My Forgiveness Journey

The Lord’s Prayer 2019

By Pastor Gavin Michaels

Before “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after,” there was a plan. The Creator himself, the originator of the “beginning and end,” put in place a forgiveness plan. He ordained each moment of each life. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”(Psalm 139:16). Though God chooses all to be His children, God foreknew that not all people would accept His forgiveness plan.

Forgiveness is a journey that is a matter of choice. My responsibility as a believer, is extend forgiveness as Jesus did. His servant-heart led Him to humble Himself and wash the feet of his followers. Never did he hesitate, even when it came to washing the feet of His betrayer.

The Message of the Cross

The forgiveness journey is completed in my ability to forgive others. Scripture tells us, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). It is my responsibility to embrace and live out the message of the cross. It might look something like this …

It was a hushed courtroom as the victims came forward to share their stories. They were stories of what had happened so long ago, but were recalled as if they had just happened. The memories and feelings were seared into the depths of their souls. Sexual abuse, it has been said, violates the sanctity of the inner soul.

I remember being called to the stand. It was the first time I recalled having a voice. As a victim, I got to tell our story. It was somewhat tainted by the defence lawyer trying to twist an already twisted story of horrific abuse.

It was almost as if I was not there, but I was. I remember focusing on the prosecutor. I vaguely remember seeing the perpetrator, my stepfather. I was to tell them my story, yet how do you face one who has wounded you so deeply?

A few short months later the sentence was handed down. “The facts involving this man are about as ugly as the court has ever seen,” Judge Peter Doherty told a hushed courtroom. “It’s hard to imagine a greater abuse of parental power.” I still recall reading the news story and thinking that hard to imagine moment was my reality. The judge continued, “He has destroyed their lives.”

Jesus Shares These Words

Apart from divine intervention, that would be true. However, I believe in and embrace the journey of forgiveness. Without forgiveness, I could not and would not heal. In the model prayer given by the Lord himself, Jesus shares these words: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”

I have come to a place where I believe that forgiveness is an immediate moment by moment choice as well as a process. I have asked the Lord many times for the ability to forgive as He does.

I need to be able to recognize my need for forgiveness in my personal journey, before I can extend it to others. I can be forgiven only to the extent that I have received, embraced, and extended that forgiveness to others.

Defining Forgiveness

It is not within me to forgive in human terms. Forgiveness starts with me recognizing that my feelings about someone else’s maltreatment is a separate and distinct issue that needs to be addressed.

To define forgiveness requires me to recognize that embracing unforgiveness is actually self-harming. The two definitions of forgiveness I believe in are:

The willingness to let go of self-harming or ineffective forms of anger, choosing instead to turn over ultimate resolution of the wrong doing to God.— Choosing to Forgive Workbook

To cease to feel resentment against an offender; to give up claim to requital from an offender; to grant relief from payment—The Courage to Heal

To begin the journey of forgiveness requires me to step out of my comfort zone and to step into God’s comfort zone. I must relinquish my right to be compensated and I must give over my journey to God’s plan.

Processing Abuse

So many people spend so much time embracing the pain and hurt of what they have gone through. I, too, have moments where I struggle with the pain and hurt caused by the wounds that have impacted my soul. The pain is caused because we had hoped for a safe, caring, emotionally intimate relationship. When that is betrayed, we feel violated. We then begin the journey of bereavement as we try to recoup our lost dignity. As a therapist, I teach people how to process the memories and feelings associated with abuse: Identify, acknowledge, embrace, validate, own, explore, put down, and let go.

The Choosing to Forgive Workbook is one of my favourite books. It has had a profound impact on my ability to embrace and extend forgiveness. Through it, I have gained some insight into understanding forgiveness.

I must first recognize what forgiveness is and is not. Forgiveness recognizes that there are healthy forms of anger. It is when I embrace bitterness and resentment that I let unforgiveness own my soul. Forgiveness is not…

  • Allowing others to disrespect your needs and boundaries
  • Telling the wrongdoer that the past is no longer significant and everything’s fine now
  • Pretending to go back to normal relations as if nothing happened
  • Denying that you may still have to live with the pain caused by the wrongful deed

To live with the pain caused from the wrongful deed is to live a forgiveness journey moment by moment. So, what does forgiveness look like?

  • You will let go of the demand for repayment, particularly as you have exhausted all reasonable attempts at restitution or restoration.
  • You will choose to give up any obsessions regarding the wrongdoer, recognizing, instead, that you have better things to give your attention to
  • You will be willing to refrain from the ongoing temptation to insult the wrongdoer
  • You will give yourself permission to make life choices that will lead to contentment and peace

How Would I Know?

Contentment and peace can only be experienced as I embrace receiving the Lord’s forgiveness. His compassion and grace in my life allow me to share that with others. I was once asked how I know I had forgiven my perpetrator. My response was, “I guess I’d know if he were to walk through the door.”

Maybe we should reflect on author Sean Sellars’ words penned from his jail cell after his conversion:

Hatred and vengeance is like a hot coal. When we grab a hold of it, it burns us. The longer we keep a hold of it, the more we are scarred. The only way to let go is to release it. The only way is to forgive! And forgiveness is NOT an emotion… Forgiveness is a DECISION. It is a conscious act of your will.

Gavin Michaels

Actually, I know that I have forgiven my perpetrator because I want to, and choose to, so I can move forward in my forgiveness journey. I have only two options: to be bitter or to be better. I can only live in kindness, caring, sharing, and compassion to the extent I have received it through my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. 

Gavin Michaels, BA, MA (Biblical Counseling), is the pastor of the Church of Living Waters in Tillsonburg, Ont., “an amazing group of people.” He has also been a family and trauma therapist for the past 23 years. He and his wife Jude “are blessed to be ministering to the people of Tillsonburg.”

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