Forgiveness sounds like a great idea until you’re the one who has to forgive.
I’ve had the opportunity to forgive many times in my life, and often, I’ve risen to the challenge, faced my resentments head on, and found a way to forgive people who have left me, cheated on me, gossiped about me, judged me, or stolen from me. That list could go on endlessly for me, and probably for every person on the planet. Perhaps longer yet is the list of the wrongs I’ve done to others; I’m no saint. I know the healing power of forgiveness from both sides.
In my life, there’s one person I have struggled with forgiving more than anyone else. I’ve done lip service to the idea of forgiving him before, but recently, I realized that I had never truly forgiven him.
This person is the man who raped me when I was 16 years old.
If you haven’t read my previous post, “Opening our mouths,” I’d suggest reading that post before finishing this one so you’ll have the context that created the feeling of unforgiveness, and you’ll find my fuel for forgiveness as well.
Over the past 16 years, I’ve known I needed to forgive him. I know that God instructs us to forgive those who do us wrong and to keep on forgiving them even when they continue to do us wrong. Honestly, I just wasn’t feeling it. For the most part, aside from a few PTSD-ish moments, I haven’t felt anger toward him for raping me, stealing my innocence, or causing me pain which led to a skewed ability to make healthy decisions. I mostly felt nothing toward him, nothing at all. As I worked through all the issues caused by the rape and the way it has affected my life in counseling, I read a book by Dan Allender about the effects of childhood sexual abuse. While I wasn’t repeatedly abused over a long period of time as a child, many of the things in the book hit home for me in a big way. In one of the last chapters, Allender addresses the need for the survivor to forgive the perpetrator, for multiple reasons–the survivor’s own recovery, the commandments from God regarding forgiveness, and even for the perpetrator’s own healing or redemption.
This chapter rubbed me the wrong way for an entire week. In fact, I became so angry reading it that I set the book down and did not pick it up again for several days. Because it bothered me so immensely, I knew I needed to keep reading it. It addressed the lack of motivation to forgive, and it asked me to contemplate the question, “If you had to make a choice to push a button to send the perpetrator to heaven or hell, which would you choose?”
That was easy.
I felt nothing when I had those thoughts. I didn’t smile a wicked smile or do what I call my “mad scientist” imitation. I just felt nothing. Total apathy.
I’ve always heard apathy is stronger than hate, and that’s true for me. How would I overcome this? How would I find motivation to forgive him? Why would I want to concern myself with his redemption, in this life or the life to come? I had no idea. But I began praying that God would help me do what was right–and that was to forgive him.
The fuel I needed to forgive him came from a devastating, unexpected place. I learned that someone closely related to him had been the victim of childhood sexual abuse. I can’t connect the dots for you out of respect for my friend, but the man who raped me very likely suffered the same abuse. Repeatedly. At a young age. Silently. From a friend of the family who everyone trusted, hailed as a great man, and relied on in many ways.
And the tears came. I grieved not only for my friend, but also for the man who raped me. I found myself feeling compassion, praying for him, and wanting to forgive him in order to unblock any barriers to his redemption.
While I don’t justify his decision to act out his hurt, bitterness, or anger on me or others, I certainly understand the pain motivating his decision. And that’s enough to lead me to crucify my right to resent him.
It has changed my heart.