As I listened to the woman sharing how God helped her forgive her abusers, my heart ached. Her story mirrored some details in my past, but I couldn’t pretend to understand exactly how she felt. I couldn’t duplicate the ways she processed her pain, either.
Every innocent victim’s journey toward healing is complex and unique. There are no pat answers or secret formulas to help victims work through emotions and move forward.
Each one of us needs our healing path and pace to be respected. We need support from family, from friends, and often from professionals. We need understanding and, most importantly, patience and prayer.
There are no normal timelines in a person’s road to healing.
When we arrive at that crossroad moment and are faced with the choice of forgiving or clinging to unforgiveness, we need grace . . . especially God’s life-changing grace.
While that woman shared her heartbreaking story, I realized I’d been deceiving myself for years.
I’ve moved on. I’ve gotten over it. I don’t think about it anymore.
I was wrong, so wrong.
Although I’d went on with my life, I’d never forgiven those whose actions made me an innocent victim.
Without even realizing it, I’d settled for a guarded life behind a self-imposed prison of unforgiveness and armed myself with fear, bitterness, and denial.
I had allowed unforgiveness to control me and hinder me from embracing the completeness of my freedom in Christ, making my past an anchor.
But as I continued to get closer to God, the more I loved Him, believed Him, and trusted Him, I couldn’t escape that crossroad decision.
Would I forgive as I’d been forgiven? Could I?
As I listened to the woman’s sharing about what forgiving her abusers had done for her, I wanted so badly to experience that peace.
Forgiving wasn’t about letting my offenders off the hook, but being freed from them for good.
With support from my husband and God’s limitless power and patience, I finally understood radical forgiveness was hinged on learning what forgiveness is and isn’t.
In Total Forgiveness (pp. 11-19), R.T. Kendall states forgiveness is not approving, excusing, or justifying the hurtful actions of others.
Forgiving is not pardoning the offender, because we’re not authorized to do what only God can do as the only rightfully crowned Judge.
By forgiving, we’re not denying what happened, turning a blind eye to the offense, or even forgetting how we were hurt. The Lord never asks us to minimize our hurts by not taking the offenses seriously or pretending the scars don’t exist.
When we choose radical forgiveness, we’re breaking down every wall of denial and facing the facts of what happened to us or the person we care about, so that true healing can begin.
A false belief about forgiveness is that reconciliation is mandatory. But reconciliation means both parties admit the offense and agree to restore the relationship, which is not always possible, healthy, or safe.
However, we can be blessed with restoration.
Restoration: a personal revival, the restitution of what was taken or lost, a dignified process of renewal that no one can prevent us from experiencing through the love of Christ.
God’s goodness is not tainted when bad things happen and innocent people are hurt in this fallen world.
Our compassionate Father grieves with us and remains close to the brokenhearted. He affirms nothing will remain hidden, that all people will have to give an account to Him for every action and every thought (Matthew 12:36; 1 Corinthians 4:5).
In light of all Christ has done, in light of all He promises to do, in light of His perfect love for us, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . even when it feels impossible and even when it doesn’t make sense.
Whenever I have a hard time placing offenders in God’s hands, I think about Joseph (Genesis 37-50).
His jealous brothers sold him to slavery and lied to their father about his disappearance. When Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attacking her, Joseph was imprisoned for years. He suffered abuse, endured betrayal, and bore the negative consequences of someone else’s actions.
We don’t know everything that happened to him during those years of enslavement and imprisonment, but we know how he responded to God.
Joseph lived in freedom and peace, despite his past or his current circumstances.
No matter what happened to him, Joseph trusted God, praised God, and obeyed God.
The Lord remained with Joseph and, at the right time, placed him in a position of power over Pharaoh’s house. When famine struck Egypt and his brothers showed up to ask for help, Joseph forgave them and everyone else who had hurt him.
Joseph knew God hadn’t wasted his journey.
Though he had every right and reason to be angry, Joseph had placed the past behind him and didn’t even bring up the past or seek revenge on those who had hurt him along the way.
Only healthy processing and peace through God’s power could have kept Joseph focused on the Lord’s purpose and allowed him to trust God to choose how justice would be served.
Radical forgiveness is impossible without God’s help.
