This is an amazing weekend & month as we get to reflect on Jesus’ redemptive work on the Cross at Easter. At the very heart of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins is forgiveness. Jesus took on our sins so that we might live in freedom in Christ!
As Christians, we have been called to emulate Christ. When Christ taught his disciples how to pray he modeled forgiveness to them: “and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us (Luke 11:4a NLT).” Forgiveness of sins is not only pivotal for us as women in our faith and relationship with Christ, it is pivotal for us as women in our relationships with ourselves and other people.
Walking through the most difficult season of my life, when I was raped and the years that immediately followed, God drove home the concept of forgiveness for me. I learned the power of accepting forgiveness, forgiving myself and forgiving others. I learned the depth of God’s unconditional relentless love for me. I learned that He never gave up on me, even when I gave up on myself. I learned that God freely forgives us for our mistakes, and believe me I have made a lot! My reactions to being raped were not perfect – far from it. I was racked with guilt. I was angry with myself.
Why did I allow fear to make me feel trapped? Why did I do things I knew were wrong? I prayed for forgiveness repeatedly, but I felt like I had done something unforgiveable. I will never forget driving home one day and hearing a song on the radio. As tears ran down my face, I realized I was repeating the same prayer, asking for forgiveness for something that had already been forgiven. I am so grateful for God’s willingness and mercy to forgive. If God was willing to forgive me – who am I to hold myself to an even higher standard than God? Freely accepting God’s forgiveness allowed me to forgive myself.
God taught me another profound lesson through the miracle of forgiveness. I desperately wanted justice, but it had taken me too long to come to terms with being raped. I had no legal recourse. If justice alluded me – what about revenge? I looked to the Bible. God says in Deuteronomy, Romans and Hebrews “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” In Deuteronomy, it is followed by: “In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them (32:35 NIV).” In Romans: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (12:21 NASB).” And in Hebrews: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31 NIV).”
I took it to God. I started to pray for my rapist. I begged God to change his heart. To prevent him from victimizing another woman. The more I prayed for him the more God started to break my heart for him. Regardless of whether he acknowledged it – he was hurting too. A healthy person doesn’t rape. I became filled with compassion for him and a conviction that I needed to forgive him.
Forgiveness. Not condoning what he had done. Not excusing him. Forgiving him. I was done letting him have an unhealthy hold on my life. Not only had he raped me, but I was continuing to give him power over me by hanging onto my anger, bitterness, and hatred. I always thought forgiveness was for the benefit of the offender. I realized in my case, forgiveness would be for my benefit. Forgiveness would allow me to let go of these destructive emotions and move on.
To extend forgiveness, I wrote my rapist a 10-page letter. It detailed what he had done to me, how it made me feel, and the depth of my hopelessness and despair. I ended it by extending forgiveness to him and explaining to him how I have found hope in Christ amidst my struggles with the rape. I explained my faith and how, ironically, his rape had deepened my faith and trust in God. I told him I was praying for him to find peace and healing from his brokenness by trusting in Christ.
The last week of his senior year, as my heart raced, I delivered the letter. He was surprised by the gesture and thanked me, oblivious to the letter’s contents. Then I walked away. Hoping that would be the last time I ever saw him. I wasn’t free at that moment, but delivering that letter was a huge victory.
I don’t want anyone to misunderstand that I am suggesting every rape victim confront their rapist with a letter or otherwise. That may not be safe nor appropriate. I could have forgiven him without the letter, but I felt like this was what I needed to do. I needed to not only declare in writing that I forgave him, but I wanted him to know there is hope for him too. I was powerless to pursue legal actions against him, but I wasn’t powerless to hopefully instill in him the depth of my suffering.
My ultimate hope and prayer is that my rapist comes to salvation. Salvation would bring hope and healing to his life. Christ desires that none should perish. In Matthew 18:6 Jesus said:
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
For the unrepentant, there will be a reckoning. That gives me peace. I am trusting God to take care of it, whether in mercy or wrath.
Next month marks sixteen years since I wrote and delivered that letter. I wrote a copy of the letter in my journal at the time. I reread it in preparation to share my story. Every single promise and resolution I made has come to fruition. I journaled for two years starting with that letter whenever I struggled with the rape. God answered every single prayer I wrote. Not only did He answer my prayers – He exceeded what I asked Him to do. He healed me of issues from the rape I did not ask to be healed from. I do not harbor any anger, hatred, fear, or bitterness toward my rapist. Nor do I have negative thoughts about myself because of the rape. I am not hopeless! I am overwhelmed by God’s relentless love for me! My story of healing and forgiveness is a miracle from God.
The details of my story are unique to me, but I believe the themes can apply to most people. I believe most of us have been hurt by other people and needed to extend forgiveness. I pray that this Easter season as we reflect on the most profound gesture of love and forgiveness – the Cross – you experience the freedom of forgiveness. Not just for yourself, but also toward anyone you may need to forgive. Don’t allow other people’s actions to control your life.
Letting go of the anger, hatred and bitterness toward my rapist has led to so much freedom in my life. I have experienced the destructive power of not letting go in my life. When I released it, there was relief. Freedom. We aren’t meant to live in bondage.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1 NIV).”
Take hold of that freedom! May you experience the miracle of forgiveness through Christ this Easter season too!
If you would like to read more about forgiving my rapist see “Extending Forgiveness.” If you would like to read more about my struggle to forgive myself see “Accepting Forgiveness.”