It’s only Wednesday and I will say, this past week has been quite a whirlwind. I’ve been ping-ponging back and forth from Charlottesville to Virginia Beach to Charlottesville and now back to Virginia Beach. There are events in both cities that I just can’t miss and as Tim Gunn likes to say, “I’m making it work.”
Monday night, I scooted back to Charlottesville for our second Changing Seasons event at UVA. Thursday night, we learned our speaker would not be able to make it due to an unforeseen emergency, so we scurried to put together plan B and the next thing I knew, I was a “forgiveness expert” on a panel for UVA women. So needless to say, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the past week and where I’ve seen it in my own life.
Forgiveness is something a majority of us struggle with–whether it’s petty roommate issues or massive betrayals and I don’t know about you, but for me, it is SO incredibly hard to let things go.
In high school, I, along with an entire church youth group, at our peak of its “cool” stage, walked through a massive hurt and betrayal when we learned that our married youth leader–someone we looked up to, trusted, and aspired to be–had crossed some major lines with my friend and engaged in an inappropriate physical relationship with her.
When word got out, he was quickly relieved of his duties as our youth pastor, and we wrestled and struggled to make sense of what had just happened and how to move forward.
As the months and years went on, my emotions moved from shock to sadness to hurt and eventually to extreme bitterness and unforgiveness. How could he do this?! I realize none of us are perfect, but he was supposed to be and he totally let us down!
I watched as slowly, little-by-little, many people tried to do the “Christian thing” and forgive. They would meet with him for lunch or coffee, forgive him for letting us down, and then move right along as if nothing happened. But with each meeting that took place, my unforgiveness got bigger and bigger.
I couldn’t understand how people were ready to move on and forget the horrible thing that happened, and each time, I felt a bigger burden to hold on to it forever. What he did was NOT okay and so I decided to hold on to the hate, bitterness, and refusal to forgive for everyone else. If they were moving on, I would make sure my judgement was even more severe…someone had to remember what happened, and I took it upon myself to be the one.
Two years later, I found myself in a small Bible study in college talking about unforgiveness. When the study ended, I stayed at the woman’s house, weeping because my heart was so hard and bitter and I didn’t know how to move on from such hatred.
What I realized that day, was this burden of unforgiveness I was bearing was only hurting and hindering myself. The man I had resolved to hate didn’t have any idea that three hours away, I was up in Charlottesville loathing him. My hatred wasn’t helping or hurting anyone, it was only hindering me and making it impossible for me to move on.
So I shared with Lainie, a much older and wiser woman, my situation and she agreed to meet with me several times to work and pray through it together.
Though these meetings were on her couch, involved tea and cookies, and I never paid her a dime, they were essentially counseling sessions that my hard and bitter heart was desperate for. Through these sessions, we were able to talk through a lot of different aspects of the situation that I’d never been able to share. There were different parts of the story that she was able to validate in me and then we were able to move on to the forgiveness aspect.
The two things that I heard most clearly from her were this:
- Just because you forgive someone, does NOT mean that what they did was okay.
- It’s not our job to judge, it’s God’s job, and we can trust that He is sovereign.
Hearing these two nuggets of truth helped me SO much in setting my heart free, because I was able to come to terms with the fact that even if I chose to forgive, it didn’t mean that what happened was okay.
I also recognized that a lot of my unforgiveness stemmed from the need I felt to judge my youth pastor for his actions, when ultimately that’s not my job. That’s between him and God and it wasn’t a role I needed to play.
So little by little, through a lot of prayer, I was able to come to a point where I could say out loud, “God I’m ready to forgive. I hand this situation into your hands and I ask that you help me let go of my bitterness and my hate.”
Though it was nothing big or grand, just a few words I whispered, almost instantly I felt set free. I remember driving home and I couldn’t believe the weight that I felt that had been lifted off of my heart.
Though I never made a public apology and we have never seen each other outside of large events since, a few short weeks later, God provided an opportunity for me to indirectly walk out my new found forgiveness. It’s another long, complicated story, and this post is already WAY too long. But I what I loved about it was how quickly after God had set my heart free, he gave me an opportunity to put my new found forgiveness into practice and reassure me that I was truly free. Thanks be to God!
Sorry for the very long post…tomorrow, we’ll look at trying to forgive the stupid boyfriends who hurt us…get excited!