This is a big topic and I hope I can do it justice.
Forgiveness is such an important value and theme in my life. Over the course of the past few months, it has come up again and again. A sermon at church, fellow bloggers, even Oprah.
Forgiveness became very important in my life early on. We certainly strive to teach our children to forgive a friend when feelings have been hurt, to seek forgiveness when they have caused harm. Friends and family say or do things that hurt us and we choose to forgive. Forgiveness, in some ways, can be a daily action!
But what about the Big Hurts? I’m a survivor of a very Big Hurt. I’m a survivor of some pretty crappy stuff in my childhood. Many years ago, I knew I had to forgive my abuser or else I would never move forward. I would be stuck in a place of hate and anger and resentment if I didn’t let it go through forgiveness. I forgave myself, my family, my teachers, and eventually- my abuser.
But what exactly does forgiveness mean? Are there different stages and types of forgiveness? Do you forgive for the other person or for yourself? Or both? Is forgiveness necessary to really heal from serious wrongs?
I was watching an episode of Oprah recently. She had a family on… 2 teens whose parents had been murdered by their uncle. The story was tragic on so many levels. But there was something about this young woman… the daughter… she was 6, I think, when the murder happened. She stepped over the body of her murdered aunt to rescue her little brother who was hiding under the covers of his parents bed as the shooting happened around him. She and her brother were raised by their maternal grandmother. She and her grandma spoke of forgiveness. And here’s the part that I found most amazing… this woman who lost her daughter, these young people whose parents were taken from them so brutally… were fighting for the murderer to not be executed.
From Oprah’s recap, the grandma explains where she is coming from and how she has raised the children:
Mary, Natalie's mother, says she didn't raise Kim and Matt to hate Eric. "It's because of my faith. Because when you give thanks to God, God carries [you]. And He gave us peace," she says. "[Natalie's] in heaven, so I have a lot to be thankful for." Mary says she doesn't believe Eric's story, but she still forgives him. "I pray for you that you ask God for forgiveness, because that's where it's all at. And I ask everybody to write the governor to stop the death penalty because we're not here to judge. You deserve to be in jail, but we don't want you to die."
This struck me and brought me back to a sermon that my pastor had given a few months back. The topic was forgiveness. And there was something he said that had stuck with me. That the next step in forgiveness is to pray for the person who hurt you the most deeply. Pray for their redemption, pray that they have found God and sought His forgiveness.
I have not been able to do that.
I have forgiven him and I turn his judgment over to God. But that sermon, that idea… I have this fear that to take my most intimate time with God and bring that person into it would be bringing him back into my life and that is not what I want at all. I know it doesn’t mean he’d physically be here. But it would mean allowing him into my heart and mind again. Yes, my past is always there with me. No, I don’t try to ignore it or pretend like it isn’t there.
I wrote an e-mail to my pastor to tell him about this episode of Oprah and what this woman said and what I was thinking about his sermon.
I would say though, that prayers for the abuser do not need to be continuous--just for a “season” and sincere. That season can actually be a very short time—just a period you’ve set aside to give your focus there, and then move on, trusting the Holy Spirit to carry your prayers from then on. Please read Romans 8:18-30, paying special attention to Romans 8:26, and get ready to have your prayer life in this situation changed forever.
Romans 8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
So I don’t have to set a date to kneel down and pray specifically for the abuser’s redemption. If I carry it in my heart, God knows and the Holy Spirit carries that prayer through me.
So what does all of that boil down to when it comes to forgiveness? How did I even take the first step to be able to forgive my abuser for the awful things he did to me?
I can tell you that there isn’t a formula. I can tell you that I believe that forgiveness is a very personal journey and that what works for one, won’t work for another.
At the time, when I was hospitalized in an inpatient adolescent unit, I knew that I had to do something in order to move forward. I knew that my anger, shame, rage, hurt, pain would never begin to release and heal if I didn’t do something. Forgive. I had to cut him from my life in this one last, final way. There was physical separation, there was the end of the abuse. But over those years, he still had a piece of my mind and my heart. And by forgiving him, I claimed back those pieces of myself. By forgiving him, I released his hold on me.
As an adult, as I have been digging deeper into my faith and spirituality, I have reached a different level of forgiveness. I realized that I had to do more than just release him from my life. I had to turn him over to God. The pain, sorrow, shame, anger was alleviated but still present until I was able to turn all of that over. I think a part of me had carried the judgment of my abuser on my own shoulders. That is some serious weight. I needed other people to know he was guilty. Until I turned it over to God. He is the judge.
And now I face a final step. I released what he had done. I released the judgment in my heart. Next, I find a way to pray that God will forgive him, that God will show him mercy, that he will fall to his knees and pray for his own redemption. I’m not there yet but I’m not far from it, either.
Forgiveness is important because without it, I would have no peace, no serenity, no calm, no happiness, no joy.
How about you? Are you ready to forgive?