Rhonda sat in the divorce hearing fighting back her tears. The hurtful lies and stories coming from her ex-husband were cutting her soul to pieces. How could someone who said he loved her try to ruin her life?
After all, she knew the truth. She was the one who tried everything she knew to keep the marriage together. She was the one who looked the other way after discovering his many affairs. She was the one who worked a second job to feed and clothe their three children after he was fired.
She was the one who tolerated being demeaned and abused for the past years. And after all of that, he had the nerve to slap her with a notice of divorce and engage in a battle to take the children away from her.
At the first break in the hearings, Rhonda’s best friend escorted her out of the building and into the fresh air. “I know it really hurts you to hear all of those lies coming from someone you once loved, but I want you to forgive him for all the awful things he has done to you and your children,” her friend pleaded.
“No way!” Rhonda said. “I want him to feel all the hurt I’m feeling! I want him to pay 10 times over for destroying this family and trying to take my kids! There is no way I’m going to forgive him and let him off the hook!”
Rhonda’s friend slowly pulled her close and warmly embraced her. “I didn’t say that to let him off the hook. I said it so you can be let off the hook.”
Rhonda stared at her, looking puzzled.
She consoled Rhonda. “Look at what the anger and bitterness is doing to you. It’s destroying your whole life. You can’t sleep at night, your health is failing, and your children notice the change in your behavior toward them.”
She continued. “Forgiveness doesn’t let him off the hook, but it does set you free. Please don’t destroy yourself along with him. You’ve got to learn to forgive.”
“I need to forgive, but I don’t know how. Please help me.”
As they embraced again Rhonda finally understood her situation. She knew her friend was correct. She needed relief from the inner wars and battles of bitterness and anger. Rhonda stared into her friend’s eyes, “I need to forgive, but I don’t know how. Please help me.”
Rhonda’s friend extended her hands, “Just repeat this prayer with me: ‘Father, You know how much I’ve been hurt through all of this and You know the hurt of my children. Father, I’m asking you to forgive him, not because I want to, but because You said to forgive. I pray that You will remove all of this anger and hurt inside of me, and help me to love my enemies. I receive Your peace, comfort, and joy into my heart this very second. In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ ”
After the prayer, Rhonda sensed the peace of God enter her. She seemed to have a different facial expression during the next session: an expression of peace and contentment. She had found the secret to freeing herself from destruction by anger and bitterness. That secret was forgiveness.
As Rhonda discovered, the first and most difficult step to take in forgiving others is bringing ourselves to speak the words from the heart (with the intent to live by them).
It’s very difficult to ask God to forgive those who hurt us, especially when the hurt has run deep. Our emotions are yelling, “Never!” But our spirit is whispering, “It’s time to forgive, and move beyond this pain and anger.”
Do that which is right
We cannot afford to wait on our emotions to catch up with what’s right in our spirit. As a matter of fact, performing that which is spiritual often goes against what we are feeling; thus the two sides are often in conflict.
To help us understand, let’s examine the words found in Romans 7:21-23, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.”
These Scriptures are talking about the two great laws at work in our lives—the law of righteousness, which knows and acknowledges the good things we should do, and the law of sin, which persuades us to do those things which are wrong. In other words, spiritually, we know and want to do the right things, but in our bodies, we want to do the wrong thing.
How do we do the spiritual and right thing and yet at the same time satisfy our emotions? The answer is quite simple—it cannot be done. We must do that which is right and allow our emotions to complain in the process.
The way to do this is to go to God in prayer and ask Him to forgive those who have wronged us, even if we are seeking forgiveness for ourselves. Remember, when we say the words, our emotions will not agree with them, but we will have accomplished something good and spiritual. In our emotions, we may still have the pain and anger, but our spirit will no longer be burdened by unforgiveness.
Adapted from from pages 49-52 of Forgiveness: Walk Me Through It. Copyright © 2010 Charlie Holley. Used with permission. All rights reserved.