“…and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us (Luke 11:4a NLT).”
I had the honor this past week of sharing my story of hope and healing with a group of women. After my talk one woman approached me and posed the question: “Was there a specific point when you knew you had forgiven him?” She then explained she was struggling to determine if she had truly forgiven someone. I had never thought about that before and I tried to answer her question to the best of my ability on the spot. However, I have not been able to get her question out of my mind. I don’t feel my answer did the question justice.
Forgiveness for humans is a journey. For God – it’s instantaneous. We confess and our sins are forgiven, but we aren’t perfect like God. We extend forgiveness, but it may still take us time to experience the full freedom of forgiveness. When I forgave my rapist, I wasn’t instantly free from my anger, hatred and bitterness toward him – that was the beginning. God was faithful to complete the work in my heart that I had submitted to Him. I was trusting God and obeying His prompting in my life. What He calls all of us to do – forgive.
Forgiveness does not absolve painful memories though. I don’t expect to ever look back on my painful memories as fond ones – that’s ludicrous. However, I can look back at those painful memories and not have negative feelings toward my rapist or myself. That is forgiveness. It doesn’t mean the memories are painless, but you aren’t directing negative thoughts toward the perpetrator in those memories.
I freely admit that as I was preparing to share with another group I was searching for the right words to sum up my relationship with my rapist immediately following the rape. I was replaying painful memories over and over in my mind trying to figure out how to sum them up. As I did this, I found myself getting sucked into the rabbit hole of darkness. They are painful memories full of darkness and evil.
I finally realized what I was doing and I immediately prayed to God to pull me out of this funk and help me refocus on all He has done through these experiences. To help me refocus on the light amidst the darkness. What an awesome God we serve – He did just that! After I was done praying I sat down and wrote out my summation of that time. Then I said that’s enough for today. I took a break for the rest of the day and just enjoyed spending time with my kids. I wasn’t done preparing what I had to say, but I needed a breather.
Does that mean I haven’t forgiven my rapist? No! Even amidst getting sucked into the rabbit hole of darkness surrounding those memories I didn’t have any negative thoughts toward my rapist. That is the freedom of forgiveness! Being able to think about someone who has hurt you and not harbor any ill will toward them. Being able to have mercy and compassion for them and extending them grace. It doesn’t mean those painful memories won’t resurface, but when they do they aren’t accompanied with anger, bitterness or hatred toward the offender.
Getting back to that question – “Was there a specific point when you knew you had forgiven him?” Yes and No. It wasn’t like I woke up one day and said “Hey – I have forgiven him!” However, there was a point when I realized my hatred, anger and bitterness toward him were gone. I can’t pinpoint that specific date, but it came.
For those of you struggling with forgiveness – don’t be discouraged if you haven’t fully arrived. Forgiveness is a journey – trust God! Pray about it. Don’t assume your forgiveness wasn’t sincere, because you haven’t arrived at a certain place. Don’t allow Satan to discourage you on your journey toward freedom in forgiveness either. Don’t listen to the whispers in your ear – “Maybe you haven’t truly forgiven.” God is faithful. He will deliver you toward greater freedom. One day you will be able to say I don’t harbor any ill will, but don’t be discouraged if it isn’t today – maybe it’s tomorrow!