Steve's Story: Hurts from Others
Excerpt from Rescued from Hell, Chapter 7: Journey to Healing
Forgiving others was a lesson I was doggedly trying to apply right from the beginning. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to do it, so I kept fumbling around with prayers that probably were going in the right direction but weren’t moving much freight. I was also going round and round the mountains that needed moving looking for excuses. I knew almost instinctively that forgiveness was a good principle—I had embraced it in general the night of my conversion—but I kept imagining that there were exceptions, especially in my case. There was also confusion in the Body of Christ surrounding me about forgiveness and that added to mine. People would say, what I now realize are totally erroneous things, like “sure God can forgive, but He’s God—I can’t,” or “I can forgive, but I’ll never get over it,” or “I forgave, but I can’t forget,” or (my personal favorite) “I’ve forgiven him and I love him with the love of Jesus, but I sure don’t like him.” You’ve probably heard them too. Maybe even thought them yourself. I know I did.
What really helped me, oddly enough, was a situation that came about where I absolutely could not go on with my cherished dream of becoming a priest unless I forgave someone who stood in the way. This person didn’t know the hurt I carried and the injustice I felt over his actions against me—but I did. What made it worse was that I knew God knew about my hardened heart too. He was telling me He wouldn’t be able to use me like He would like to in ministry, unless I learned how to forgive people from the heart. I learned through this that situations where we feel aggrieved, where the other person is offering us no satisfaction in terms of repentance or apology or restitution can be an absolute Godsend. I don’t believe for one minute that God causes bad things to happen, or in any way desires them, but He can make good use of any bad thing we bring to Him and best use of the worst things we bring to Him. Although it took me at least a year, once I finally forgave him my heart resurfaced into the relationship. I not only recovered the friendship, I also gained this person as an ally towards seminary. This was an important early victory at growing a forgiving heart, and it showed me the direction I would need to go to receive major healing in the future.
Forgiveness is the coin of the realm where the life and power of God’s Kingdom are concerned. It is perhaps the chief thing that we love about Jesus, for He gave this to us by the death He suffered. Not only that but it forms the basis for how God relates to us through the New Covenant; it is how He desires us to relate to all others, and it is also how we want others to relate to us. The Father completely cleared His own great heart towards us at the cross and fully expects us to learn how to do the same. I knew these things from the beginning. Yet despite the knowledge, this was a lesson that came, well, very grudgingly into my actual practice.
I say this to my shame, but I had a very hard time releasing my father from accumulated hurts—and he was a good father. What made it difficult I think was that I didn’t actually bond with him until just before he died, when we spent a long weekend together telling each other all the many stories of our lives that we had never shared. Some months prior to that weekend I had completely forgiven him and perhaps God used the grace of that to release something in us both. I had forgiven him while I was at a church camp reading Gordon Dalbey’s Father and Son: the Wound, the Healing, the Call to Manhood. Through it I realized that my dad, too, was the wounded son of an imperfect father. Something very hurt and very hard in my heart completely gave way. As it did I had the strangest sensation. I looked up to the Lord and said, “Here I am, a pickup truck driving former hippie carpenter, who my wife thinks is a secret redneck and yet, for the first time in my life I feel like a real man. What’s going on?” He said, “Until this moment you were a boy trying to be a man.” That was two healings for the price of one. By forgiving my father and completely accepting him in that role, I was not only freed of my pain, I was also no longer rejecting my life as his son. Nor was I any longer, unconsciously, rejecting the Father in heaven who had chosen my earthly father. These things are so deep that only the Holy Spirit can search them out for us. Thank God He does.
A few months later I cashed in on a bumper crop of mercy. It happened one day while I was in my office at Christ Church. I was going over my litany of all the men in authority who had broken my trust or wounded me with injustice from childhood to the present. It was quite a list. Like a swarm of bees the names, faces and events kept coming after me, no matter what I did to try to release them. Why me? Why couldn’t men in authority treat me right? I stood up, walked into a corner, turned to face the Lord and said not very politely, “You’ve backed me into a corner with this. There’s going to be no way into the life I want unless I fully forgive them from the heart, is there?”
It was at that moment that I saw it: the sin of my own unforgiveness. I fell to my knees in deep repentance and cried out for mercy—mercy not to walk away with, but mercy with which to do the forgiving. In my mind’s eye I saw all my “assailants” also kneeling at the cross beside me, seeking mercy. I said to them, “Fellows, don’t worry about it. It’s no longer about what you did to me, it’s about what I’ve been doing to you and to Jesus—in my own heart.” Then I turned to the Lord and said, “Jesus, by not forgiving them I have been sinning against You every waking moment of my life. Forgive me as I forgive them.” When I stood up from that time of letting go, I felt entirely free, even invincible. I told the Lord that this day He had given me a “Teflon-coated heart.” It was not the heart I wanted—I wanted a heart that couldn’t be wounded—but it was a heart that had learned how to fully forgive and because of that no hurt could ever stick to me again. Even better than the healing has been that “Teflon-coated equipping”, since being wounded by people goes hand-in-hand with loving with them. Learning to fully forgive from the heart is equipping for Life!
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