Radical forgiveness doesn’t make sense.
Radical forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender or the offense.
By faith, we’re acknowledging that sin is sin and admitting we’re all sinners compared to our perfect and holy God, not one another.
As we place ourselves and our offenders in God’s hands, we’re accepting our freedom and declaring our trust in God’s character.
By forgiving we’re proclaiming our belief in God’s sovereign care and our confidence in God as the only rightful and completely trustworthy Judge.
We can trust God to bring all things to light, to right all wrongs, to hold all accountable in His way and in His time.
Through radical forgiveness, innocent victims break free from the bondage of the hurt that threatens to steal the joy, peace, and hope that is rightfully our inheritance as God’s beloved children.
Lord, there are some offenses and some offenders that feel impossible to forgive when we’re working with the wrong definition of forgiveness. Please help us remember Your command to release offenders into Your hands is intended as a first step toward restoring what was taken from us. Please help us trust You, as You make us more like You, so we can live the new life promised through You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)
When I started planning this series a few months ago, I’d been asking God to help me forgive a few people in my life who had not admitted their sins against me or repented.
I wanted to obey God. I wanted to forgive. Period.
So, I asked for a heart-check and began studying what God says about forgiveness.
In my B.J. (Before Jesus) days, I boasted being a master at casting blame on the people I’d hurt. If I hurt them, they must have done something to provoke me. Besides, what they did was way worse than what I did. Right?
After Jesus exposed my plank-in-eye syndrome, I saw how justifying, minimizing, and excusing my sin worsened the hurt I’d caused others and pushed me further away from them and from God.
I’ve always had a hard time letting go of the hurt when receiving surface-apologies. These poor attempts at repentance usually begin with a phrase like, “I’m sorry you feel hurt, but . . .”
It’s painful when someone claims you caused their hurtful actions. It’s like an abuser saying, “I’m sorry I hit you, but you made me do it.”
Not only is that a lie, it’s passive-aggressive manipulation.
It took me years to realize the victim mentality, common in one who has not processed or healed from past pain, often resembles an abuser’s mentality.
My heart grieved when God began to help me recognize those destructive behaviors in others close to me, and even in myself.
Learning how to embrace the art of radical forgiveness required me to learn how to process my own pain in a healthy and holy way.
I used to slip on my victim-jersey, look for hints of offenses against me, and eagerly tell the world how I’d been wronged.
I named names and shared details with whoever would listen.
I disguised my gossip as prayer requests and enjoyed when people felt sorry for me or took my side. It felt good when people admired me for being so strong or so kind after being so wronged.
But in 2005, when I first read Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, God used the following statement to convict me on how I processed my pain:
“If you must tell another person what happened‒because you can’t contain the pain‒tell only one, and choose someone who won’t repeat it.” (p. 10)
By the time I re-read Total Forgiveness in 2009, God had carried me through plenty of tough ordeals that required me to put this skill into practice.
In one situation, mutual friends informed me someone was gossiping and slandering my name.
While I wanted to come to my defense, God stilled my tongue.
Oh, how I wanted to pray for vengeance like the psalmists who stood on the retribution principle.
But God made it clear I wasn’t supposed to tell Him how to fix my offender, prove how wrong they were, or demand everyone be told the truth about what really happened.
Instead, often through sobs and a few layers of stubborn pride, I remembered how Jesus prayed for those who cheered as He was crucified.
I asked Him to help me forgive.
The Lord wants none to perish. If my desire is to be more Christ-like, I would want none to perish, too, wouldn’t I?
Surely a trustworthy King would provide healing care, perfect justice, and fight on my behalf.
He did. He does. And He’ll continue to do so.
Being committed to radical forgiveness is a lifetime process of learning . . . and failing.
With my identity more secured in Christ, I re-read Total Forgiveness in 2014 after being hurt deeply by someone close to me. I praised God that I no longer felt the immediate need to play the victim and demand justice when I’d been hurt.
He helped me process my pain through personal prayer and Bible study. I shared minimal details with a couple of prayer partners who promised not to judge, who desired reconciliation and prayed for restoration, and who weren’t afraid to tell me when I was in the wrong.
By God’s grace, that relationship is now stronger than ever! Hallelujah!
