Thursday, October 22, 2009

A personal story of forgiveness

For 14 years there was a person in my life with whom I did I not have a good relationship. In fact, there was a time that I would have called her my enemy. I grew to resent her, hanging onto my hurt and allowing bitterness to grow in me. It was a constant source of hurt in my life and a wound that was repeatedly injured as I had occasion to see her on a fairly regular basis.

If I knew I was going to see her in a day or a week or a month, I would spend all the time leading up to it in dread, fear and anxiety. Whether the interaction proved to be good or bad (and it was most often bad in my estimation), I would spend the next several days rehashing every word and action and wishing I had done something differently.

At the same time, God was working on me. I longed to have a friendship with this person and I would pray constantly for things to change. Over the years I would vacillate between hopeful and persevering to spent and apathetic. I thought I would see signs of change and then be blindsided by a callous word or lack of acknowledgement. The wound would be reopened. I would crawl to the foot of the cross bloody and bruised and cry out to God for vengeance...release from this relationship...vindication...anything to show me that He would take up my cause. (Lamentations 3:58)

Repeatedly God would direct me to the same Bible verse in Isaiah 43:18-19. "Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making ways in the desert and streams in the wasteland." And, in fact, I could not perceive it. But I kept praying and claiming the words of these verses...for 14 years!

I'll admit that I lived in defeat many days believing that things would never change. I would give up hope only to be rebuked in the spirit and encouraged to persevere in doing good. But what about her?! I would protest. The answer was always the same: You are not responsible for her actions. I will deal with her according to My Word.

I read numerous books on forgiveness. I looked up every Bible verse I could find on the subject. I cried and prayed and did it all some more. And then one day....or maybe over several days...things changed. I can't tell you what exactly because it was subtle. We didn't discuss it. We just started being friends. There was an olive branch offered and an olive branch received. There were opportunities seized. There was a joining of hearts that could only happen with Christ's redemptive touch.

The thing about it that struck me so profoundly was this: it no longer mattered who was at fault. For many years I believed I was a victim in this relationship gone bad, but towards the end I knew God was working out my own salvation through this thorn in my flesh. It no longer mattered where the blame lie, and I doubt I could remember after 14 years. Reconciliation did not come because of something I did; rather it came because Christ was working in two hearts that finally—separately—yielded to Him.

The thing that did matter was my response. My response to God: Was I obedient in living out the words of Mark 6 to love, do good, bless and pray? Did I persevere in prayer? Did I allow God to heal my bitterness and resentment? And my response to her. Did I humble myself and look for opportunities to serve her? Did I turn the other cheek? Did I offer forgiveness even when it was not asked for?

God has abundantly blessed me through this thorn in the flesh that I endured for 14 years. He has taught me and disciplined me and lavished his love on me. He has been merciful and gracious. And because of HIM, I have a new earthly relationship that brings me deep joy.

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." ~ Matthew 6:14

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