I’ve been focusing on the importance of forgiving one another because I think that the ability to forgive and forget is the most powerful asset any of us can develop. A friend’s experience illustrates what happens when past wrongs and burdens are left with the Lord.
Sue’s father sexually abused her when she was in the fourth grade. She pleaded with her mother to do something, but her mother accused her of lying. She finally went to her teacher and was put in a foster home. But incredibly, her foster home also abused and neglected her, so she went through another uprooting. By the time she was 16, she had been through four foster homes and a failed adoption.
Sue’s situation should have landed her in a mental hospital or at least turned her into a gloomy, bitter woman. And Sue will be the first to agree. “I struggled for years,” she says. “I felt betrayed by everyone around me. Even therapy didn’t help. Hate filled me and I tried to kill myself twice. But then I started going to church with my last set of foster parents. One Sunday the preacher talked about ‘Cast Thy Burden Upon the Lord’ and I opened my Bible.”
Psalm 56:11 jumped out of the page at her, “In God have I put my trust: I will not be afraid what man can do unto me.” For many weeks Sue prayed for the strength to forgive her parents, her abusive foster home and the system that failed her. She wanted desperately to rid herself of the burden that threatened to crush her.
“It happened all of a sudden. One minute my heart felt so swollen and hard I thought I’d suffocate. And the next moment, it literally melted. Ten years of anguish vanished, and I knew I was free.”
Notice that although Sue said “It happened all at once,” she didn’t mean that she just asked the Lord once and her burden disappeared. Sue prayed “for weeks” and she didn’t pray half-heartedly, either. She spent hours on her knees, pleading with God to heal her. Her efforts were in direct proportion to the magnitude of her need.
Today Sue, married to a fine, loving man and the mother of two children, holds a graduate degree from Stanford. The Light of Christ shines from her eyes. She volunteers at a convalescent home four mornings a week and teaches Sunday School. Most amazing to me, she recently reconnected with her family. I heard her on the phone to her parents, saying “I love you” with total sincerity.
Sadly, another friend, Amy, has reacted to tragedies in her life much differently; she constantly finds insults and slights where none are intended. She had a handicapped child die; the stress of the child’s illness broke her marriage, and one of her teenagers set fire to his school. She stopped going to church, because she felt everybody whispered about her and thought she deserved her problems. “I’m tired of being ignored,” she told me. “I’m not going to put up with it anymore.”
When I asked her if she told anyone how she felt, she answered, “They should know. The priest should have counseled me and given me direction, but he never said a word.”
Amy chose to keep her wounds open and let rancor grow, instead of realizing that most people didn’t mean to hurt her. Even if they did, holding the hurt inside and letting it grow just made her bitter and angry and accomplished nothing.
These incidents taught me that no matter what happens or what another person does, I must forgive. The bile of bitterness shrivels the soul and kills the spirit. No one can afford the luxury of holding onto “righteous indignation.” There’s nothing righteous about indignation. That label was snuck in by Satan to convince us not to let anybody “trample on our rights.” While we’re busy defending ourselves and striking back at our attackers, we solidify the chains of pain that keep us in the Devil’s power.