When I was 13 years old, someone very close to me hurt me in a way that I never imagined possible. My life was shattered in a single moment. I went from shocked to devasted to broken to angry in a matter of hours. Bitterness took root in my heart, and hate was my language of choice. My bitterness not only affected my relationship with this person, but relationships with everyone around me, only to be catalyzed by secrecy. You see, in that solitary moment of devastation, I made a promise to tell no one. My hate made me volatile, ready to strike out and hurt at any moment. My bitterness left a trail of broken hearts and confusion.
Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out my relationship with Jesus. I was in a small group with some other students my age who were trying to figure out what faith meant to us. We read Andy Stanley’s book Louder than Words, which taught a bunch of high schoolers about “the power of un-compromised living,” and how important our character is. Page by page, I learned about forgiveness. My life was suddenly turned upside down. I made a list of all the people that had hurt me in the past and one by one I reached out to them (if I could) and forgave them. The guy that said those hurtful things to me in middle school, the girl that I had gotten into a catty fight with that can only happen in high school…and I slowly found restitution. But I was still harboring hate and a secret that was destroying me from the inside out.
So one night I sat down with my small group leader and word-vomited the whole thing… my anger, my sadness, my confusion, my hate towards the man who had betrayed me… and I forgave him. He never knew that I was angry. He never knew how badly he hurt me, but I still forgave him. 16 year old me learned a valuable lesson that night. Jesus forgave me, and so now I am implored to forgive.
I learned that everyone sins, everyone messes up, it just looks different. God has forgiven my sins, therefore I forgive the people who sin against me, whether they know it or not, and whether or not I think they deserve to be forgiven.
I have seen that without forgiveness, our bodies shrivel up with hate. There is nothing worse for our souls than bitterness and harbored anger.
So what’s the point?
If we can’t forgive each other, then what Jesus did on the cross means nothing. Jesus suffered and died for our forgiveness. He gave his life so that God would eternally forgive us. If we can’t forgive each other, then the full gravity of what Jesus did on the cross could be lost on us. The weight of the Gospel in its entirety is forgiveness of sins. How can we expect to share the Good News if you and I are not living out of our forgiveness? Colossians 3:13 says “forgive each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” Forgiveness frees us up to worship and live in full relationship with Christ. The forgiveness we have so freely received should be the ultimate example of holy living.
We can be selfish. Forgiveness in its very meaning is selfless. It requires us to shut up our pride. It requires us to silence those voices that say “I didn’t do anything wrong”, “I’ll never recover from this”, “he should have known better”… “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” Matthew 18:21-22
Because of the valuable lesson that I learned 6 years ago, my relationship with my dad is completely different. He is one of my best friends and through the power of the Holy Spirit I am able to trust him again, and have since been able to forgive the unforgivable. Thanks be to God for the power of his word.