I don’t always handle situations perfectly, but I’ve finally accepted I’m not defined by my sin or controlled by the sins of others.
Being rooted in my relationship with God makes forgiving a demonstration of my confidence in His trustworthiness and loving care.
In Matthew 18:21-35, the apostle Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. Jesus’s answer is interpreted as perfect forgiveness, ongoing and complete, just like Christ has forgiven us.
Jesus shared the story of a servant begging for mercy when confronted with his insurmountable debt to the king (vv.23-26). Once forgiven, that servant went out and found another servant who owed him, demanded payment, and refused to extend the mercy he’d received from the king (vv. 27-30).
In referring to how the king responded to the unforgiving servant (vv. 31-34), Jesus said: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (v. 35)
As Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune so eloquently said, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting, it’s letting go of the hurt.”
When we’re committed to living in radical forgiveness, God helps us realize our sin is no better or no worse than the sins of others.
He’ll help us trust Him to protect our reputations and heal our wounds, even when the scars run deep.
God will handle every offense and offender justly.
So, we don’t need to tell everyone how someone wounded us. We don’t need to prove we’re right and someone else is wrong. And we don’t need others to admit their transgressions before we forgive them.
When we submit to God and truly believe His grace is sufficient and His love unconditional, we can be freed by forgiveness, expecting and extending mercy . . . unlike that wicked servant.
Radical forgiveness is simply loving obedience to God.
Forgiveness is not forgetting, minimizing, justifying, or accepting sin.
Forgiveness never requires us to pretend we weren’t hurt or to allow the offender into our personal space to hurt us more.
On the contrary, forgiveness demands an honest look at the situation as we trust God to work.
It’s important to remember that we don’t always play a part in the sinfulness.
Yet, even when we truly are innocent victims, we can forgive because we trust God’s sovereign goodness and love will prevail as we’re all brought to account before His throne.
I’ll share more on how God is helping me accept this hard truth next week.
Until then, we can admit embracing radical forgiveness is hard and sometimes feels impossible.
But we can also expect God’s help.
Because forgiveness isn’t a preference or a choice.
God gives us a mandate, not an option, to forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . because He equips His followers to be freed by submission to His authority and empowered by His Spirit to live in courageous obedience and faith.
Lord, thank You for loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us to forgive. Please help us process our hurts in ways that honor You. Help us recognize our sins and repent without excusing or blaming others for our sinful behaviors. Please prepare our hearts as we continue to dig into Your Word and discover what forgiveness is and isn’t. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Photo taken by and used with permission from Dr. W. A. Dixon, Sr., my amazing husband and best friend.
Meme created by X.E. Dixon.
You can join me in reading Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, as we continue this journey toward experiencing the freedom of radical forgiveness.
(Suggested Reading: Luke 23:32-43)
Though a friend accused me of something I didn’t do, made hurtful comments, and chose to sever our relationship, I continued praying for her and believed we’d work out our differences when she was ready to discuss the situation. When a mutual friend referred to me as this person’s ex-friend, I decided to forgive her as I began to process my shock, anger, and sorrow. Still, resentment and bitterness began to take root in my heart.
Although I knew the answer and didn’t want to hear it, I cried out to God. “What do You want me to do, Lord?”
But she hurt my feelings.
But she’s gossiping about me.
But she hasn’t even apologized.
As I wrestled with the Lord, He reminded me of the countless times He’d extended undeserved mercy toward me and led me to Luke 23:32-43.
While Jesus hung on the cross, He willingly submitted to the nails that pierced His hands and feet. As an atonement for our sins, He paid the insurmountable debt our wickedness earned.
Christ’s love paved the way for a clean slate through His unfathomable offer of radical forgiveness.
Looking on the ones who cheered for His execution‒those who mocked the King of Kings without remorse or repentance‒Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).
The ones He asked the Father to forgive weren’t remorseful . . . at all.
Yet, R.T. Kendall states that “[asking] the Father to forgive them showed that not only had [Jesus] forgiven them and released them from their guilt, but also that He asked His Father not to punish them or take revenge on them . . .” (Total Forgiveness, p. 3).
I considered the words Jesus cried out while hanging, bruised and bloody, on the cross . . . paying the price for my sins.
