. And, he is a really good man. But, having made that choice initially, I am now facing the process of reconciliation and rebuilding trust. Fair or not, a large part of the responsibility for the success of my marriage rests on my ability to truly forgive. That fact has angered me like no other. I thrash against it. I hate it. But, it is true.
It has been a bumpy ride. Even when Bryan’s behavior and temperament are steady, I have to fight to keep my thought-life pure. I fight traumatic images, and I fight fear. I fight pride. I am tempted never to trust him again. The slightest thing can send me over the edge. I cannot forget what he has done to me, but I am trying. Does that mean I have not forgiven him?
Then, there’s the issue of the friend who betrayed me with my husband. That one is a real kicker. It has been two years, and she has not said one word to me. I guess that is better than some scenarios that could have played out. But, I am troubled that I do not know the condition of her heart. I don’t know if she is sorry for what she has done or if she would do it again if she had it to do all over. And to make it worse, the two of us have a relational tie that will never allow us to be permanently separated. No, this person will be in my face for life in one way or another. No way around it. Gotta go through it.
What the heck am I supposed to do with this situation? How have I forgiven her so far? I have not come to her house to burn it down. Before anyone gets worried that I’ve seriously thought about doing this, let me ask you what you would want to do? Let’s just say I’ve restrained myself. And, I think that is a form of forgiveness—it’s mercy, really. Not paying someone back according to their sin against you. My Christian counselor says that if the wages of sin is death, then anything I do short of killing people is mercy. (Can you see why I like this guy?)
With this situation, though, I will have to do much more than restrain myself. Someday this former “friend” and I will have to stand in the same room again. For the sake of other people in my life, I hope it is sooner rather than later. The consequences of this insane, Satan-inspired sin are constantly hurting people I love. So, by God’s grace, I am willing to do what many would find impossible. But, I don’t want to go have coffee with her and shoot the breeze…probably ever. Does that mean I have not forgiven her?
In the many months following these tragedies, I have wrestled with God. Have I really forgiven someone if I still want to rip out their eyeballs? Well, maybe not. But, what if I cannot trust them again? Have I really forgiven someone if I am still hurting because of what they did or did not do? What does it really mean to forgive?
I’ve heard amazing stories of people in war-torn countries who have suffered genocide. And, through Christ, they have found a way to reconcile with people who murdered their family members and friends. They even attend church together and worship side by side. Forgiveness like that astounds me. It inspires me. And, yet I’m befuddled. It seems impossible.
So what’s the difference between those who hold a grudge forever, those who mostly forgive (I think I’m somewhere in here), and those who worship side by side with the very people who have killed their parents, spouses, and children? What is forgiveness anyway?
Chew on that for a few days. If you are willing, think about what God has asked YOU to forgive and what you know about forgiveness. Then, in part two, I’ll explore what the Bible says about this “four-letter word” and (whether you like it or not!) I’ll begin to unpack my hard-earned pearls of wisdom…