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Tell Me Your Story—Forgiveness, Broken to Beautiful, Part III

DSC_3703_2Dear Readers,

Are you struggling to forgive someone? Has bitterness locked you in a prison you feel is impossible to escape? The following might offer some insights. This is Part III and the final segment of an interview with a woman who, because of all she’s been through (see previous two interviews), can speak authoritatively about forgiveness and healing. May the Lord lift your burden and grant you a light heart once again.

Forgiveness and Healing

forgiveBy God’s grace you’ve found grace and healing from a painful past. I was most intrigued by your thoughts on forgiveness. This seems to be an important theme for you. Would you share what you’ve learned?

Forgiveness cost Jesus His life. It’s the highest measure of love. Out of obedience to His Father, He paid a debt He did not owe, died a horrific death on a rugged cross, just so that I could have eternal fellowship with my Heavenly Father and be forgiven of my sins. It’s only through the blood sacrifice of Jesus that I’m forgiven at all.

What have you learned about forgiving yourself?

Abortion left me in spiritual bondage. I went through many periods of feeling I couldn’t forgive myself even after I repented of my sins. But I learned that God not only forgives my sins, He forgets them too, “as far as the east is from the west.”

Recently I learned that I can’t forgive myself; God forgives me. Nowhere in scripture does He command me to forgive myself—instead I am simply to receive the gift of forgiveness from Him. Refusing Christ’s forgiveness is the sin of pride and unbelief, as if His death were not sufficient to cover my sins. I’ve quit trying to do what Christ has already done for me.

What have you learned about forgiving others?

Though forgiveness isn’t easy, it’s a command in God’s Word. Jesus didn’t deny His pain on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you rejected me?” And He doesn’t expect me to either. I had to acknowledge the hate I felt for my offenders and let God heal me. In Luke 6:37b it says, “Forgive and you will be forgiven.”

Out of love for the Lord, I forgive those who have hurt me. Forgiveness, like love, is an action, not a feeling. As I moved through the process of forgiveness, God’s Word showed me how to overcome bitterness, another self-made prison. We are to bless those who curse us and pray for those who do evil against us. Praying for the people who had wounded me lifted the hatred from my heart and eventually brought peace.

What would you say to someone who balks at forgiveness because they are afraid they will have to let the forgiven person back into their life?

Forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation. God has cut relationships out of my life when they’ve interfered with my spiritual growth. He protects His children. And forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to tell the offender I’m forgiving him or her either (unless God leads me otherwise). Instead, it has to do with keeping my heart pure before Him.

I’m not sure I understand the connection between a pure heart and forgiveness.

Matthew 5:8 says that, “Blessed are those pure in heart for they will see God.” Bitterness and un-forgiveness are contrary to purity. To me, nothing anybody has done to me is worth the sacrifice of not seeing God’s face. My Oneness with Him is vital. Forgiveness does come with a price. Sometimes others’ sins against me have caused me to pay debts I did not owe, which I “felt” were unfair. But my many sins cost Jesus a debt He didn’t owe either, a gruesome death on the cross. The price I might pay for others’ sins will never compare to His sacrifice.

How do you deal with the need for justice?

II Corinthians 5:10-11 says that we will have to stand before Christ to be judged for the things we do in our earthly body. So my forgiving does not justify the sin against me, it just leaves it in God’s hands where it belongs. “…the Lord will not let the guilty go unpunished…” (Nahum 1:3).

What I know and feel may be as incongruous as night and day. Feelings deceive, but God’s Word is Truth, and it says that justice is in His hands. And even though I don’t always “feel” that people deserve to be forgiven, I act in faith and forgive anyway. After all, I don’t deserve to be forgiven either.

When you’re struggling with forgiveness, what do you think about?

Unforgiveness is a stronghold Satan uses. Bitterness affects not just me, but many people around me. So my responsibility is to focus on my heart, not somebody else’s. In the parable of the slave and the slave owner in Matthew 18:28-34, the Lord rebuked the slave who refused to forgive an offender. When I stopped making forgiveness about the offender and instead made it about my oneness with God, it was much easier.

You mentioned the critical role that God’s Word played in your healing. How did scripture help you on a practical level?

By speaking God’s Word aloud, it helped clear out the lies of Satan and manifested God’s truth. I continue to use The Secret Power of Speaking God’s Word by Joyce Meyer daily. Then when a lie came to mind, I could say, “No, that’s not true,” and counter it with truth.

Recently, God showed me the power of my thoughts and what I need to do with them. II Corinthians 10:5b says to “Capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.” Philippians 4:8 guides me in this process—Is that thought pure, loving, praiseworthy, admirable, right, excellent, noble, and true? If so, then I’m obeying Christ. If not, I must change my thinking to agree with His Word.

What are some practical ways that you apply God’s Word to your life?

Anger was a terrible problem in my life. Now when I “feel” anger simmering, I simply thank God for His grace, and He helps me through conflict and whatever situation I’m in. I try to remember Ephesians 4:31, “Do not be bitter or angry or mad. Never shout angrily or say things to hurt others. Never do anything evil.” Because He freely offers His grace to me, I work on offering it to others too. It’s not always easy, and I often fail, but my primary goal is to keep a pure heart before God.

His Word has also put the fear of pride in me. Proverbs 3:34 says that, “The Lord laughs at those who laugh at him, but he gives grace to those who are not proud.” And Matthew 23:12 says, “Whoever makes himself great will be made humble. Whoever makes himself humble will be made great.” God has humbled me plenty of times, so I try to walk in humility, though again, I often fail. This is where I’m deeply grateful for His grace. I need it every day!

Describe your healing and the purpose you feel God has for your life.

I believe sharing how He has restored me and leading others to Him is part of my purpose in this life. When He lifted my shame, it freed me to talk about my past as if I were talking about someone else. Being real and not pretending to be someone or something I’m not is a great place to be. My daily walk and the way I raise our two sons, along with my husband, is just as vital to me as doing something that man would consider great in this world. Motherhood is a beautiful ministry. And a privilege.

How do you believe God wants to use you in the future?

I’d eventually love to minister to foster children, high risk teens, pregnant teens and mothers, the elderly, the abused and neglected, and people struggling with eating disorders. I plan to continue encouraging women in prison.

Because I know that nothing good lives in me and that I deserve death, I’m grateful to be used at all. My purpose is to obey what He calls me to do on a daily basis even if that means to smile at a stranger at the grocery store. My plans are not always His plans for me.

Bottom line: it’s not about me; it’s all about Him. No matter what He leads me to do, the important thing is that I do everything as if I’m doing it for Him.

(Look up more scriptures that have encouraged and strengthened this sister in the Lord to rise from broken to beautiful.)

©2010 Ruth Wood. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Ruth Wood is the columnist for Tell Me Your Story. Do you have a dramatic or unique story that would encourage others in their walk with the Lord? Currently, Ruth is looking for stories in particular that deal with serious or chronic illness, a prodigal child, or care-giving. Share what you’ve learned through your trial about God and faith. Send an email to Ruth with subject line “query” and include a paragraph summarizing your story to ruthywood@gmail.com.