I was heartbroken. I felt angry, hurt, and betrayed like never before.
How could they say such things about me? How could they lie that way? I was blindsided and I didn't know how to process what I had just learned. I had no idea how I would continue to face them day after day and, worse yet, how I would continue to serve them and do life with them.
In desperation, I found a quiet spot and fell to my knees, begging God to take the pain away, to see justice done, to avenge my innocence. Instead, unmistakably as I had come to recognize, the Spirit of God whispered gently to my soul, "I want you to forgive them." "How?" I despaired for I didn't have the strength or the will. "I'll teach you," He replied.
And the journey started.
First, I had to understand the importance of forgiveness.
The Bible tells us that forgiveness is not an option in the life of a follower of Christ. It is a mandate that God takes very seriously. So seriously that He has said He would not forgive us until we forgive our neighbor...with all our heart. No doubt forgiveness is difficult and it is costly, but it is necessary. It frees the heart and strengthens our relationship with the God who gave us the ultimate gift: His forgiveness.
Once I understood why I should forgive them I started to pray for the strength to make the decision to forgive.
Forgiveness is a choice and the decision to forgive often comes much before the feeling of forgiveness. It may take a while, but while we carry un-forgiveness our spiritual growth will be stunted. Un-forgiveness is that powerful a poison to a spirit.
One of the toughest moments was coming to accept that the people who hurt me may never apologize or admit their wrong. Forgiveness does not depend on the offender. We stand alone before our God and when we pray "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." There is no caveat that states "as long as they have apologized."
So I decided to forgive. And I moved on. Or so I thought.
But not long after, I found myself seemingly backsliding. I was still angry and hurt and I felt the work of forgiving was not going forward or well. In fact, there were days when I didn't want to forgive anymore. I wanted to still be mad.
And I was ashamed for feeling that way. After all, God was walking me through this path to forgiving.
It was then I realized I had to pray that to be able to give myself grace as well.
I had to remember that just because I decided to forgive it did not mean that the hurt, disappointment, and desire for justice would just disappear from my heart. Deciding to forgive alone did not change my circumstance: the wounds were still fresh, the pain was real, the anger burned, and the desire for justice and revenge lingered.
But I had taken the first step.
I had chosen to walk in the path of love rather than remain in the path of brokenness. And when I recognized that my feelings had not just magically gone away, I began to pray for wisdom to deal with the residual feelings.
Feelings are fed by thoughts. Dwelling on the offenses nourishes our anguish. I decided to stop feeding the hurt by capturing my thoughts and memories and laying them at the foot of the cross daily, minute by minute if necessary.
As I began to think forgiving thoughts and chase any others that fought my will to move forward, slowly, very slowly, everything else began to fall into place. One day I realized that, while I could not yet wish my enemies well, I no longer wished them ill.
Then one morning, the anger had changed to dull pain that no longer burned inside me but rather made me feel sad and sorrowful. In a little while, the pain began to ease. The wounds began to heal.
But what of justice?
They were wrong for what they did to me, after all. I brought this to the Lord and He began to teach me to pray for the faith to believe that He will deal justly, fairly, and mercifully with my enemies and with me.
He showed me that, while I was not quite ready to pray for the well-being of those who hurt me so deeply, He loved them and Jesus died for them as well. He asked me to let him be judge and executor. Neither revenge nor bitterness would help me move on, anyway. I had to trust that he saw my pain and that He alone could heal my heart.
Disciples of Christ are taught we are to forgive those who hurt us and pray for those who persecute us, all in the same sentence. But it is not always possible to do one right after the other. There can be a great big gap between forgiving someone and being able to pray for them and it usually takes divine intervention to do so.
As God began to heal my heart, however, I found myself more able to feel compassion for those who caused my pain and praying for their well being.
Since I had to interact with the offenders daily, I also felt the need to pray for wisdom to understand what forgiveness meant in this situation. Does it mean seeking out the offender for reconciliation or simply no longer avoiding them? Does it mean trying to restore the relationship or simply moving on? Each situation is different and the Lord should guide our path in this as well.
Once I was able to see the situation from a more cool-headed perspective, I found that God was leading me to pray for discernment to see if I had a part to play in the situation that now required forgiveness.
This is not always the case, but many times there are two sides to an argument. In my case, I found that part of the fault in the breakdown of the relationship was mine. To the best of my ability, I apologized to those I offended, repented before God, and worked on forgiving myself as He forgave me.
The journey did not end there, however. I had to pray for God to help me with this process as often as I needed during that season of my life.
There were days when a phone call, a note, a careless comment seemed to revive the wound that had scabbed over, and it bled anew, but there was new skin that had built around it already and it no longer bled as long or as violently as when it was first inflicted.
Healing was happening.
It wasn't easy and it took a long time, and still today, any time I am hurt by someone I have to remember and revisit the steps I must take to get from the side of justice to the side of mercy.
Since that situation, I've had plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness in many other circumstances and with many other people. And I've given others opportunities to work on forgiving me as well!
They say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Walking towards forgiving can feel like a long journey of many steps. No matter the hurt or situation you are going through, go ahead and take the first one today.
You will find peace at the end of the road.