A few years ago I went through a situation like no other, which I hope I never have to go through again.
I was involved in a leadership role capacity for a particular organization, and although I had prepared for the time and energy commitment, I was not at all prepared for the negativity, backlash, vindictiveness, and just plain meanness that ensued from a former leader.
Months went by, with each day bringing new challenges, new shock over how grown-ups were acting, and new frustrations over how my co-worker and I were being treated. The issue got to such an escalated level, which was completely out of my hands to control, that I began losing sleep, feeling anxious and upset, not eating well, and waking up every day with a feeling of dread about what troubles and anxiety the new day would bring.
On the very day that I found myself ready to break, an irritated woman yelled some seriously harsh words right into my face, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was done. I quietly turned away, walked away, and broke down in tears…..for the next three hours! Obviously that was not a day when I woke up and put on my girl big panties, but even a big girl can get beaten down after a while.
The more it appeared that the situation would not improve, and the worse things got, my shock, hurt and frustration turned to anger. As anger and resentment embedded themselves deeper and deeper into my heart, not only was my tolerance been shot, but my positive outlook and my hopeful spirit plunged downward.
The next day as I was in prayer, complaining and whining to God, yet again, about this most difficult and unfair situation, my heart became aware that God was speaking, saying, “Tracie, I have called you to forgive; the unforgiveness and bitterness you are holding in your heart, even though you were treated wrongly, is robbing you of the joy that is available through me. Lay it down, forget about it, just love me and I will take care of the rest.”
But I didn’t want to forgive these people. I didn’t like them. They weren’t nice. They didn’t deserve it. They were wrong. Forgive? No way.
But God wouldn’t let me off the hook. My mind soon drifted to the verses Roman 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11, as God prompted me to remember that (1) He had a purpose for my situation, even though I could not see it, did not understand it, and certainly did not like going through it; and (2) He had plans for me that were good, if I was willing to persevere and trust in Him, despite the hardship I was going through.
Because I had been drowning in self pity, anger and discouragement, I had lost sight of both of these holy promises. I hadn’t been able to even think of God’s potential plans or any good purpose that might come out of this whole mess because I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest and stomped on. But God’s whisper got louder and louder, and soon I gave in. I surrendered my hurt, laid the problem at His feet and washed my hands and heart of unforgiveness.
Then as if my spiritual eyes were suddenly opened, I became aware for the first time how long I had allowed this situation to drain the joy right out of me. For months I had allowed the actions of a few broken people to cause me to feel broken. I had allowed their hurtful words and actions to make me feel “less than”. I had allowed them to steal my joy.
Yet the moment I deliberately chose to forgive – without any if’s, and’s or but’s – I kid you not when I say, immediately, it was as if the weight was lifted, and the chokehold that Satan had wrapped around my heart fell limp. I felt free. I realized that I couldn’t change these people, but I could make sure they didn’t change me.
You see, I had to pardon the sins of these women, so that I could focus on the One who pardoned my own and allow Him to fill me with joy that could far outweigh a person’s hurtful words or actions. My heart eventually healed, and my joy did return. Obedience and forgiveness had set me free. I still had to complete my commitment to this position, but I could complete it with a new perspective and a joy that nobody could steal.
Looking back, I am surprised at myself for not seeing sooner what the poison of resentment and unforgiveness was doing to my heart. I now realize that because I was not willing to pardon the sins of others, I was giving them power over my life, my confidence, my self esteem. And nobody should have power over our life except for God.
This experience taught me a great lesson about forgiveness. We don’t forgive because we want to, or because the other person deserves it – but because we deserve to be free.
I cannot begin to tell you how hard it was to forgive that person and a few others who were involved, not just with my mouth, but with my heart. It’s easy to speak words, but not as easy to follow through. It was only through God that I was able to do that, because nothing in my soul wanted to. I accepted the realization that although I would never forget, I could always forgive.
Micah 7:18 says “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.”
The meaning of that verse is simply this: God is God, and we are not.
We are not capable of forgiving, without His power dwelling within us. We cannot show mercy, without His compassion in our hearts. We can never have the desire to forgive, without His help and intervention in our hearts. And we can never be free, until we unconditionally forgive.
It is hard to offer forgiveness to anyone who hurts us, but it seems especially hard to forgive a husband. Why? Because we love them. We married them. We committed to them. We may gave birth to their children. We had dreams that included them. We honored them. We trusted them.
So when a husband hurts our feelings in little ways, or betrays our trust in big ways, it cuts deeper than any other – but through forgiveness, the blow does not have to be fatal.
