July 10, 2013
Choose to Forgive
Love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV).
Friend to Friend
Sometimes the hardest thing to say is “I’m sorry,” to admit that we have hurt someone. The only thing that can be harder is to forgive those who have hurt us.
The story is told of a father and his teenage son who lived in Spain. Over the years, their relationship became strained. The list of hurts grew so long that the son ran away from home. The father searched for him, but after months of failure, the father made one last desperate effort by putting an ad in the local newspaper of Madrid.
“Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” The next day at noon, in front of the newspaper office, eight hundred Pacos showed up. We all need forgiveness, and we all must learn how to forgive.
I grew up in a small Texas town where we lived in what some would call a “shack” on the edge of town. My mother worked three jobs to support three children, but her main job was as a nurse.
I was frequently sick with colds and ear infections. We had little money, but we did have a family doctor who was a friend and colleague of my mother. In fact, they worked side-by-side each day at the one and only hospital in town. Knowing our financial circumstances, this doctor and his wife often asked my mom to baby-sit to earn extra money. They had five children, so I was often recruited to go along as a backup.
Over the years, this doctor often took care of our medical needs, charging us nothing. He was our friend, a man I respected and trusted – until the day he molested me. The pain and betrayal were so great that I locked it all away in a dark corner of my soul, refusing to admit it had ever happened. I told no one.
Fast-forward twenty years. I was happily married to Dan Southerland and had two wonderful children. I travelled, speaking for women’s events and loved being a pastor’s wife. Everything on the outside looked great, but inside, the past slowly ate away at my soul until my world collapsed, and I sank into a pit of clinical depression. I was paralyzed. The simple tasks seemed like impossible mountains to climb. Panic attacks became a daily event. I stepped out of ministry and began to uncover the wounds I had desperately tried to ignore most of my life.
I kept insanely busy in a vain attempt to earn God’s favor and the approval of others. My worth seemed to rest on the foundation of doing, instead of being. I soon discovered that one of the main reasons I had fallen into that pit was because I refused to face and deal with the pain of my past.
With the help of a loving husband, a Christian psychiatrist and a brilliant family doctor, I began to make slow but steady progress in climbing out of that dark, slimy pit. Then, I remembered.
I remembered that day in the doctor’s office. I fell apart. I hated that man. I wanted him to pay for what he had done to me. I wanted him to hurt like I had been hurt. I also knew that somehow, I had to let my pain go and forgive him, or I would be trapped for the rest of my life. God and I began to work through every painful, horrifying moment of that memory.
Months passed, and the day came when Dan asked me to speak for all five worship services of our church. When I asked him what the topic was, he smiled and simply said, “Forgiveness.” I knew what God was up to and being the mature and godly woman that I was, I lost it.
“That man does not deserve forgiveness, Lord,” I ranted. My Father whispered, “Neither do you, child.” I was still angry.
“Lord, he is the one that hurt me,” I cried. “Just as you have hurt me,” He responded. I wasn’t through.
“I think it’s only fair for me to wait for him to make the first move. And then he needs to come crawling on his hands and knees, begging for my forgiveness!” In the silence, I heard the words of the Great Physician, a voice I have come to love so much, “Aren’t you glad I didn’t wait for you to come to me?”
I had a choice to make. I could choose to hang on to my anger and bitterness, making that evil man my jailer, or I could choose to forgive him and set myself free.
But I just couldn’t forgive him on my own, so I did what David did.
I cried out to God.
Psalm 40:1-3a (NIV) “I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit; out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.”
As I wrestled with the choice to forgive,I learned several life-changing truths:
We must deal with old pain before we can truly live today and tomorrow. While we cannot change the past, we can change our response to the past and dictate the power it has over us. God sent a Savior, Jesus Christ, who is calling us to forgive. The choice is ours to make. Today, we can choose freedom by choosing to forgive.
Father, I am so tired of holding on to the pain in my life. I want to forgive those who have hurt me and learn how to let go of the pain and walk on. Today, I choose to love my enemies and bless those who have harmed me. Please give me the strength and power to honor you as I step out in obedience.
In Jesus’ name,
Now It’s Your Turn
Read and memorize Colossians 2:13-14 “Then God made you alive with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross.”
How do these verses impact the way you practice forgiveness in your life? Who do you need to forgive? Whose forgiveness do you need?
More from the Girlfriends
Need help? Check out Mary’s E-Bible study, How to Get Past Your Past, and let it help you learn to choose forgiveness. And be sure to check out Mary’s new weekly Online Bible StudyFrom a Mess to a Miracle. Enroll now and have access to all 2013 lessons. And be sure to connect with Mary on Facebook or through email.
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