Anger, hurt, and bitterness: these can be emotional symptoms of someone that has experienced an injustice or wrongdoing toward them from a best mate, co-worker, or family member. Allow me to be real and open up about a raw and personal account that is part of my story in the hope that it may help someone. It’s my story of forgiveness.
When I was 14 I was abused by a man. This man should have been someone that I could have trusted and relied on. Sadly, both of us now have to live with the results of those events that took place. They live with the guilt, shame, self-pity, and remorse over the sordid hurt they caused, while I live with an open wound for the rest of my life.
I lived with the fact that my manhood was corrupted and stolen. Each time the shamed, emasculated, and vulnerable part of me was exposed, it’s like someone ripped off a metaphorical bandage. I realized I never really dealt with the heart of the issue…
If the seed of an unforgiving spirit is not dealt with, it can cause a man to live in darkness. He will stall and stop dead in his tracks. It can cause him to have broken relationships. Each time someone hurts him in some small way his mind is cast back to that same moment of grievance. He can have strained friendships with the mates closest to him over small issues. More importantly, it can cause him to have a shattered faith in God and people.
The coping mechanism with internal pain usually involves withdrawal, anxiety/depression, and barriers he places up in his life to stop people from seeing the hurt and shame. It can cause him to lose trust very quickly with other men, friends, and co-workers.
One of the hardest things I’ve grasped and still struggle with is the issue of forgiveness. The one question that haunted my thoughts and dreams for many years alongside the incidents that took place is, Why should I forgive this man, and how often do I need to keep doing it? In the words of C.S. Lewis,
Everyone thinks that forgiveness is a lovely idea, until he has something to forgive.”
Therein lies the issue, what does forgiveness look like and how is it practically carried out, especially when confronting an abuser?
It is almost as though I had the same thoughts that the disciple Peter had when he confronted Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22. “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him,” he asked. “As many as seven times?”
The response from Jesus was astounding, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” This response was not a reason for the hurt to be treated like a doormat, rather it was permission for the person to move on with their life with unending grace and mercy found in forgiveness.
I remember being so tormented by this fact that a few years ago I sat with my pastor back in Australia, who is like a father figure to me. He gave me solid advice and challenged me saying, “If you forgive the person who hurt you, you can be free to live a long and happy life.”
What he said made sense because if we hold onto grudges and hurt, they can become shackles in our lives. But, if we give them up then we can move on leaving them in the past where they deserve to be.
What are some practical steps then we can use to help move on from these moments that cause shipwreck? Simply how can we live again, and live a long and happy life?
Leave the past in the past. Forgiveness does not mean you will forget the past, but there is no need to bring it to mind. To truly forgive someone is to never feel the need to bring it up again and again. Leave it where it belongs.
Ignore those thoughts and voices from your past hurts that clouded your opinions of those around you. When true forgiveness takes root, you can look for the good in those around you and listen to the good things.
Vow to God, to yourself, and those around you that no matter what happened in your past, it does not define who you are today. Make a practical decision to toast to a new day and a fresh beginning. In the military, we toast to everything. In church, we drink wine to remember the ultimate forgiveness found in the Cross displayed at Easter. Today, can toast and vow to each other that today is a new day and we can move forward as a new person.
Enjoy life… This does not mean that you won’t remember the hurt from time to time, and that the metaphorical wound will not be reopened. However, your past should not determine your decision to live and live happily. If you make that purposeful decision to be happy, and surround yourself with an uplifting community of guys, then it will infect your outlook on life in a good way.
My story did not end there, and although I still have this deep wound in my past, I am able to truly live today knowing that I have forgiven, therefore I can live happily. I made the conscious decision to leave the past behind, ignore the voices of doubt and hurt, vow to make a fresh start, and enjoy every moment that today holds. While it is an ongoing thing, forgiving others and more importantly yourself is the only way you can move forward.