As I sat cradled in the branches of the oak tree late one summer afternoon over twenty years ago, forgiveness was the last thing on my mind.
Confusion, shame, fear…all of these emotions stirred within, creating a strange combination that made me want to vomit. A piece of my innocence was stolen. What happened affected how I would look at men and their advances. It instilled fear in my heart when my future children were absent from my watchful eye. I was changed in a way I never imagined or desired.
For the better part of my life, I sought someone or something to define me. To give me the identity I thought I lacked. Most of the places I looked led me down a path further from the truth than where I began. I tried to numb the feelings of betrayal.
After years of trying to hide and forget, I finally turned to the church. Initially, I found more uncertainty and doubt than comfort.
When trying to recover from an act against you which is so heinous you can barely speak of it, phrases taken out of scriptural context may confuse more than comfort. “Seventy times seven” may feel like a wet blanket. Although biblical, in the first stages of healing they do not mend an aching soul or answer unresolved questions like “how,” “why” and “what does it look like?”
Yes, God commands us to forgive. But in my experience, forgiveness is usually not the first step toward healing. It is an important step and should by no means be ignored, but it isn’t the first.
What I needed to know was that I was loved.
I needed to know what happened was not okay, and that it was normal for me to be angry about it.
I needed to be assured what happened was not because God had turned his back or forgotten the little girl who sat crying under wind-swept boughs that afternoon.
I needed an inkling of the depth and width embodied in “agape.”
After much time, seeking, and restoration, I found a church where I grew and found compassion. God led me to some verses that changed my perspective on forgiveness. What I discovered is that to forgive didn’t mean what I thought it did. In Romans, Paul recounts the words of the Lord.
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.”
Romans 12:19 NIV
Forgiveness doesn’t excuse the evil done to me. It places its burden in hands that bled so that I could be set free.
Free from shame and bitterness. Free from anger.
It isn’t for the aggressor. It’s for me. It’s for my complete healing and wholeness. And often, it’s the last step of the healing process.
It’s something we do repeatedly, as reminders of the offense will come again.
I’ll never know whether this person who broke my trust repented. He was taken from this life to meet with the One who sees through all our pretenses into the heart. But through much prayer and questioning, God changed my heart toward him in a way only He is capable of doing. I know he had access to the same throne of grace I come to day after day.
It is a process that does not happen overnight. It took many years for me to even be able to admit something was wrong.
But as God is my Strength, my Healer and Redeemer, it is possible to forgive the unforgivable.
He laments with you. He is your Advocate.
He will turn your oak of shame into an oak of righteousness, rooted deep in the abounding love of the One who sets captives free. (Isaiah 61:3)
Sidenote: Forgiveness and healing do not negate the need for justice. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, molested or violated, you should seek help and alert the proper authorities.