Forgiveness may be one of the hardest things God asks us to do.
Not so sure? Well, think about Jonah.
Jonah was a prophet of God. His life was devoted to serving the Lord and following His will. But then God said, “Forgive the Ninevites.”
Now, remember who the Ninevites were. They weren’t the innocent-looking people so often portrayed in Sunday school lessons. They were cruel and wicked and enemies of God’s people. It would be the equivalent of God saying to us, “I want you to go to the Middle East to forgive ISIS.”
I’m sure you remember Jonah’s initial response. He ran. In fact, he tried to get as far away from God as he could.
Maybe you can relate. Our guest on yesterday’s and today’s program certainly can.
Like Jonah, Leslie Leyland Fields ran as far away from the pain in her life as she could. She ran by moving away to college, then by marrying young and moving 5,000 miles away to Alaska. She also ran by severing her heart from the forgiveness she needed to extend to the people who had hurt her, namely her father.
Growing up, Leslie’s father was rarely around. He was an unsuccessful traveling salesman who lost job after job until, eventually, no one would hire him. Her mom did what she could, but Leslie and her siblings survived on meager amounts of food and threadbare clothes. They were mocked by classmates incessantly.
But even harder than her living conditions was her father’s complete emotional absence. He never expressed any love whatsoever to Leslie and her siblings. It was as if they were invisible. There was also sexual abuse in her family that was kept hidden for a long time.
The secrets were as deep as her wounds. It’s not uncommon for families who have survived painful circumstances to be muzzled by a deafening silence. It’s often been that way with my family of origin. My siblings and I are close, and we love each other, but we’ve never been able to talk together about the ugly things we survived from our past. I’m sure a lot of you deal with something similar in your families.
And maybe, like Leslie, you feel trapped by bitterness, and forgiveness seems impossible. Forgiveness is about letting go of our anger toward someone who’s hurt us. That can be tough if you’ve confused “forgiving” with “excusing” and feel like God is forcing you to consider the wrong done to you as acceptable.
But this simply isn’t true. Forgiveness never waters down the awful nature of an offense. In fact, forgiveness really isn’t about the offending person at all. Its purpose is to release our own heart from the resentment that accompanies emotional pain.
Another hurdle to overcome is the idea that forgiveness always occurs in a single moment and that our pain will instantly disappear. The truth is forgiveness is often a process of letting go. It’s okay to forgive someone to the degree that you’re able by God’s grace at that time. Then, as you move forward, your healing will allow you to forgive more, and your forgiveness will, in turn, lead to more healing.
That was Leslie’s story. She struggled for years to forgive her father, and even though her story didn’t end the way she would have wanted, God used her troubling circumstances to give her true life in Christ.
I encourage you to hear her full story on yesterday’s and today’s program. Leslie is a writer, a speaker, the mother to six children, the author of a number of books, and works with her husband in the commercial fishing industry in Alaska.
Many of you are living in a place of pain and want someone to talk to about how to let go of your bitterness. Some of you may want to know how to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ, the very foundation for being able to forgive. Even if you’ve been a Christian for a long time, you may have spent 10, 20, 30 years or more running like Jonah from the decision to forgive someone who’s hurt you.
You don’t have to live under that burden anymore. Many people think the cost of forgiveness is too high or that it will set them up to get hurt all over again. The reality is that the cost of not forgiving is even higher.
Whatever pain you’re experiencing, if you feel hopeless, and you’re not sure what to do, you can call us. We have caring Christian counselors here who can help you toward the next step of your journey. Call 800-A-FAMILY or visit the “Family Help” section of our website for additional answers to problems you may be facing.