If I had tried to forgive him any sooner it would not have been genuine. It would have been a religious type of forgiveness where I knew it was the right thing to do, but deep down I would have been still holding on to the offense.
I told my counselor I was going to forgive my relative for molesting me as a child. I knew as a Christian I was called to offer forgiveness to those who had wronged me, like Christ has forgiven me, and I thought I was ready to. My counselor explained that in order to really forgive, I needed to think about what I was forgiving. What had this person taken away from me? What had their actions cost me? The process forced me to dig deep.
I put any reconciliation with my relative on the back burner. He was not a regular part of my life. I envisioned myself forgiving him but choosing not to have any type of relationship with him. I even thought about whether or not I would attend his funeral. I wondered how I could sit there and listen to others say kind things about him when he had hurt me so badly. I was still not at a point where I was ready or where I knew what forgiveness should look like.
But God is our amazing, perfect Father. He showed me how my lack of forgiveness toward my relative was something I also struggled with in other relationships. Refusing to forgive was a way of protecting myself from hurt, a coping mechanism I learned as a child as a result of my abuse. As others would point out how I had a hard time forgiving others, I would pray and meditate on verses about forgiveness but I would not change my actions. I would hold on to the hurt in order to avoid being hurt again. God was working in my heart through my struggle. He loved me too much to let me remain this way.
I had been participating in Love God Greatly Bible studies for several years. The studies challenged me to go deeper in my faith, and I began to see God in a way I had not seen Him before. He is so much bigger, more powerful, and more awesome than the God I put in a box for so much of my life as a Christian.
Know Love, the Bible study on 1, 2, 3 John was a wake up call for me. Through studying these books of the Bible I learned about godly love and what it looks like to love as a Christian. When I compared my life and relationships to what these Scriptures taught, I saw that I did not love the way God commanded me to love. I started to see how I had been walking in darkness instead of in His light.
After Know Love, I participated in Jesus our Everything, the Bible study on the Book of Hebrews. This is the study where I tell people I met Jesus. Jesus became more than the Son of God who died for my sins. Studying the Book of Hebrews was when I saw God’s plans to reconcile us through His Son fulfilled. It is where I saw Jesus as my High Priest who intercedes on my behalf before God.
“So he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them.”
Though I had not been walking in love, God was patient to work on my heart through His Word. I was humbled by God’s grace and mercy. I was moved by His compassion and love. I was ready to submit and be obedient in areas in my life where I had previously been rebelling.
With my heart racing, I called my relative to tell him I forgave him. I wasn’t forgiving him based on whether or not he was a changed person. I finally understood what true forgiveness looked like and I wanted to have peace. As we talked I felt compassion and love for him. It was an experience I can hardly put into words. During our conversation, he told me that my phone call set him free from prison. Although I didn’t think I needed to be set free, I also felt set free. The peace I felt after our conversation helped me understand why God’s process for forgiveness and reconciliation is so important.
What is impossible for us is not impossible for God. God’s Word is powerful! Obedience to God’s Word turned someone who was once a scared little girl into a brave woman, able to confront the person who abused her, able to extend forgiveness and grace. God’s Word removed the shame that came with my abuse. I can now speak openly to others about my experience. God’s Word reconciled my family. After not seeing him for over ten years, I was able to see my relative and his kids at a recent family gathering. It was a testament to what God can do.
God has used each Bible study I have done with Love God Greatly to increase my faith. Through studying and knowing His Word I was lead to the point of being able to surrender and forgive. For that I am deeply grateful.
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