Written by: Chelsea Wisley
Years ago, I had experienced deep hurt and betrayal from someone I loved. Even though he was no longer in my life, I was carrying a heavy load of bitterness, anger, disappointment, and pain. At the same time, the pain I was experiencing had also driven me back to pursuing Jesus, so I was able to see His sovereign hand in allowing it. I held nothing against God, but I could not let go of my resentment towards the person who had wronged me. As I lived what I believed was a life of surrender to Him, I tried to push all the bitterness down.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I didn’t want to let go of it. Somehow I felt that if I surrendered my resentment to the Lord and granted this person forgiveness, then I was minimizing the wrong that had been done to me. I didn’t realize that I was actually standing in the way of the healing that God wanted to do in my heart.
Around that same time, I was pursuing membership at the local church where I had been attending and growing in my faith. As a single woman, I was paired with the wife of one of the elders for my membership interview. She was (and still is) a very godly, discerning woman. We clicked right away and had a wonderful conversation about the Lord. The tone of our meeting was light and encouraging, and I could never have anticipated what was coming.
Right before the end of our time together, as we were bowing to pray, she suddenly looked up and said, “Okay, this may seem strange, but the Holy Spirit keeps prompting me to ask you something that I don’t typically ask in these meetings. Is there someone from whom you are withholding forgiveness?” I felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. We had not even touched on this part of my life. How could she have known? I became really uncomfortable---the best word is probably squirmy---and I immediately started to make excuses and attempted to divert the conversation. She saw right through it, and asked me again. I finally stammered out an answer that I thought would get me off the hook: “Well, I’m in the process of forgiving someone.”
She looked me right in the eye with boldness and gentleness, and the next thing she uttered changed my life: “The idea of forgiveness being a process is a lie. Forgiveness is a choice and an act of obedience...are you ready to choose to obey?” The amount of resistance that instantly welled up inside of me was alarming. Indignation and defensiveness wrapped their iron grip around my heart and squeezed hard. It felt so unfair. Why should I have to forgive someone who had hurt me so much?
The answer came almost immediately, a quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). God had forgiven me abundantly, beyond measure. How could I continue to justify denying someone else even a fraction of the grace that had been extended to me? But the walls of resentment I had built were strong and would not fall easily. With tears in my eyes, I asked her if she would help me.
What followed was one of the most freeing events of my life. Together, we knelt before the feet of Jesus. She asked Him to give me the strength to surrender my bitterness to Him and to walk in obedient forgiveness. I confessed my sin of unforgiveness and asked Jesus to free me from the shackles of resentment. As I prayed, I made the choice to forgive the one who had hurt me. In that moment, true healing began.
Lewis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” I left the meeting that day forgiven and free. Not only was I no longer tied down by the heavy weight of the sinful grudge I’d held, but I had a new understanding of the truth: because of the forgiveness God gives me, I can surrender my hurts to Jesus and make an immediate choice to obey Him by forgiving those who sin against me.
I wish I had room to explain how transformative it has been in my life to now understand forgiveness as a choice rather than a lengthy process. It has allowed me to heal from childhood trauma and to make peace in relationships that I thought were irreparable. It has helped me to grow in my understanding of the lavish grace Christ gives me and to love Jesus with a freedom and a gratitude that I had never before experienced. It has knocked me off my high horse of pride and made me well-acquainted with the level ground at the foot of the cross. It has given me a testimony of redemption and healing and beauty from ashes that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Oh, and the person that God freed me to forgive? He also has a beautiful testimony of God’s grace and of learning to forgive sinful people. How do I know this? I’ve been blessed to be his wife for nine years.