Have my attitudes or actions ever hurt the Lord or others without me knowing, or worse . . . without me even caring?
Have I ever gossiped or left a friend feeling abandoned or betrayed?
Have I unintentionally spoken unkind words or deliberately wounded someone with well-crafted harsh words?
Have I cast blame or refused to take responsibility for my wrongdoings?
Have I damaged or severed a relationship when processing my bruised feelings or healing from past hurts?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
As I imagined Christ hanging on the cross because of my countless offenses against Him and others, my complaints gave way to conviction.
I sobbed and asked for forgiveness.
The Lord didn’t need me to tell Him I’d been wronged. And I wasn’t helping or changing my situation by sinning in my anger or wallowing in my grief. So, I asked the Lord to help me release my offender into His loving and merciful hands.
No more pleas for payback.
No more daydreams of dishing out a cold bowl of revenge.
No more harboring resentment.
And no more pity-parties.
The more we pray blessings over our offenders, the more God helps us see them through His eyes of loving grace . . . and the more peace reigns in our hearts.
When we place the offense and the offender into God’s trustworthy hands, we no longer feel the need to demand apologies before forgiving.
We can choose right relationships with God and others, over insisting on being right or gloating in someone else’s remorsefulness.
We don’t have to miss out on God blessing us because we’re too busy being resentful, angry, or afraid over something we can’t change and something the offender isn’t losing sleep over.
In the situation with my ex-friend, I prayed for her to be overwhelmed with God’s love and blessed by His outpouring of kindness. We weren’t best buds when we saw each other again, but I wasn’t uncomfortable around her.
I was happy to hear how the Lord had blessed her since we’d last spoken. Not because the hurt didn’t matter or because I’d forgotten or healed completely, but because the Holy Spirit had empowered me to truly forgive her, even though she never apologized.
Choosing radical forgiveness enabled me to appreciate the time we shared as friends and freed me to trust God to empower me to love like Jesus loves.
Forgiving isn’t easy or natural to our self-centered flesh. But when we choose to forgive, the peace of God reigns and allows us to enjoy life without being derailed by tooth-decaying bites of bitterness.
There are some relationships I’m struggling with right now.
Forgiveness and reconciliation doesn’t always mean the restoration of a relationship.
Still, I’m asking God to reveal my part in the conflicts, to help me seek forgiveness for my wrongs, to forgive those who repent and seek forgiveness, and to empower me to prayerfully release all offenders to Him . . . even when they’re not remorseful.
As an imperfect human in desperate need of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, I’m sure I’ll need to forgive others and ask for forgiveness all the days of my life.
So, as I pray over my current relationships, I’m submitting to the Holy Spirit and digging deeper into Scripture.
I’m also rereading Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, a book God used to help me understand what forgiveness is and isn’t, as well as what He says about forgiveness in the Bible.
I look forward to growing with you, praying with you, and living in the freedom and peace only possible through Spirit-empowered radical forgiveness.
Lord, thank You for forgiving us and for empowering us to forgive. Please prepare our hearts to receive and submit to Your truth and love.
Show us our wickedness and lead us into the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). Help us recognize, confess, repent, and turn away from our sins. Please help us reconcile, even if restoration of the relationship isn’t possible, as we embrace the peace and freedom of living in radical forgiveness. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
(Suggested Reading: Psalm 150)
During my last appointment with my doctor, I thanked him for helping me improve over the last five years. Although I still struggle with chronic pain, I’m better than I was when I started this trek in September 2012.
I rejoiced over the little things I can do now, like writing for longer periods of time. I reveled in the small victories and even appreciated the battles that God used to strengthen my resolve and remind me how much I need and depend on Him.
It haven’t always embraced His peace. Sometimes, I struggle with discouragement, weariness, and doubt. But God’s been patient as He helps me experience the endless hope of surrender and contentment founded in knowing His ways are good because He is good.
After my appointment, I suffered another bout with severe spasms and a debilitating headache that lasted over 14 hours. The next morning, I praised the Lord. Why? Because those painful flare-ups have lasted for days in the past.
As I thanked the prayer warriors who interceded for me, even before they knew I was struggling, God reminded me about the power of praising Him through all circumstances.
