I met Jennifer (name has been changed), several years ago.
Her beauty could not hide her sadness.
I was speaking at a conference and she came up to me after I was finished speaking about God’s unfailing love, and asked if she could have a few moments of my time.
We sat down and she shared about how she doubted what I had just said. From her experiences, God was not there in her biggest time of need.
She shared with me that when she was 12, her brother sexually abused her, and when she went to her dad for help, he rebuked her for being a liar and told her he never wanted to talk about it again.
Now at 25, having experienced many bad relationships and sabotaging the good ones, her bitterness towards her brother and father was just growing stronger.
The deep pit of anger and hurt was affecting all of her other relationships.
What do you do with the hurts, whether words or actions, by those you have trusted, loved or maybe even didn’t know?
What you do with the hurt will determine your success in future relationships with people and God.
Continuing to carry wounds, hurts, and bitterness from the past will only bring painful dysfunction into future relationships.
This was where Jennifer was.
I think many of us can relate.
Jennifer was deeply wounded.
For Jennifer it was like carrying around a bottle of poison and pouring it into new relationships.
And it was not just affecting her human relationships, but it was affecting her view of God.
She was angry at God for not protecting her from those who had hurt her. Can you blame her?
There were two things about Jennifer.
One, she was angry at her Heavenly Father because of her earthly father.
Two, She felt worthless and ugly.
This combination was lethal. She hated herself and didn’t trust anyone enough to have a healthy relationship.
I asked Jennifer three questions:
“Would you like to begin to have healing in your heart from the hurt?
“Would you like to have better relationships?
“Would you like to really believe God loves you?”
Her answer to all three was “Yes!”
This is where it got tough.
I looked her in the eyes and said as gently as I knew how, “Then you need to forgive your dad & brother.”
Her response: “Why in the *%@#$ would I ever do that?”
My response: “Because your bitterness, anger and lack of forgiveness is only hurting you.”
Her response: “How in the *%@#$ could I ever forgive my dad & brother?”
My response: “First let me tell you about God’s forgiveness.”
I told her that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, falsely arrested, mercilessly beaten, barely breathing, he looked at those who were killing him and said some of the most powerful words ever spoken in the history of this world, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
An innocent man forgiving the guilty.
I told her about how He has forgiven our sins and canceled our debts which were nailed to the cross, and because of His death, sin, guilt and death are gone!
I told her that God was a different kind of father than our earthly fathers.
His love is unconditional (no grading on a curve).
He fearfully and wonderfully created us.
He chose us.
He will never abandon us.
He will never hurt us.
He understands our pain.
He experienced our injustice.
And then I said, “And oh, by the way, He thinks you are beautiful and is madly in love with you!”
I could see the tears in Jennifer’s eyes crying out that she wanted these statements to be true, but could she really believe it?
The healing Grace of God and the example of His forgiveness is the only thing that can set us free from the hurts and tragedies that we as humans experience in this world.
Famed psychiatrist Karl Menninger once said that 75% of people in psychiatric wards could walk out the next day if he could convince them that they were forgiven.
On her death bed, well known novelist and atheist Marghanita Laski said, “What I envy most about Jesus followers is His forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”
While Jennifer was wrestling with my statement about forgiving her brother and dad, I stated that “Forgiveness brings freedom and you don’t have time to allow people from your past to continue to hurt you.”
I told her, “Accepting God’s grace is the beginning of life and healthy relationships.”
I asked her, “Would you like to do that? Give your life to Jesus?”
Her response was, “YES!” So we prayed.
I told her, “Jennifer, you will never regret following Jesus. He’s your lover, protector, provider, peace, joy, and your ultimate purpose.”
I asked her, “So you love Jesus, not religion, not rules, not an organization?”
Her response was, “YES!”
I said, “If you trust him with forgiveness and eternal life, then can you trust him with some other words he said?”
Her answer was, “Sure.”
I reminded her, “Jesus always wants what is best for you.”
She said in a doubtful voice, “Ok.”
I shared with her the words of the apostle Paul
“…never hold grudges. Remember, Jesus forgave you, so you must forgive others.”
I quickly said, “So you don’t feel like I set you up, let me tell you what forgiveness is not:”
It is not saying what someone did to you was o.k.
It is not letting them off the hook
It is not necessarily about reconciliation
Forgiveness is releasing that person so that they can’t keep hurting you!
Two monks find a woman at a rivers edge, unable to cross.
They lift her up and carry her across the river.
Leaving the lady, the monks continue to walk.
One of them begins to complain about how he hurt his back carrying the lady.
He complains how his clothes are all muddy and wet.
He finally falls to the ground and says, “My back hurts so bad, all because of helping that silly lady across the river! I CANNOT GO ANY FURTHER!”
The first monk looks down at his partner, lying on the ground and asks, “Have you wondered why I am not complaining? Your back hurts because you are still carrying the woman. But I set her down 5 miles ago.”
The rest of the story is that Jennifer, now understanding what forgiveness is and what it is not, goes to her brother and dad and tells them that she forgives them for what they did to her.
Her brother still denied it and her father said it wasn’t his fault.
When it comes to forgiving those who have hurt us, we have no control how they will respond.
As much as it hurt that her brother and dad are still in denial, Jennifer is moving forward, drawing boundaries and turning her hurts over daily to the one who understands, Jesus.
She is moving on, with the power of forgiveness, so that her future relationships will be healthy and she won’t carry bitterness and hurt to the next generation.
In one way or another, we all can relate to Jennifer’s story. I will tell you what I told her.
Give your hurts to God everyday
Work on your stuff (Whatever that is)
Remind yourself of God’s grace and live in His forgiveness.
Remember, you are beautiful!
The great theologian Buddy Hackett once said, “I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing!”