By Joan Endicott
I began pouring my confused and struggling heart out to God. “I am in such awe, Lord, when I think about Corrie Ten Boom forgiving those who tortured her and her family in the Nazi prison camps. I can’t begin to fathom the horrors they experienced. When she was able to respond to the former prison guard from Ravensbrück concentration camp, taking his extended hand in hers, choosing to forgive him that night, she knew she experienced a miracle.
“So, what’s wrong with me, God? I know what my childhood abuser did to me was not even close to what Corrie endured, but to me it was still terrible. He took so much from me–and put so much on me. He took childhood innocence, safety, security, trust…he put on me unjust shame and guilt, fear, worry and anxiety about what might happen next–and when. How different, how much better, could my childhood and life have been had those things never happened? I know you already know this, Lord, but I don’t even want to forgive him. If he goes to hell, wouldn’t that be the punishment he deserves?”
Initially I felt a twinge of guilt as I boldly confessed my true feelings to God, but I’d also learned He wanted me to come to Him just as I was. Soon I began feeling a sense of relief as I openly poured out the heaviness on my heart to Him. I knew it was finally time to dig down even deeper and do the work to give these old wounds a safe space to resurface if I was ever going to heal. But where do I start when the pain of thinking about it was so much deeper than my desire to forgive?
Fortunately, my desire to be free was deeper still. I decided to just start where I was, with what I knew to do. I knew God called me to forgive. I also knew that whatever He called me to, He would enable me to do. Baring my true feelings to God were both a relief and a cry of desperation for help. I knew the Lord’s Prayer specifically requested that He would “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matt. 6:22) The clear assumption being that I am actively forgiving.
So this was the prayer I began with: “Lord, I know You call me to forgive. You also know I don’t want to. I do, however, want to live in Your will. So, I’m going to simply start with asking You to please help change my heart to even want to forgive him.”
You see, I didn’t want to just mechanically say I forgave, I wanted there to be an authentic soul-shift. If you’ve ever told a child to “say you’re sorry” to anyone, you know exactly what I mean. It’s one thing if they’re truly sorry, but completely different if they are just going through the motions. It gets louder (“SORRY!”), or longer, (“Sorrryyy”), but not meaningful unless and until it’s heartfelt. Frankly, I didn’t want to feel like a hypocrite.
Next, I recruited a small group of trusted, mature women who committed to support, encourage and pray with me for this soul-shifting miracle. We all need to belong to such a caring community.
It was a year-long journey from the day I began praying to want to forgive him until the day I knew I did forgive him. Through the power of prayer, Bible teaching/mentoring and study, I began to learn so much about what forgiveness IS and what forgiveness IS NOT. I had collected several myths and misunderstandings about forgiveness over the years, which had definitely detoured my desired destination. These are some of the main ones that caused me to experience enormous resistance:
I learned that forgiveness is NOT:
- Forgetting (Forgive and forget aren’t tied together.)
- Dependent upon them apologizing or being sorry.
- Condoning what they did.
- Letting them off the hook with no accountability.
- A one-n’-done experience.
It was incredibly freeing for me to finally understand what was not expected of me when it came to forgiveness. However, I still knew it would require God putting His super on my natural to make this supernatural shift in my soul.
One year after starting this journey, Nathanael was 6, Caleb almost 3 and Rachel was about ready to make her entrance into the world. It was Sunday morning and I was sitting in church listening to our Pastor, Dick Shaw, talk about compassion. He reminded us of the truth that, “Hurt people, hurt people.” Then he said, “If those who hurt you knew how much they hurt you, they would be so so sorry.” My first response was “Yeah right.” What came to mind next were the times I’d hurt others and knew I was truly sorry. Those words echoed in my soul. “If they knew how much they hurt you, they would be so so sorry.” I began to imagine the one who’d abused me for years being a little 6-year-old-boy, like our Nathanael.
I pictured a sweet little blonde-haired, blue-eyed, innocent and trusting child with his whole life ahead of him. Then I thought, “Dear God, what happened to him when he was younger that caused him to do what he did to me?”
For the first time I saw my abuser as a little boy–as someone’s victim. I couldn’t hold back the tears from streaming down my face–for him. “Why wasn’t he protected?” I thought. My heart was overwhelmed with sadness and anger at the depravity of man. Compassion and sympathy unlocked the chains that had kept me from forgiving. In that moment, I forgave him and was finally free!
In her book The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom also shared, “And having thus learned to forgive in this hardest of situations, I never again had difficulty in forgiving: I wish I could say it! I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me from then on. But they didn’t. If there’s one thing I’ve learned at 80 years of age, it’s that I can’t store up good feelings and behavior–but only draw them fresh from God each day. Can you forgive your enemies? I cannot! But Jesus in me can! And you will find out that forgiveness is a tremendous joy, for it is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the heaviness of hatred. It is a power that unlocks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
I now know, forgiveness is not something you do for others, it’s an act of obedience that ends up being a gift you give yourself as well. This decision and action unlocked the chains that were keeping my soul tethered to the very thing I longed to be free of.
Then once you’ve forgiven, you get to continue to do it. Each and every time you think of a hurt, you get to choose to let it go, give it back to God, forgive and be FREE! Easy? No. Worth it? Yes!
Grab your FREE copy of Joan’s “I Get To!”® book at JoanEndicott.com and sign up for her FREE blog videos. Joan Endicott is an Award-Winning Keynote Speaker, Author of “I Get To!”® founder of GIANT-Slayer Coaching and “WOW!” Women Owning Their Worth©. Her coaching reaches over 30 countries. Follow her on FB and IG–she posts encouraging words daily!