The Grace to Forgive
How do you handle forgiveness?
If someone offends you, do you feel like you will never be able to forgive them? When you’re hurt does the intensity cause physical symptoms? Does sleep evade you because your mind races, trying to understand why you are shunned? Would you rather experience loneliness instead of enduring hateful stares?
This is a hard blog for me to write because it has taken me years to fully forgive someone. Even though I wrestle with the decision to write it and pray about it, I sense that this is something God wants me to share.
Both my husband and I have large families. Active and social families. We always have some type of event or get together on the calendar. If we try to make it to everything, we will travel non-stop.
When we first got married, it was fun to have so many things to do. It helped us learn about our new families and gave us a chance to meet friends who were considered part of our families. We celebrated birthdays, holidays, baptisms, weddings, and new babies. We took turns sitting in hospital surgery lounges and emergency rooms. We cooked meals, brought flowers, and stayed late to clean whenever there was a funeral. We attended large formal dinners as well as small casual gatherings.
We laughed together. Cried together. Prayed together.
We were a community within a community. A huge support system filled with love.
And then, chronic illness struck, and I was forced to limit my involvement, eventually stopping just about everything. Some of our family members understood, but the majority of them didn’t. And some of them became critical and judgmental.
I’ve missed milestone events – birthday celebrations, barbecues, graduations, weddings, funerals, and reunions. Sometimes, my husband goes without me, and he faces questions and judgments about me. He always defends me, but there are times me when he turns down an invitation because he doesn’t want to be confronted about my absence.
Fifteen years ago, one particular woman started gossiping about me to other family and friends. She became my loudest and harshest critic. She cursed me; disapproved of me as a wife and mother; blamed me for disappointing the family when I failed to show up; and ridiculed my faith.
The words to my face. The words behind my back. The words whispered to others that caused them to shun me.
I felt her hate every time she ignored me, refused to respond to my greeting, or snapped out an angry reply.
I spent a lot of time wondering about her hostility. Why did I rub her the wrong way? When did I offend her and not realize it?
I began to dread events that I knew she would also attend.
My husband and I continuously discussed the situation, but we never could come up with a reason for her actions.
When I started praying about the situation, the Lord started to soften my heart towards her. One of our family members told me, “Don’t let her upset her, that’s just the way she is.” The explanation didn’t make me feel better. So, I kept praying and asking for understanding, for the Lord to keep me from doing anything that would cause her to hate me even more.
Last year, we learned about her cancer diagnosis. She asked for prayer.
I prayed for her, but I spent time praying for myself first. I wanted my heart to be free of bitterness, resentment, anger, and hatred. I didn’t want old feelings of hurt to surface and keep me from interceding for her.
I admit that I struggled to keep my mind and heart free. There were layers of old memories and pain. But through it all, God continued to answer my prayer. While I looked to Him for help, He gave the desire to pray for her and her family.
At the beginning of this year, we found out that one of her children had been in a horrible accident. He suffered traumatic injuries and lost his memory. The news rocked us.
Her cancer treatments and recovery kept her from traveling to see him. I wondered how she was able to cope. What could be going through her mind as she sat at home, too sick to get to her son, who lived across the country. Would guilt and worry consume her or would she find the faith and courage to trust God?
The Lord changed my heart toward her, giving me the will to pray fervently for her family. Whenever my husband and I prayed for her, we asked God to strengthen her, give her peace, and comfort her.
And just a few weeks ago, she rushed her youngest son to the hospital with a life threatening condition. Once again, she asked for prayer.
As I dropped to my knees to pray, it seemed like God opened my eyes to see her as a woman just like me, a “M-O-M” dealing with illness while trying to be there for her family. He gave me an even greater capacity to let go of the past and relate to her as a true sister in Christ.
When I prayed for God to help me forgive and to have a heart of mercy, I never dreamed He would actually break my heart for the people He has placed in my life. To flood me with love, mercy, compassion, and empathy. To give me the grace to reach out without concern of how my actions may be received. To love unconditionally. To remove all bitterness. To set me free from harsh memories. To let my words and actions reflect Him at all times.
The interesting thing about this whole ordeal was the fact that God wouldn’t allow me to harbor negative feelings toward her or feel judgmental or critical. He helped me pray for her and her family each day.
It has surprised me how God has changed my heart. At one time I wondered if I would ever get over all of the past issues, the repeated hurts and deep wounds. But I’m glad to realize the fear, pain, longing to be included, and anger are gone. What’s left is only compassion and a desire to understand. An admiration for the strength and courage she displays as she fights for her life while encouraging her sons to do the same.
We may never be close friends, but God has used such my difficult relationship with her as a means to teach me about His forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the people in our lives, both those who are pleasant and the ones who are a little more difficult. Keep our hearts soft towards every one. Never let us harbor bitterness or resentment. You freely shower Your love on us and we ask You to help us love one another. Forgive us for the times we fall short and give us the courage to keep making an effort to change our world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Scriptures for reflection: Matthew 7:1-3; John 13:34-35; Galatians 6:1-10; I John 4:7-21.