Growing up in a legalistic denomination, I didn’t really grow up with a good understanding of what forgiveness and grace was. True forgiveness and true grace.
A couple years ago I was hurt deeply by some people, people that should never ever want to intentionally hurt me and my family. I’ve harbored unforgiveness, anger, hatred and malice in my heart since. I made anger and bitterness my idols.
I swore up and down that these people did not deserve MY forgiveness. They didn’t deserve anything good to happen to them.
It wasn’t until recently that I’ve started going through this sort of group therapy through my church. It’s called Redemption Groups. The goal is to understand that we are suffering sinners, to meet Jesus in our suffering and to see Him as our Redeemer through it.
I shared my story with a group of incredible women. A lot of crying out of anger. A lot of seeing myself as the victim, faultless, and sinless.
My incredible facilitators lovingly showed me that I’d been in habitual sin these last couple of years–the anger, the bitterness, the hatred, the malice.
I had to repent. Learning this about myself broke me. I am a suffering sinner. Not just suffering. I’ve sinned against God by living this way.
As I was driving to Oklahoma this past week for my best friend’s wedding, I felt the sudden urge to turn the radio off and pray. I knew the Lord wanted me to pray about forgiving those people that hurt me. But instead I avoided that topic and prayed about some other things that seemed to be a bit more convenient to pray about. Then it was like I had run out of words and the Lord, yet again, brought “forgiveness” back to mind.
I immediately started crying (I’m driving down a highway, y’all). I begin talking to Him out loud as if He’s sitting in the passenger seat. I tell Him I want to forgive them and release this invisible grip I’ve had on them but I just don’t know how.
He led me to repentance right then and there. Not just confessing my habitual sin but truly repenting, choosing to turn away from those sins and placing Him in His rightful place. I asked Him to forgive me. I was completely overcome by His forgiveness AND grace!
Now follow me here, readers…this is where it gets real good.
He asks me “how do you feel when you give a good gift to a friend?” I respond with “Well, I’m proud to give them the gift, cant wait for them to receive it, they’re gonna love it. I feel so much joy” He says “THAT. That is the attitude to have when you give my forgiveness as a gift.” I was blown away. I needed that illustration to understand that it’s not ‘my forgiveness’ I’m giving. It’s His forgiveness that’s been first given to me as a gift. It’s much more costly.
For the first time, I was overcome with compassion for these people. The Lord had softened my heart towards them and told me that they are lost in their sin. They don’t know any better as unbelievers. But me, someone who claims to follow Christ, I betray Him daily. I used to think I was better than them. But I am NO better than them. It’s almost like I’m worse because I know what I’m doing when I sin against Him. But they are lost. They don’t know any better. How could I hold that against them?
I told Him that I release them, finally. I let go of the grip I’ve had over them because I want them to experience the very thing I was experiencing that moment in the car– His forgiveness and grace!!!
As I told the Lord that I forgive them, (by name, I might add. I couldn’t do that before.) I felt a heavy weight lift off my chest. I felt like I could breathe. When I spoke their names, it didn’t follow with a curse and it didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth.
HOW?! How can so much change in my heart in a matter of 1 hour in a car?!
Friends, His forgiveness and grace.
Relinquishing my control, turning them over to Jesus so that He can do His perfect work in their lives. So that they can experience His grace and forgiveness. THAT is a better story than me having this invisible grip over them, than me wishing bad things on them, than me thinking I have the power and control to hurt them the way they hurt me.
He is better.