Photo by Christopher Stites
This topic has been on my mind for several years. Those of you who know me, would know why this topic has been gnawing away at my heart.
For those of who that don’t, here’s the gist. I stayed in an extremely abusive marriage for 10 years, separated from him and 6 years have passed since then.
The problem with this is that leaving my marriage didn’t mean that my ex-husband was out of my life. I’ve had to deal with him regularly, sometimes on a daily basis because we have 2 young kids together.
Having the kids in my custody has meant that I’m again obligated to do everything he wants, and his way, because he’s the parent who is away and has the right to spend time with his children.
I thought leaving an abusive ex-husband would solve most, if not all my pain and struggles, but somehow, they’ve all morphed into a weird monster that gnaws away at me.
I’m not saying I still am where I was 5 or 6 years ago when we separated, where I could barely function. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t talk to anyone, I was ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated beyond words. I blamed myself for everything that went wrong. If only I had done… or if only I had said…or if only I had given… the if-onlys were endless.
I began to cut myself from everyone. I hated the sight of people. I only cared about my children and in my mind, the rest of the world could go to hell. Very un-Christian, I know!
At that point, I don’t even think I cared about God.
Before you ask, yes, I was saved and baptised and living the Christian life that I knew best how to live, and that meant I was angered beyond belief that a good God would allow me to have become yoked to a monster.
Since then, I’ve had a few interesting prophecies and words spoken over my life from 2017. I paid some attention to them, but most of them I’ve chosen to ignore because they seem too farfetched, and I had lost trust in a good God. I lost trust in my fantastic church, and I thought I was justified in my anger.
I thought I was entitled to be angry because I couldn’t lean on my church, and I couldn’t lean on Christians, and I felt that everyone had let me down.
It was all about me now. A very familiar song, me…me…me…me…!
Every time I saw my ex-husband, my anger would bubble and although I wouldn’t yell at him or say anything to him, I would feel my heart harden and in my mind, I would curse the day I ever laid eyes on him. I couldn’t bear to see him smile because I felt that he had stolen the best years of my life and left me with a horrid, bitter shell of a human being.
I felt that he had broken me and left me as someone who couldn’t trust people and couldn’t trust men, and I was angry that he was he reason that I was angry at God and the church and Christians.
Fast forward to this year and the topic of forgiveness had been weighing so heavily on me. I’ve thought about it so many times and ignored it just the same number of times.
For one, I knew that I had to forgive, but I didn’t know where to begin. I actually didn’t understand what forgiveness meant.
Was forgiveness a point in my life that could be time stamped? Could I say, on 24th October 2022 I forgave my ex-husband?
Was it a journey? Did I have to wake up every day and say that I was going to forgive? Was I supposed to forget as well?
That wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
What did Paul mean when he said in Ephesians 4:32, “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
What did Jesus mean when He taught in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Jesus taught us how to pray, spoke about forgiveness in verses 12, and then went out of His way to add a couple more sentences about forgiveness.
So, it must be important if He repeated it and it ended up in the Bible.
Where do I begin? I began to read and research about forgiveness from the Bible and forgiveness seemed to be so easy to do. Every preacher I listened to said, “Forgive, because you must.”
“Just forgive, because you need to let go.” “Just let it go.”
I began to feel pretty stupid because I just didn’t get it. What is the formula to forgiveness?
The Bible says in 1 John 1:9 (ESV) that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So, do I wait for my ex-husband to confess before I forgive?
Hebrews 8:12 goes one step further and says that, “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”
Ok, I need help! None of this made sense.
Is forgiveness a journey? That didn’t seem to click with me either. I could have a good day today and be forgiving, and I could have a terrible day tomorrow and not forgive and what happens then? Does that mean that I’ve not really forgiven? Will God not forgive my sins on days that I’m unforgiving and forgive me on days that I’ve been forgiving?
I spoke to a pastor at church, and he spoke about his own journey of unforgiveness and some of it began to make sense. I went back to the place where I knew all my answers lay, my Bible.
I read through the parable of the wicked servant in Matthew 18:21-35.
The story began with Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has caused him offence. Peter knew that the Judaism law says that forgiving someone 3 times is enough, so he pretty smugly tried to go over the double of that and asked Jesus if 7 times was sufficient.
Gosh, I love Peter. He reminds me of me.
Jesus wasn’t going to fall for Peter’s petty act of righteousness and took it even further and said seventy times seven. Now that doesn’t mean you can lop someone’s head off at the 491st time.
Jesus goes on to teach a parable about the wicked servant.
Here was a man who was forgiven 10,000 bags of gold equal to 150,000 years of wages and yet was unable to extend that same mercy to someone who owed him 100 days wages.
I’m going to be completely honest here, I read this passage and couldn’t bring myself to see myself as the wicked servant, because in my self-righteous mind, I genuinely believed that my ex-husband committed more transgressions against me than I did against Jesus.
There was the first thing that the Holy Spirit began to work in me. He knew me so well, that He turned my eyes to verse 28-30 “…and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.‘”
But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.” My eyes fell on the words choked and prison.
