The woman sits in the front pew, expectant and eager. Her grandchild will be baptized. It’s a time of celebration, but church hadn’t always been so joyful.
Most of her early pew-sitting and hymn-singing was nothing but an inner struggle from a lifetime of double-speak.
The conflict of many words. Way too many words.
She lifts her gaze to the stained-glass. Jesus loves me this I know. When she was six, her abuser had her sing that song while he did his evil.
What kind of love was that? She shudders and opens a hymnal. If only it had stopped with Jesus Loves Me.
Songs, sermons, scripture…any religious term could be used to imply the sexual. She’d stayed alert, always in survivor-mode. Years of sifting through adult innuendoes had even caused trouble in her marriage. Simple instructions from her husband often seemed unclear and hard to process.
The pastor takes the podium and begins to speak. His compassionate tone resonates. She closes the hymnbook.
“Let’s talk about forgiveness.” Her chest tightens. Now there’s a conflicted word. Hope he’s got this one right.
How long had it taken her to untangle the forgiveness concept?
Because, you know, “good little Christian girls forgive their abusers and, if you don’t, shame on you. However, if you forgive, then everything will be okay and we can do anything we want. Whatever we do will be fine. The responsibility is on you and you’ll forgive. So, let’s have at it.”
Yeah, crazy-making stuff. An internal shiver courses through her.
If I do all the forgiving, even to make myself feel better, but it doesn’t matter what others do, what good is forgiveness? Doesn’t repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand?
Yes! Yes, they do. And aren’t you glad we’ve worked that through? The inner voice she’s come to recognize as Jesus’, who really does love her, speaks its comfort. Remember, forgiveness isn’t just about making you feel relief. It’s not just a gift you give yourself. That idea is a dark side counterfeit.
She clasps her hands. Age spots and bulging veins form a crisscross pattern.
It’s taken years, but this is what God has taught:
Forgiveness needs a place to land—a heart that is repentant and can accept it. Yes, her own relief is part of the process, but providing a place where forgiveness can land is God’s truth—His ideal cycle of healing and restoration.
The pastor warms to his subject. She follows along, a step ahead with her own conclusions.
God’s ultimate goal is restoration of relationships. Restoration can’t happen unless there’s a change in the part of the person who did the wrong.
BUT…. She closes her eyes.
God is always ready to forgive, yet He also needs my permission to make the forgiveness cycle complete. Yep, God respects my boundaries—my need to stay in control, to hate, to become bitter, or to take vengeance, so He waits for me to give all that to Him. When I forgive and give Him permission to restore relationship, my piece of the puzzle is in place.
Only God knows the heart—theirs and mine. Only He knows if my abusers are truly repentant and a safe place for my forgiveness to land, but their repentance piece needs to be there too. He knows when it’s in place. I don’t have to worry about it. I can rest in Him. He can impress them with the wrongness of what they did—to convict and bring them to Him.
Her heart swells with the beauty of such a God.
The concept continues to take shape:
If the abuser doesn’t repent, vengeance flows into that space. And if a victim doesn’t forgive, chances are, they will become abusive because of their bitterness. Vengeance will flow into that space too.
Cleansing air fills her lungs. She releases it, slow and sure. Peace floods her spirit.
Not only did my forgiveness free God from me trying to take control of vengeance, it also allowed me to heal so that I wasn’t a hurting person hurting others.
Another stained-glass window catches her attention. Christ hangs on the cross. Moisture wells in her eyes.
I didn’t even have to go to them with my forgiveness. I just had to forgive them to God. I GAVE their actions to God BEFORE they repented.
“Jesus, You did this in the midst of torture. In the middle of our abuse, we had no idea how to forgive their horrendous acts, did we, Jesus? How could we, when we hurt with so much pain? But what did You do? You gave Your forgiveness to the Father. You asked Him to forgive them. You even tried to understand their actions and said ‘they don’t know what they’re doing.’”
The pastor finishes his discourse, which happily parallels her own. Her grandchild enters the baptismal pool.
Her heart quickens with joy.
Forgiveness and cleansing….
It’s been a long hard road, but her abusers have been fore-given to God.
Now it’s up to Him.
Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.Psalm 90:8
“Thank you, Father, for a merciful countenance.”