As I sat through the funeral service, I couldn’t concentrate on the words being spoken. I kept hearing a still, small voice in my head.
“Extend forgiveness,” the voice urged.
It was my first time back in this church building since my husband had resigned his position as pastor of the congregation nearly five months earlier. Two days after the resignation, I learned the true reason behind the shocking announcement: he had been having an affair with a woman in the church. That woman was in the funeral service with me.
“Extend forgiveness,” the voice again urged.
“But, I don’t forgive,” I argued in my spirit. “She doesn’t deserve my forgiveness.”
As I argued with God throughout the funeral, He began to wear me down. Eventually, I thought, “Maybe if I tell her I forgive her, it will free her from her guilt and shame. Maybe she can go on with her life and save her failing marriage.”
As we all filed out of the sanctuary at the end of the service, I found myself in a sea of people, many of whom had been deeply hurt first by our resignation and then by the revelation of the affair. I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions. It had been hard enough to muster the courage to step back in this place. Now, God wanted me to approach the woman who had taken everything I held dear.
Then, I saw her. Still arguing with God, I began to walk toward her with a determination that could only come from God. Much to her surprise (and mine), I wrapped my arms around her and whispered in her ear, “I forgive you. If we let Him, God can take this entire mess and use it for something amazing in our lives.”
With that, I walked away. Something inside of me had changed, though. The burden I had carried for nearly five months seemed lighter. The anger inside of me had dissipated. There was joy in my heart, a smile on my face. Peace seemed to flow through me.
I had approached her in obedience to God expecting to set her free; instead, I walked away from that encounter unshackled from the bondage of unforgiveness.
That moment has served as a spiritual marker in my life for over four years. The memory is as clear now as it was on that January day. I learned some valuable lessons, lessons that I try to share with others every chance I get.
1. Forgiveness is not something I do; forgiveness is something God does through me. When I walked toward her, I did not want to forgive her. I did not intend to forgive her. But, I was walking in obedience to God. Because He was telling me to forgive, I chose to be obedient. My obedience was simply the conduit through which His forgiveness could flow.
2. Forgiveness is not conditional upon the other person’s actions. My anger and bitterness toward this woman never returned—even when I discovered she was still seeing my husband several months later. God’s forgiveness had allowed me to put the anger and bitterness behind me and move forward with my life.
3. Forgiveness is not conditional on the outcome of the situation. My husband and I eventually divorced as a result of their continued affair. My life was once again turned upside down and ripped apart. But, forgiveness toward her continued to be the attitude of my heart.
4. Forgiveness sets me free. For months, I had been locked in a prison of anger towards this woman. I had found that it was easier to be angry with her than with my husband—the one I still lived with, loved, and had pledged my life to. I had no idea how trapped I was—until I walked away in freedom that day. Lack of forgiveness prevents you from enjoying the abundant life Christ came to offer. When we choose to let anger and bitterness rule in our hearts, we choose to forfeit the very blessings Christ came to give us. We choose to trample upon the sacrifice that God gave—forgiveness through the blood of His very own son.
5. Forgiveness does not always mean restoration. This woman and I had been friends prior to the affair. We had spent days hanging out at her pool, gone out together to enjoy girls’ night out. However, I don’t see that ever happening again. I can forgive her, but I do not have to include her in my inner circle. However, I can still treat her with kindness and respect, as a sister in Christ.
6. Sometimes forgiveness is not a once-for-all situation. Sometimes, forgiveness becomes a daily choice. It requires letting go of the anger, asking God to daily direct my steps, and allowing God’s forgiveness to flow through me. It requires me taking up the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), being transformed daily by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). I have forgiven my ex-husband, but it has been a daily process of choosing God’s way over my own.
This woman did not deserve my forgiveness that day. Then again, I didn’t deserve Christ’s forgiveness when He willingly laid down His life at Calvary for me. I didn’t have to change for Christ to forgive me. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NLT). If this is the type of forgiveness He offers me, shouldn’t I be willing to extend that same forgiveness to others?
Perhaps there is someone in your life that has wronged you, someone that you need to forgive. They may not deserve your forgiveness, but I remind you that you didn’t deserve Christ’s forgiveness. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:31-32). You are not capable of forgiving on your own; however, God is waiting for you to come to Him, to ask Him to allow His forgiveness to flow through you. Take the step of obedience today, and choose forgiveness. You will experience a freedom that only Christ can give!
One final thought… You might need to start by forgiving yourself. Remember, God considered you worthy of forgiveness. Who are you to say that you don’t deserve a gift that Christ so lovingly lavished upon us?
Dena Johnson is a busy single mom of three kids who loves God passionately. She delights in taking the everyday events of life, finding God in them, and impressing them on her children as they sit at home or walk along the way (Deuteronomy 6:7). Her greatest desire is to be a channel of God’s comfort and encouragement. You can read more of Dena’s experiences with her Great I AM on her blog Dena's Devos.