Oh my heart.
I’ve been reading so many articles lately, of people I’ve never met, who have become like friends. Broken people. Hurting people. People who have been mistreated and rejected by the world.
And my heart literally breaks for them.
I thought my story was unique. That no one else had experienced what I had experienced.
I was wrong.
My story, isn’t something I want to flaunt. I’m not ashamed of it, but I do want to protect those I love.
So here I am, once again, struggling. Struggling to know what to share, how much to share. Struggling because I know I have found freedom from the deepest, darkest pain. And I desperately want to lead others to this freedom.
My testimony is this:
I followed the “typical” teenage path, got caught up in the socialization of school, rather than the work. Insecure as I was, I tried to impress others by partying, being obnoxious and carefree, lying about who I was, and by doing things I knew I ought to stay away from. I got caught in a very bad place. From being suspended from school because of drinking to being careless sexually…I made heartbreaking, life-devastating choices.
Choices that lead me to the night God heard me and literally set me free.
It was dark, I knew only one person at the party. I was lonely as ever and I prayed while looking at the stars on that clear, August night. I prayed for God to save me. Then, I drank one very large drink and don’t remember much else. Two men, a lot older than myself, slept with me.
I was broken, but acted tough, like it made no difference.
It was at this time I met her. For the sake of privacy, I’ll call her Anna, though those who know my full story will know quite well who she is, because she was so instrumental in my life.
The gentleness and compassion in her voice is something I’ll never forget. Her sincere heart of care, she saw things in me that no-one else did. And she loved me. I could tell from the moment I met her, I wasn’t just some charity case, some feel-good project, she truly cared for me. She said that I was beautiful. That I was tenderhearted. She gently and carefully showed me the care of Christ.
And one day she got me to pray, and I experienced God’s love for myself. I knew he was real that day and I chose that day to leave my life of emptiness behind.
I became a child of God.
My boyfriend, who soon became my husband, formed a similar relationship with Anna’s husband, whom I’ll call Paul. During the next ten years a beautiful friendship/mentorship formed. Paul and Anna guided me and my husband through life. She prayed for me when I felt down. She listened when I cried, and gave really good advice. When my firstborn was deathly ill in the hospital, she and her husband visited me faithfully.
I cared for her too, listened to her and prayed for her as well. When she experienced loss, I brought her food. She was often lonely and I felt for her in this.
She was the one person who always understood me…until the day came when she didn’t.
What can destroy a deep friendship like that? A hurtful word? Miscommunication? Gossip? An outburst of anger? Cruel misjudgement?
In my opinion it is none of the above, although they do hurt a friendship, a deep friendship is ultimately built on endurance, commitment, loyalty, forgiveness and the ability to see the best in others when they’re at their worst. Unwillingness to change or forgive, that is ultimately what destroys all relationships in life.
When I went through a dark depression a year after having my fifth child, Anna did not recognize it as such, and to be honest, nor did I at first. I was confused, having never felt such despair and loneliness before. I desperately needed help, physically, mentally, spiritually. I mostly kept it to myself, but once in I while I would give little glimpses to her to reveal what I was going through.
She sensed that things were changing too. Things were just different between us. By the time we started talking about these changes that were happening, Anna was convinced that I was dealing with deep bitterness, that I was trying to hide it and lie about it and that I was being deceived by the devil. Strong accusations for sure. But since I didn’t know what I was going through, I couldn’t quite explain why I knew she was wrong, all I could say was “no, I wasn’t holding anything against anyone.”
Paul and Anna began to have meetings with us, at first to help us, but really what they became were interrogations. They would bring before me everything that they thought I was doing wrong and I would apologize for somethings (such as wrongful attitudes and gossip) and defend myself in others (as in, I would not repent for lying when I had not lied).
Unfortunately, Paul and Anna were also our church leaders, and we were forced to resign from our involvement in the church, as they felt like we weren’t walking in true freedom. Soon after, we were also told to repent of these issues and submit to their leadership, or leave the church. This was done without any meeting with the rest of the church leadership.
We had to leave the church, I had no choice. I longed to make things right, but to pretend I was guilty of sins that I was not? That was too far. I could not do it. Our very best friends were in that church. They were all called up and told to no longer welcome us to their bible study. They submitted to their leadership and I was crushed. I longed for someone to defend us, for someone to fight for our case.
But no one spoke up. They all stayed silent.
I lost my mentors, my church and my best friends all within a few months. Only my family and my husband stood by my side.
Meanwhile, I was still going through depression, which had only intensified with the situation. I was so confused. Here my loving mentors were saying disturbing things: Saying I was bitter and vindictive. Saying I was living by works and not by faith. Telling me that my apologies were covering up my unwillingness to repent…were they right? Could this really be the source of my struggles? Part of me wanted them to just be right, so I could make amends and be happy again. I longed to have things back to the way they used to be. I was willing to do anything for reconciliation.
But in my heart I knew that they had misunderstood me so deeply, that they were now just following the trail of lies, ultimately believing the worst about my motives and my actions.
Forgiveness for those who felt they were righteously doing God’s will…could I ever let go of what they had done? Trusting people after such betrayal…is it possible?
Sorting through all my feelings and coming to a place where I could see things through God’s eyes wasn’t at all simple. I read A LOT about forgiveness. The Bible is full of stories of forgiveness, from Joseph to David to Jesus Christ himself. Another gem of a book I found on forgiveness, that aided to my healing, was called “The bait of Satan” by John Bevere.
Here’s the conclusion that I’ve come to: It is impossible to forgive someone when you let your mind think the worst of them. BUT when you begin to humbly let God show you how he feels about those who have hurt you and choose to think the best of them, ALL things are possible.
I can not make people see my heart through God’s eyes. I can not force them to love me, forgive me, believe me or even like me, but I CAN chose to do so for them.
It no longer became a struggle of who is right and wrong…Rather could I be humble enough to stop trying to figure it out and forgive them either way? If Paul and Anna were right about me, then what right do I have to hate them? They were trying to help me, risking their own reputation in the process. That is love! If they were wrong about me, then I felt deep compassion and sorrow for them. How sad to feel like you are doing the work of God, only to find out in the end that you were working against him! But in all, whether they’re right or wrong, I can only say that I believe they were trying their best to do what they felt was right, with the knowledge and tools that they had.
After many tears, much heartache, many angry outbursts, and times when I wrongfully spoke against them…I can truly say that I’m sorry for the ways I have hurt Paul and Anna, even the ones that I may be blinded to.
And I forgive them.
So much so, that when their names come up, my heart is full of joy because of the ten good years we had with them. For the ten years of wisdom we gained from knowing them. I am glad I knew them. I remember the good. I remember their passion and love for God.
Forgiveness is like building a bridge to those who have hurt us and extending a hand, welcoming them back to friendship with us when they are ready.
However, one thing that we often forget is that building a bridge of forgiveness doesn’t guarantee that people will cross it, it merely gives them a chance to. And we are not accountable for the actions of others.
Much to my disappointment Paul and Anna have chosen, so far, not to cross that bridge. Then again, the moral of the story is that they don’t need to. Ever. I can still find overflowing joy and peace in the fact that my heart is right with God.
And I can find joy in the blessings he has given us during the past two painful years: A new church that I love with my whole heart, new friends (more than I have ever had in my adult life before) and new mentors who have gone through similar trials and come through victorious.
Simply put, building a bridge is difficult. It takes time. Sometimes you have to stop everything and start all over. But through forgiving, God has brought me to hope again…not in people. Not in things. But in Christ alone, all my hope is found.
For me, that’s a first.