When we begin to count the ways God’s been good to us and practice honest praise, it’s harder to drown our hope in discouragement.
The psalmists practiced honest praise.
They processed their emotions and shared their struggles. They recounted God’s merciful and mighty acts, always returning their focus to His unchanging goodness, unlimited power, and unhindered demonstrations of love.
The Lord doesn’t expect us to stuff our feelings or minimize our hurt. He doesn’t want us to pretend we’re perfect or act as if we never struggle.
He knows us, inside and out, and wants us to be real with Him . . . and others.
God can handle our mixed emotions. He can change our confusion to clarity, as we seek Him in His Holy Word. He can replace our anxiety with confidence, our uncertainty with wisdom and discernment. He can meet us in our weakness and empower us to stand firm in faith.
When we’re feeling weary, battling doubt, or ready to quit, God beckons us to lift our chins, inhale His peace, and exhale a whisper of praise.
The more we breathe in the countless ways the Lord has been good to us, the more we can sing His praises and trust His unchanging goodness.
A praise list begins with one thing that we can be grateful for, one thing we’ll choose to give thanks for. That one thing can incite our endless worship and gratitude as we praise the Father of Compassion, the Maker of the Universe, the Sustainer, Redeemer, and Deliverer whose love transforms us and changes the way we approach life.
We can praise God for the heavens, the starry skies that light the darkest nights, the sunsets that make us gasp in awe of His creativity, the puffs of clouds and rays of sun that warm our hearts with hope (Psalm 150:1, NIV).
We can praise God for His miracles, as well as the quiet moments when He simply makes His presence known (v. 2).
We can praise God for His greatness (v. 2). Oh, how the list goes on when we count the ways that God is great. Hallelujah!
Nothing compares to the magnitude of God’s love for us, the depth of His compassion for us, the measure of His sacrifices for us.
His greatness is revealed in His unchanging character, the perfection of His God-breathed words, and the dependability of His faithfulness.
We can praise God with the music we make and as we enjoy the songs nature sings for us (vv. 3-5).
We can count the ways He is great as we appreciate every detail in His vast creation, from the sweetness of honey to the intricate paint strokes on each flower petal He decorates.
Our great God listens to us, even when our prayers are silent tears that slip down our cheeks. Hallelujah!
Our great God remains with us, even when everyone else seems to have deserted us. Hallelujah!
Our great God understands us, even when we don’t understand ourselves. Hallelujah!
Our great God loves us . . . He loves us.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
When we’re counting the ways God loves us, the ways God has been there for us, the ways God has provided for us, the ways God has protected us, our praise will flow.
Lord, thanks for the opportunities to reflect on who You are, what You’ve done, and how much You’ve given us. Please fill us with gratitude as we consider all we have, instead of what we feel we lack. Help us appreciate every breath we take as a priceless gift to be treasured. Help us recognize every morning we wake up as another chance to praise You, to get to know You more, and to share You with others. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Photo taken by and used with permission from Ivonne Vargas.
Meme created by X. E. Dixon.
(Suggested reading – Proverbs 4:1-13)
Lord, thanks for Your inerrant Holy Word through which Your Holy Spirit reveals Your infallible truth and unchanging, perfect character.
Please give us listening hearts. Prepare us to submit our wills to align with Yours, as You help us understand and live in loving obedience to Your Word (vv. 1-4).
Empower us to walk in wisdom and courageous faith, Lord (v. 5).
Please help us give up everything that hinders us from surrendering our all to You, no matter what the personal cost (vv. 6-7).
Help us respect You and honor Your Word, even when the world mocks us and attempts to tempt us into wandering from Your perfect love and the eternal victory You’ve secured for us (vv. 8-9).
Give us ears to hear You, Lord.
Give us the discernment and courage we need to accept Your truth, and the strength and wisdom we need to follow You‒the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6; Proverbs 4:10-11).
Thanks for making our paths lead straight to You.
Strengthen us, fueling our confidence with Your promised care (vv. 12-13).
Though the road ahead often feels long and seems overrun with weeds of discouragement and doubt, You are our sure hope.
We need You. We praise You. We worship You, Lord.
Please continue to make Your presence known as You empower us to believe You and walk in Your wisdom, one brave step at a time.
In Jesus’s name,