Today we’ve had the opportunity to share the story of an incredible girl: Grace is a beautiful friend of the I Am Project, and we’re so proud of all that she is today. We asked her to share something of the story of how she got here – over to you, Grace:
I had a lot to forgive – I’ve was raped, bullied and sexually/emotionally abused throughout my childhood and adolescence, by several different people including my own family. I’ve been beaten down by many different people for as long as I can remember and out of all the abuse, words hurt the most. I grew up knowing I had no value, no worth and was regularly reminded by my abusers that it was a shame I was alive at all. The fact that I was a mistake was a stark reality for me. I quickly developed a daily habit of writing down everything I had failed at, and I knew deep down that I was such a bad person that I could never be forgiven. I was told by my parents as a young child that they had done all they could think of to fix me, but I was an inherently negative person, a disappointment, had gone too far and failed at too much to be worth redeeming. By 19 years old, I was bitter, angry and ready to give up.
At university, I was invited to church by a friend, and that day a total stranger at the door told me he was glad I was there. What he didn’t know was that nobody in my life had told me they were glad I was there. He didn’t have to be kind to me, he didn’t know anything of who I was and what I’d done, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. On that day, the Pastor said there was someone in the room whose life had started badly, gotten worse and worse, and now that person now wanted to end their life because it had gotten so bad. This was me. But, the Pastor said, God wants you to know that Jesus loves you with everything that you have done and all that you are. I ended up giving my life to this Jesus, whose love was so different to anything I’d experienced before. In that time, I began the journey of forgiveness.
We often have the attitude that people need to change their actions, or apologise, before we can possibly forgive them, that’s what I had been taught, but that is not what Jesus says at all. Jesus was abused, tortured and died on a cross, yet his attitude was ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’; before anyone apologised or changed their behaviour! Coming to know this truth radically changed my life.
Firstly, forgiveness is not something we do on our own.
We do not have the power or strength to forgive anyone, Jesus is the one who gives us that strength, when we choose to surrender our desire for revenge or resolution to Him, and let Him know we are willing to forgive, even though our feelings don’t necessarily line up with forgiving. Often that is a daily or even hourly choice, but I can honestly say the peace and freedom I have experienced in making those hard choices makes it more than worth it.
We can sometimes act like forgiveness is easy, but it actually has a cost: it costs your pride.
It means you can’t hold on to the hurt anymore. I spent years holding on to every hurt I experienced, and far from protecting me, it became a prison. I read this story of a man being bitten by a rattlesnake, and he said to the doctor, “will this bite kill me?”. The doctor replied, “the bite won’t kill you, but the poison will.” So often, this is us. We survive the hurt, the abuse, the rape, but it is the “poison” it leaves behind (fear, trauma, anxiety etc) that really hurts us. Forgiveness is the key to releasing us from that pain. The whole reason that we can forgive is that we have been forgiven. We can feel so ashamed of ourselves, believing we can’t be forgiven, that we hold other’s actions against them so we can feel better about our own shame. But Jesus is no longer counting our sins, so how can we count the sins of others?
Let’s be real: people hurting us, intentional or unintentional, can be painful beyond words – and the world tells us we shouldn’t forgive. For many years, I agreed with the world; but this only fuelled my bitterness. The only way I found peace was by setting them free, and in doing that, setting myself free. We think that if we forgive we are saying what they have done is ok, but that’s not true. The reality of my life is I no longer have a relationship with my abusers; forgiving doesn’t mean we allow the abuse to continue, but through forgiveness I’ve found myself praying passionately for God to forgive them and heal them of their brokenness! Jesus’ teaching is radical – it’s in total contrast to the need for justice and revenge that we would naturally hold on to; God is the one who judges. Since finding a church family who accepted, loved and fought for me right where I’m at, I’ve learned that if I am worthy of that, so is everybody else. There is no ‘worse’ or ‘better’ sin with God. We have all done things we would rather not have done. It was the reality of knowing I was totally forgiven that gave me strength to let go of the anger and resentment I was carrying, and forgive those who hurt me.
God’s forgiveness is in such radical contrast to what I understood it to be….. I knew it to be a threat. Let me explain. I would do something that in my dad’s eyes was wrong. He would randomly move his standards of right and wrong so I wouldn’t know whether what I was doing was right. So I’d do something he decided was wrong, and he would tell me off. But the moment I’d dread was when he said “I forgive you”, because that meant “now you have agreed to modify your behaviour, it will be ok, just never do it again”. So I was left with condemnation, an attachment to my past action of shame/guilt, and fear of doing the wrong thing again. BUT here’s the good news: Jesus doesn’t say that! He says He has washed us white as snow, removed our sins as far from us as the East is from the West. He says don’t forgive 7 times, but 77 times. God says he forgives our sins and remembers our wickedness no more. This means our sin no longer hangs over our life; we can be free!
Forgiveness is a constant choice, an attitude of the heart and mind; it is not a one-time decision. Have the people I forgave changed? No. Do I still have memories that hurt? Yes. But what I no longer have is anger and bitterness; I know I can take my hurts to God and leave them in His hands, rather than having to deal with it on my own. This has brought a freedom, peace and joy I never imagined possible. Try forgiving God’s way, and watch Him change your life!