I called my grandma last month.
It was the hardest thing I had done in my life, because we hadn’t spoken in over three years, and I was pretty sure she would rake me over the coals.
Last week I shared with you a story I really didn’t want to tell, but I knew that it was time to get it out in the open. You can read it here.
The reason I finally opened up about my family’s story is because I realized every one of us leaves childhood wounded, in big or small ways. Whether you were a daddy’s girl like me or you’ve built walls to protect yourself from an abrasive parent, whether your mother walked out on your family for another man or tried to shield you from abusive men, whatever the form of childhood hurts we carry, most of us have them.
And it’s hard to forgive. Really hard.
Forgiving Those Who Have Hurt Us
There’s a part of The Lord’s Prayer that always struck fear in my heart as a child:
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Every time I prayed that prayer, I secretly wondered if there was someone I was forgetting to forgive, because I most certainly didn’t want to miss out on God’s forgiveness. And while that might have been a warped understanding of the teaching of Jesus, it did drive home the point that God wants us to forgive just as we have been forgiven. So I always considered myself a pretty forgiving person.
But when I got a review copy of Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, it sat on my shelf for months. I eyed it suspiciously, not sure I wanted to deal with all the pain that had accumulated over the years. But day after day, the Spirit kept bringing it to mind, and I finally cracked open the cover.
As much as I’d like to pretend otherwise, I had been harboring bitterness, resentment, anger, and even hatred toward family members in my heart because of things that had happened in my childhood. I wanted justice, and I was merciless in my condemnation. Like the Pharisees, I was quick to point out the wrong in others while overlooking the massive forgiveness covering my own life.
But slowly, ever so tenderly, the Father began to peel back the layers of hurt and breathe Life into atrophied parts of my heart.
Facing the Unforgiveness In Our Hearts
Over the course of a year, I read the book and alternated between tears of grief and relief as I realized that the emotional roller coaster I had been living on for years was not unique to me. Through lovely storytelling and hard truth-telling, Leslie Leyland Field took me by the hand and lead me through the Gospel, showing at once the universality of childhood hurts and the power of God to release us from past hurts and hatred when we offer complete forgiveness.
If you’ve walked through those dark corridors of unforgiveness, whether toward a parent or anyone else (because the principles are true no matter what relationship you apply them to), I highly recommend this book. It helped me come face-to-face with the unforgiveness I was harboring in my heart.
I read this important truth:
Forgiveness is really a two-way release. It means releasing others from the debts and sins they have committed against us, and at the same time releasing ourselves as judge, jury and prison guard over them because that’s God’s position.
~ Leslie Leyland Field, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers
Until I relinquished my right to judge and condemn those who hurt me, I wasn’t able to forgive them. I was waiting for them to acknowledge their mistakes and repent like the prodigal son, but that wasn’t going to happen. So I had a choice: forgive or carry the burden of unforgiveness for the rest of my life.
By God’s grace, I chose forgiveness.
God’s Not Finished With Us Yet
Slowly, God began healing festering wounds that I hadn’t even realized were poisoning my relationship with my husband and other family members. He breathed love and compassion in me and worked a ministry of forgiveness toward my parents. He began to prod me to build bridges… and I’ll admit: I’ve been slow to build because I’m afraid the past will repeat itself and I don’t know what healthy boundaries in these relationships look like yet.
But God is continuing to write this story: He’s not finished with us yet. Any of us. Not my dad. Not my mom. Not my grandma. Not me. Not you.
And I cling to the Truth of God:
He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.
He’ll be faithful. Even when we’re hurt and hard-hearted. He is faithful.
And as we forgive, in His time, He will show us what steps to take next.
The Power of a Phone Call
I held my breath when she picked up the phone, not sure how she’d react to hearing from her granddaughter after all this time. And while our conversation wasn’t what I expected, it brought a small measure of healing. Some hurt, too, and old wounds were opened once more, but God has been working healing and forgiveness in my life, starting with my relationship with my grandma and moving on toward my parents.
So what’s this got to do with you?
Sweet friend, I believe God is calling you to forgive. Your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, relatives, teachers, pastors, or whoever.
Show the grace and forgiveness that God showered upon you to those who have hurt you much.
Jesus forgave us much. So so very much. While we still had our backs to Him, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). He made the first move, and He calls us to forgive others as He has forgiven us. Forgiveness is often an ongoing decision, and it may take us months or years to work out, but God will empower us to release the bitterness and resentment that robs us of our joy.
So whether that person from your past is old or passed on, forgive.
Whether they wronged you horridly or slightly, forgive.
Whether they purposefully inflicted harm or neglectfully permitted it, forgive.
Whether they know their wrong or are completely oblivious, forgive.
This is a hard journey, friends, and one that may take us many months or years to travel. But it is a good road, a healing path, a life-giving way.
And the best part of the story?
He’s not finished with us yet.