Complete Forgiveness

A few weeks ago, the church we have been visiting went through a series called, How to Fight Without Losing. It provided a biblical perspective on how to handle conflicts with your spouse, parent, co-worker, boss, etc. The whole series ended up being really good, but I can remember listening to the first sermon in the series rather skeptically. 

It all seemed a little too “kumbaya” to me. Sure, you want to resolve conflict with your friends and people you actually want in your life. But, as I sat there, I thought, “what about the people that you really don’t want to have a relationship with?” People who have caused so much hurt and pain in your life that you have no desire to be reconcile with. I even wrote in my notes, “Rather than a restored relationship, you wish you have never had a relationship with that person to begin with.”

The pastor even flippantly said, “if you don’t want to have a relationship with that person, then you don’t have do anything that I say”. So, I kind of felt like I was off the hook. I could just go along my merry way because I had no desire to be in a relationship with certain people.

And I think there is some wisdom in that. I think about women who have been in abusive relationships or suffered at the hands of a narcissist.  To me, there are some people that it is neither wise nor safe to have a relationship with them. If any of my children were being abused or bullied by a friend at school, I definitely would not encourage them to continue to be in a relationship with them.

But I kept having this gnawing feeling that there was something more that God was trying to reveal to me.  A heart issue that He’s been working on in my life ever since I resigned from my last position a couple of years ago. Even though I thought all was forgiven and I was moving on, something would happen and would trigger those dormant feelings of anger, fear and resentment…and I hated it.

I hated feeling anxious and allowing another person to have so much power over my emotions and thoughts. Even on a practical level, I was fearful of going to certain places for fear of bumping into that person and having to see or talk to them. 

But that is no way to live. I can’t live my life in fear or anxiety. I don’t want to be filled with anger and hate. I want to live my life differently than how I’ve witnessed hurt and broken people respond to those who have mistreated them.

One of the things that I’ve found helpful is reading books about how other people have survived and overcome difficulties and hardships. How they have endured and come through their trails with a stronger, more unshakeable faith.

So, I thought, “who can I read about that has been through some of the most heinous atrocities in life and despite all the hardships was made better instead of bitter. Whose forgiveness was at a greater cost than mine. How did they forgive? How did they move on?”

Immediately, I thought about Corrie Ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor whose story I had seen in the movie The Hiding Place. I tried to find the book version, but it had already been checked out at the library, so I settled on one that isn’t quite as well-known entitled, Tramp for the Lord. It’s made up of short little chapters that recount her life after she was released from a concentration camp. She also shares some of the things that happened to her and her family while they were imprisoned in the concentration camp. It’s a powerful little book that I couldn’t put down.

One of the chapters is a well-known story of her encounter with a man who had been one of the guards in her concentration camp. She had just finished speaking in a church, and she sees the man walking down the aisle towards her. The man reaches out his hand towards her and says that he has since become a Christian and knows that the Lord has forgiven him, but would she also forgive him. She flashes back to the harsh treatment she and her sister, who passed away in the concentration camp, endured at the hands of this man. The cruelty, humiliation, brutality and inhumane treatment.

Her shocking response was, “I forgive you with all of my heart.”

Here is a woman who has gone through things that most of us have never had to endure, and yet she chooses to forgive. To forgive completely and authentically. In fact, what struck me most is that here is a woman who could have gone around the world bringing judgement to each and every Nazi who had mistreated so many people during WWII, and yet instead of going on a justice crusade, she goes around the world sharing the gospel about God’s love and forgiveness.

I want to be like Corrie Ten Boom. I want to have love and forgiveness in my heart. If one day I encounter those from my past who have hurt me, I want to be able to completely and authentically say, “I forgive you with all of my heart.” I don’t want my life to be defined by seeking justice, I’ll leave that up to God, but I want it to be about extending love and forgiveness.

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