Forgiveness Changes Everything

Hands in Mirror small    Natalia* was stunning in a flowing fuchsia gown, her silky blond hair curling over her shoulders. I had just shared my story at The Closet Ministry’s “Beautiful You”, an event where girls receive free prom dresses and makeovers. Natalia had won some music of mine and wanted me to sign the CD. While I stood there, pen in hand, the words began to pour out from the deep places inside her heart. “Friends” have spoken cruel words that cut deep, leaving rivers of lies that shape the landscape of this young girl’s whole life.

So much pain, already.

As hard as Natalia’s story is, it is not unique or even uncommon. I hear it echoed from the lips of broken-hearted teens, from grown women who have never forgotten and never quite healed.

Sometimes the cruelty is much darker, much deeper. The kind that crushes the will, kills innocence, haunts dreams.

    We humans have an almost limitless capacity to wound.

I have seen fractured pieces of stolen childhood squeeze liquid hot from eyes shut hard against memories too painful to face. I’ve heard stories that hit me like a physical force, bring images I would erase if I knew how. And I want to cry and scream and hit something, and sometimes the mother bear in me rises up and I just want to tear someone limb from limb.

In those moments, I honestly don’t know if my anger is completely righteous, but it certainly is intense.

I had one of those moments recently when I learned the story of a child who was dealing with some hard things. The situation hadn’t been resolved to my satisfaction, and I wasn’t sure what to do, but I was ready to go on the warpath.

And then, in one jaw-dropping move, this humble child stopped my raging anger in its tracks. This tender soul who had been hurt so deeply talked about forgiving, forgiving completely.

The hurt was still there. Things were still broken that could never be restored on this side of eternity, but bitterness was no longer invited to be part of the story.

When I think about the way some lives are blown apart by somebody else’s sin, I realize how easy my own has been. But, at the same time, there are people, there are things that have been said that have punctured core-deep. I’ve had painful words rattle around inside me, wounding and wounding again every time I’ve remembered them.

Forgiveness, the uncurling of fingers grasping my right to be repaid, is a hard, long process. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. It is gory. It is tearstained. It is sweat-soaked and sleepless. It hurts and it’s terrifying and it’s one if the hardest things to do.

So why do it at all?

Because it’s beautiful and holy. In choosing to forgive, we look a lot like Jesus. We show we are beginning to understand the enormity of what he has done in forgiving us.

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” He thought he was being generous. Radical. He wanted a pat on the back.

“‘No!’ Jesus replied, ‘Seventy times seven!’“

There is no statute of limitations on forgiveness. No amount of time gone by, no injury to deep, no injustice too great… We are asked to unclench our hands, ungrit our teeth and let go of all these things.

Because, ultimately, forgiveness is not about us and those who hurt us. It’s about us and God.

Ideally, with forgiveness comes a restored relationship, but many times this restoration is not possible or even safe. Many times those who have hurt us live life unrepentant or unaware, and part of forgiving is simply coming to a place where we can think of them and pray for them without wishing them harm, without feeling that pressing weight.

But whether our scars are like Natalia’s or more devastating like those of that wise child, until we break and let the bitterness bleed out, let go of our need for revenge, and truly, really believe that God is the defender of the weak, we cannot fully heal. We aren’t able to completely rest in God’s love for us, knowing that it’s enough. That his arms are big enough to carry me and my hurt and my questions and the loose ends I have no power over. Only then, with the bitterness blinders gone can I see it clearly.

Forgiveness changes everything.

    Mostly me.

*Name changed to protect privacy
Scripture taken from Matthew 18:21-22 NLT

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