Three years. That’s how long I let the poison stay.⠀⠀
I once heard unforgiveness is like poison. We drink it, hoping the other person suffers.⠀⠀
After I left an abusive relationship, I didn’t want to forgive. I feared forgiving the years of complicated hurt would give God the go-ahead to send me back. So instead I held on tight.⠀⠀
The abuse broke me down, but the unforgiveness locked in the pain. It wrapped around the memories, hardening them in a bitter seal. It encased my heart in in a self-protective layer that kept me from connection. The poison blurred my vision and I saw the world through the lens of victimhood. It pulsed through my veins, with anger bubbling just below the surface.⠀⠀
The decision to forgive had to start with a renewed trust in God. I trusted Him with small things, but this felt too important to let go. I needed to believe He could protect me and wouldn’t send me back unless it was safe. ⠀⠀
When I surrendered to this deeper trust, He pulled out the poison. He drew the pain from my body and mind. He removed the scales so I could see clearly again. He showed me I could trust, as He relentlessly pursued me and softened my heart. ⠀⠀
When He removed the poison, I was finally free. But I needed to surrender to Him fully. The antidote to my unforgiveness was trust. That’s when the work began.
If forgiveness is hard for you, you’re not alone. I just did a quick google search for “how to forgive” and pulled up 276,000,000 results. Oof. ⠀
I am right there with Lewis. I love the idea of forgiveness, in theory. ⠀
I am right there with Peter who asked Jesus, “How many times do I have to forgive? Is there a limit?” (No Peter, the limit does not exist). ⠀
And I am right there with you. ⠀
I’m with you in the gut wrenching pain as you try to navigate how to forgive the fresh hurt.⠀
I’m with you as you clench your fists around your desire for justice, fearful that forgiving means letting them off the hook.⠀
I’m with you as you hold your breath and wait for the apology to begin forgiving. ⠀
I’m with you as you shield your eyes in shame, afraid to pray. What if He is tired of forgiving me over and over again, you wonder.⠀
And I am with you with that broken record of your past mistakes playing on a loop in your mind. ⠀
We’re called to keep forgiving. But this is hard work. ⠀
I don’t have better answers than the millions of others who talk about this subject. But I know a God who pours His grace over my wrongs every day. He forgives me seventy times seven thousand. And this month I want to point you towards His truth and His heart as we walk together through this forgiveness work.
What questions do you have about forgiveness?
Since January, I’ve been learning how to play piano. It’s slow going, but it brings me a lot of joy to be able to play and sing worship music (even in the comfort of my own home). Sometimes I play in front of others, but mostly it’s just me and Jesus in my dining room.
On Monday nights I’m the worship leader for a group at church, which usually means coordinating the song selection, facilitating practice, and leading vocally on some of the songs. Occasionally, as needed, I also jump in and play keyboard. It’s clunky and a little awkward and I often apologize for my piano skills over the mic because I am a perfectionist and want others to know that I’m aware that it’s not good. How silly.
The point of worship is to glorify the Lord, not ourselves. I have come to believe that the gift of worship leading is to help usher others into the presence of the Lord, and to help a community of believers come together to offer God our praise. But sometimes, I still make it about me. If I’m in my head too much, I end up thinking about the quality of our playing and singing instead of the quality of my heart. And that is pride at its worst.
This Monday night, I lost sight of the greater purpose of worship. During our team’s practice time, I self-consciously stumbled my way through the music. I just could not get my fingers to work right and I kept losing my place in the music. When my team tried to offer suggestions I kind of snapped, and had to step away in an almost-panic attack. I closed the door of the bathroom behind me and leaned against the door with tears stinging in my eyes. I prayed for forgiveness for my heart, for my lack of humility, for my desire for control. I came out and apologized sincerely to our team. They met me with the sweetest grace and encouragement. During worship time later that night, my playing was not perfect, but my heart was better. And I know the Lord was still there and He was lifted up. Not me. As it should be.
I came home from group that night and beat myself up. About my perfectionism, my pride, my control issues. I wallowed in the fact that I sinned against God and my teammates.
I sat for a while that evening so aware of my own sinful nature. I wandered down a shame spiral- starting to list the other areas of my life where I have messed up. I started drudging up things from last month, last year, 10 years ago. And this was over a fairly small grievance. The shame spirals are wider, deeper, and last much longer over sins that I perceive to be even more severe.
Do you ever do this?
Learning to Let Go
God extends forgiveness and grace to cover our sins AS SOON as we reach out and ask Him for it.
My friends extended grace and compassion to me. They forgave me and let me know that it was okay.
I have to remind myself that when I go down those rabbit trails of looking at my own sin and failures, I am not walking in the freedom that God has given me. I have a hard time forgiving myself and letting go of what has already been covered.
There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is godly sorrow over our wrongdoings, which is meant to lead us to repentance. When we experience guilt, it is conviction from the Holy Spirit. Guilt draws us to our knees to ask God to make our hearts right with Him and with others. Guilt says, “That specific action, thought, or word was not okay. Let’s go make it right with God and the people that may have been hurt by that.” Guilt recognizes our responsibility in wrong-doings and brings empathy along with it. And when we offer our sin up to the Lord, He makes us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Our sin is removed as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
But shame? That is not from the Lord. Shame has a painful grip, and says to me “YOU are a mess. YOU are too broken for forgiveness. YOU are a bad person.” It takes my eyes off of others and brings them fully onto me. Shame separates me from the Lord and others, and often makes me isolate. I feel disgraced and find myself wanting to hide. While guilt spurs us to action, shame is chaotic and paralyzing.
Last night I was reading 2 Corinthians 3, and came across this verse:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
When I am sucked into a shame spiral, I push out the Spirit of the Lord. Because shame holds us captive.
When I encounter shame, I need to remind myself to invite the Spirit of the Lord in to remind me of His forgiveness. Of His grace for me. Of His ability to let go of my past.
And if He, the creator of the universe and a perfect Father can let go of my past, I can too.
I am learning to let go. To step out of the spiral and invite His Spirit of freedom to enter in. To remember that I can learn from these times when I stumble. To say “it is finished” and move forward with confidence that He is continually making me more like Him. To speak kindly to myself, with the words that He gives me as reminders of His grace.
If you struggle with letting go of your past or shame too, I want to share some verses and a prayer to encourage you today.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9)
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” (Psalm 103:8-12)
“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame,” (Isaiah 50:7)
“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed,” (Psalm 34:5)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” (John 1:12-14, 16)
You are not a god that is far away, looking down on me with a wagging finger of disappointment. You are a loving, perfect parent. You see me as Your sweet and precious child. You welcome me into Your arms. Thank You for the GIFT of redemption and forgiveness that we can receive through Your love and through Christ’s sacrifice for us. Lord, I pray for Your Spirit of freedom to be close to me. Help me to remember Your Truth about Your mercy and love. I pray for strength and courage to let go of my past. Help me to see that it is not helpful for me to drag around self-condemnation. I pray for Your guidance to learn to walk with confidence in the knowledge that I am wholly forgiven and redeemed. Thank You for loving me for exactly who I am. I pray that I could bring YOU glory in the way that I walk that out. I love You Lord.