My sweet friend Suzie Eller said this in her recently released book, An Unburdened Heart: “Forgiveness is an intentional act to let go of the burden and restrictions of bitterness, anger, rage or unresolved emotions connected to a person or event. It’s giving up the desire to punish. It’s letting go of anger. It’s getting out of the ‘debt collection’ business.”
She also offers up profound advice on how we forgive when we don’t want to. Suzie stated that “To surrender is to offer God a willing heart. You don’t offer the issue, the other person, the obvious symptoms. You offer yourself. You offer up your thoughts, your feelings and your woundedness to God and acknowledge that you can’t do it on your own.”
God brought His promises to pass in my life, and He strengthened my ability to forgive. He helped me to see the toll that unforgiveness can take on our spirits, our relationships with others and with Christ, not just with the one who hurt us. That difficult experience not only taught me a valuable lesson, but it prepared me to forgive in even the hardest of situations – marriage. God had a plan for my life and my marriage, and learning that lesson then prepared me for things to come. He prepared my heart and spirit to be able to forgive my husband when needed, and to recognize the importance that forgiveness would hold for our future as a couple.
Forgiveness is hard, but without it, no marriage can survive. It may take days, weeks, even months, of seeking Gods strength to forgive before we can truly feel free, but eventually……God will heal, hearts will mend, painful memories will fade, and the door will be opened for Jesus to get to make Himself known and fulfill His promises in our lives.
When we empty ourselves of resentment and revenge, God will fill the gaping hole with love, mercy, and compassion, and we can take a huge leap towards rediscovering the joy and happiness that we all long for in life, and especially in marriage.
This is hard subject today, but a crucial one in this journey, so I want to close out today’s post with a prayer.
Dear Jesus, forgiving those who have hurt us sometimes seems impossible, especially when it comes to forgiving the person who we became one with at our wedding. How can we forgive when we are wounded? How can we trust when we have been hurt? How can we forget and move on? How can we let go of little things that nag at our hearts day in and day out? How can we move past unmet expectations? You know our limitations and our weaknesses, and so we come to you today asking for the supernatural ability to forgive our spouses for whatever is causing friction in our hearts and tension in our marriage. Take away our hurts, lift the weights off of our hearts, wash our spirits clean, and help us awake tomorrow with a sense of freedom that we have never felt before. Freedom that will allow us to take strides towards reconciliation, or to simply have the desire to trust You as our guiding light in marriage, as we continue to lean you on for strength. Draw us closer together with our husbands, and convict their hearts to long for the same. For those whose marriages have ended or are in the stages of divorce, I plead with You Lord to fill these women’s hearts with the ability to forgive their husbands so that they can be spiritually free, even if life doesn’t turn out as they had hoped. We want You to have power over our hearts Lord, and only You.
Lord, I ask that you make yourself seen and heard in the hearts of every woman participating in this challenge. Women who need to know you see them, their troubles, their deepest desires for a happy marriage. Women who need healing, hope and reassurance that they are valuable and loved. Do what would seem impossible by the world’s perspective. Heal hearts, and heal marriages. Reach the hearts of the husbands who don’t know You Lord. And help us all break free from the chains of unforgiveness once and for all. Thank you for being the One we can always count on. We vow to trust in You Lord in even the hardest of situations. In Jesus name, Amen.
Day 7 Challenge: PARDON
Your challenge today is to pardon the sins of your husband. Consider the things your husband has done that may have hurt you or that have caused you to feel unforgiving. If you have never forgiven, ask God to help you do so. If you have uttered those words but still feel trapped in a storm of resentment, ask yourself if you have truly forgiven. Not with your words, but with your heart, soul and spirit. Ask yourself if are you still carrying the weight of that hurt, and if you frequently recall the ways you have been hurt you or betrayed. Are you keeping a running record of wrongs, or you are striving to wipe the slate clean. Ask God for clarity as to whether or not you have truly let it go (whatever “it” is), and ask God to fill your heart with grace and mercy – and overwhelming joy.
If God impresses upon you that you are still holding on to unforgiveness, then bow at the feet of your King, and pray with all your heart. Ask God for the strength to forgive your husband. Not because he deserves it, or even because God tells us to do it, but because of the deadly toll that it has on our own hearts, and our marriages, in the long run.
Maybe your husband has deeply wounded your heart. Maybe he has betrayed you. Maybe he has been unfaithful. Maybe he has an addiction that seems hopeless to overcome. Maybe he has just been too busy for you and your family. Maybe you just need to forgive your husband for little things, or recent words spoken in anger. But regardless of whether the thorn is big or small, forgiveness is the first step towards reconciliation, restoration, and rekindled love.
Life is too short to give anyone, or any situation, permission to steal our joy. And God is too good to let that happen.