The Lord was leading me to see that I was choking everyone around me because either, I didn’t fully understand the forgiveness that I had received from Jesus or that I was holding past transgressions both in current relationships as well as holding my ex-husband in a prison, that I had no business doing.
I was immediately humbled, because I was ashamed that I hadn’t fully understood the forgiveness that I had received.
I was the wicked servant, and that revelation convicted me in the depths of my soul.
I had transgressed against a Holy God who was gracious enough to forgive me and yet, I a sinner “couldn’t extend that same grace.
The Holy Spirit led me, and I’m not talking about hearing an audible voice of God, but an impression in my heart that said that I had no right to seek justice.
Say what now?
As a faltering human being, when someone cuts me off in traffic, I immediately wish for them to be pulled over by a cop, because I believe that is justice served.
The Holy Spirit was asking me, how dare you seek justice?
That was my first lesson in forgiveness: Stop seeking justice.
I needed to stop wanting my ex-husband to be served justice.
I needed to stop deciding what he did or did not deserve, because Jesus did not give me what I deserved.
I realised that regardless of whatever my ex-husband received, good or bad, would make zero difference in my life. I would not grow taller, thinner, fatter, earn more or less money…literally nothing would change. So what was the point of wanting justice?
Here was my second lesson: If I can’t say the words “I forgive him” then do what Jesus did in Luke 23:34.
“Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
He asked God to forgive them.
He chose to use the words, ‘they know not what they’re doing’ because although they knew exactly what they were doing in crucifying Jesus, they really did not have the revelation of the impact of their actions.
I’d like to think that Jesus’ pain and betrayal was so great that He needed His Father to help Him forgive. He truly has gone through everything that we have.
Then came the third lesson: I needed to pray blessings over my ex-husband.
Praying for someone to be blessed doesn’t automatically mean more money or a bigger house or any of the things that we consider blessings.
An amazing Bible teacher taught that God’s concept of blessing is to show that person the revelation of their mistake, because that way they can reconcile with God and there lies their blessing.
Who am I to stop someone from reconciling with God? Wasn’t that the whole purpose of Jesus and the cross?
“Forgiveness has a cost. It cost Jesus His life.”
The final lesson came from a pastor at church: To thank God for the good that came out of my ex-husband’s presence in my life.
At first, all I could think of was there was zero good from this man’s existence, but that was my anger and bitterness speaking.
That wasn’t God.
I stopped and really thought about the last 6 years since the separation.
“Gratitude begins when my entitlement ends.”
The first 2 years were horrible, and I struggled with everything, but I did manage to draw closer to God because I felt like I had nothing or no one else I could really count on.
That was completely the opposite way of how a Christian should function, I should have sought God first before running to people, but I didn’t and then I learned that people let you down.
I also learned that it was unfair on me to place this huge burden on my church and on the pastors, and my friends and family because they are people too.
So, was there anything I really can be thankful for? Grudgingly, I have to say yes.
I have to thank God that if my ex-husband hadn’t done what he had done, I would have never written a book, never read the Bible the way I’ve been reading it, never got back into church, never learned how to trust God fully, never been able to teach my children what walking with God truly looks like.
Now, I’m not saying it’s easy, because my greatest question is ‘did you have to teach me this lesson in this way? Was there no easy way?’
I can almost hear God say, ‘nope!’
“God isn’t always going to change my situation. He sometimes uses my situation to change me.”
I guess when He created me, there were some impurities that He needed to fix and although as a Christian, I love God working miracles, healings and all ‘goosebumps inducing worship’, I need to remember Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
He is constantly working in us, which means that we will be forced to change and let go of our familiar habits.
Me working on forgiving my ex-husband is more for me than him, and I finally understood that.
I finally understood what that clichéd phrase meant.
It was to allow God to do a work in me and be a better person that is purified.
I also learned that God is not insecure, and He is ok with me praying real prayers. Some of my prayers are, “I hate praying this for my ex-husband, but I am doing it in obedience to You. Help me pray this from my heart next time.”
I hope this helps you with your own forgiveness journey and this is in no means supposed to be prescriptive.
God is gracious and has more teaching that suits each one of us, so allow Him to teach you what you need to learn in this season of your life.
…word of warning, it’s never how we expect or want to learn, but it is for our good.
2 thoughts on “Forgiveness? What is it? How do I forgive? Where do I begin?”
Amen!🙏🏻 The truth that “God forgave us so we must forgive others” is challenging to grasp. I also love Peter because of his constant curiosity and his regular making of mistakes. It’s great how God showcases the most ordinary of people for His greater glory. 😊
It’s so true that we should stop seeking justice and revenge and leave it up to God. Though it will surely come, it will be in God’s way and in His time. ☝🏻
I agree that the obstacles God places in our lives are meant to shape us. Diamonds in the rough, no matter how sparkly and attractive, need to be cut and tested to perfection. 💎✨
Love the post! 😍I pray that God will strengthen you to find the forgiveness you’re searching for! God bless! 🤗
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Lovely thoughts! Thank you. 🙂