I heard the testimony of a woman one time whose marriage had once been in a pit of absolute despair. Her husband had a pornography addiction and would spend thousands of dollars calling 900 numbers, buying movies, magazines, books – and finally, prostitutes.
He was arrested for soliciting prostitution along with two prostitutes. When he got out of jail, he checked into a sexual addiction clinic. His wife stayed married to him. She thought everything was fine and good and over as far as he was concerned and as far as she was concerned. They stayed married, had two or three children, and started a prison ministry.
One regularly scheduled ministry night, one of their children was sick so she stayed home. In hindsight, she felt like that was divine intervention, because she was certain her presence there would have hindered the Holy Spirit from working. Her husband came home from the ministry that night elated. He told her that the two women with whom he’d been arrested were there that night and both of them became saved and gave their lives to Christ.
Her immediate thought was, “That’s not fair.”
It occurred to her at that second that she hadn’t forgiven him or them. She resented their presence in her life, their part in her husband’s destruction, their very existence. And to think that she would have to spend eternity with them, that they would in their dirty sinful life be deserving of the same rewards as she was after she lived such a righteous and godly life made her angry.
Then she realized how much anger and unforgiveness she carried around in her heart. Jesus said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) She realized how horrible her thinking was – she knew that ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and she certainly was part of ALL, and she certainly was no better than any single person on earth – that we’re all dirty rotten sinners, wretches, unworthy of God’s grace.
That was the moment she started forgiving, and she felt the freedom in letting it all go.
I’m not going to pretend to understand. While I left my ex-husband due to his extramarital relationship with my best friend, I don’t think it comes close to the years and years of a cycle of addiction this woman and her husband endured in their marriage. But, listening to this testimony brought one thing very clear to me. I have been carrying the poison of unforgiveness around in my heart for a few years now.
As I listened to the end of this testimony, one name kept popping up in my mind, and I could not let it go. And since then, and this has been months and months, since then I have been unable to quit thinking about this person and all of the evil that was perpetrated by them. The more I pondered it, the more I realized I hadn’t forgiven this person.
When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your mind.” (Matthew 22:37). And as much as I want to live up to that commandment, if I’m carrying around a dark poisonous hole of unforgiveness toward another person, I don’t love the Lord my God with all of my heart – because my heart has had a dark spot in it that I cannot allow God to enter.
I don’t know why I clung to it for so long, but I did. Maybe because I’m human and the pain this person caused was almost intolerable, and it felt better to cling to that pain and let it fester until it grew and became hate, malice, anger. Jesus said to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), but I didn’t love. I hated – with a passion that as I brought it into the light and examined it, fascinated me.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I prayed about it. I went to Gregg with it – who knew the situation and knew the person. “What you need to do,” he said in his wisdom, “is ask yourself why have you not forgiven this person.” I had no answer. So I prayed about it some more. And prayed about it some more.
And what kept coming to my mind was this:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48
So I started praying for this person. Of all the things I’ve had to suffer through and work through in my life, this was probably the hardest thing. I didn’t want to pray for them, but I did. And the more I did, the more my heart started to loose its grip on the unforgiveness, on the malice, on the hate. And when I let it all go – I finally let it go completely.
It brings to my mind the story of Saul [Paul] – persecutor of the Christians – present when Stephen was stoned to death. After his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, God sent Ananias to him to baptize him. Ananias was told by God in a dream to go find Saul. Ananias, who knew of all the harm Saul has caused the Christians and who reminded God of it. Yet, God told him to go to him because Saul had been chosen by God to spread the good news of the Gospel. When Ananias when to Saul, the first words out of his mouth were, “Brother Saul.” (Acts 9:17) Once he was baptized by Ananias, Saul spent time with the disciples in Damascus, and eventually wrote a good portion of what we call the New Testament. What a beautiful testimony of forgiveness. As I worked through this dark hole in my heart, I kept going back to that story and assuring myself that it could be done and I would reach an end of this journey.
As I type this, I can say finally with finality that I have forgiven. Completely and wholly. It doesn’t affect this person, and they may never even know about it. But it affects me, my relationship with God, the health of my heart and soul.
And now my prayer is that this person will enter the body of Christ with me, and that if or when I ever hear about it, I can accept them and rejoice with them, and never one time in my heart think, “That’s not fair.”
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