I am amazed by forgiveness. When I witness a person forgiving someone who has hurt them, I see a picture of God’s mercy towards me and I am filled with a sense of wonder. My understanding of forgiveness has been shaped by two of my favorite stories, one from the life of one of God’s mighty women and one from the Bible.
The first is the story of Corrie ten Boom. Corrie’s family helped to hide several Jews during the Holocaust. When they were discovered, Corrie, her sister and her elderly father were arrested. Corrie was the only one who survived imprisonment and was eventually freed due to a “clerical error”. After the war, she traveled around the world to give presentations about how God was with her throughout her trials. After one of her talks, a man approached her and reached out to shake her hand. Corrie recognized him as a former S.S. guard who had been cruel to her and her surging anger toward him made it impossible to take his outstretched hand. However, Corrie prayed “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness,” then she reached out and grabbed his hand. As she did, she was overwhelmed with love for the prison guard and realized that her ability to forgive did not come from herself but from God. ***
The second story is found in Genesis 37-50. It details the life of Joseph, a young man whose experiences could be made into a TV show that would rival Borgia, Vikings and Medici. Briefly summarized, Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, spent years in jail, and eventually became an Egyptian ruler whose power was surpassed only by the Pharaoh. He used his political clout to store food for a coming drought and, in doing so, sustained Egypt and its neighboring countries throughout a lengthy famine. During the drought, Joseph’s family ran out of food and his brothers traveled to Egypt in search of grain. They were ultimately reunited with Joseph and when they apologized to Joseph for selling him into slavery, Joseph expressed his forgiveness and explained that he could forgive them because “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.”
Over the past year, God has been imprinting the message of these beloved stories on my heart. In 2016, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that resulted from traumatic events that occurred when my first engagement to be married ended. As I wrestled with the intense fears that accompanied this diagnosis and impacted my daily life, my anger at the family that had caused my trauma resurfaced. While I was incredibly grateful that I did not marry the man I was previously engaged to, I found myself having difficulty forgiving him and his family for the ways that they had introduced terror into my life. I knew that I needed to forgive them, but I didn’t know how I could do it while I was continuing to suffer from the emotional ramifications of their actions.
Remembering what Corrie ten Boom did when she could not forgive, I asked God to give me the mercy that I needed to truly forgive this family. What I did not know was that, as I prayed, God was answering my prayers through a little baby that He was forming inside of me. Without taking a single breath, that little girl would deliver the forgiveness that I had been praying for.
Throughout my pregnancy, I battled my unforgiving heart. Then, suddenly my baby died and with her death I was thrust into a grief that was deeper than any pain I could have imagined. During the first few weeks after her death, the pain was so deep that I felt as if my chest had been cut open and my life was bleeding out of me. In those initial days, there were nights when I lay on me bed clutching my heart which literally felt like it was being ground in a garbage disposal. The physical and emotional pain was so deep that I often thought I would not survive it, that I would drown in it. In fact, I might have been lost in my grief of a thought hadn’t broken through my tears and shined hope into my darkest moments: I have survived grief before. While the grief of losing my fiancé was far less painful than that of losing my child, it was an experience of real loss and God had helped me to overcome it. I knew that He could do it again.
Through the loss of my first engagement, I had learned that the pain of grief comes in surges, like tidal waves, so when I felt like I was drowning in grief for my daughter, I knew that I would be okay if I just held on until the pain subsided. That earlier loss had taught me that grief would change me and that rather than fight that change, I should embrace it because the person who God was making me to be was even better than the person I was before my loss. I had also learned that God’s plan for me was good, even when it hurt, and that He has hidden blessings in the midst of my suffering. I had learned to embrace my grief rather than to fight it, to seek comfort from God and from those around me, and to choose abundant life in the midst of my trials. When my daughter died, I depended on these lessons that I had learned through the end of my engagement as if they were a life vest and, through this dependence, I began to see God’s amazing work in my life: the very events that has resulted in me developing PTSD also taught me critical lessons that I would cling to during the hardest trial of my life. God had turned one family’s attempts to harm and traumatize me into an incredible, life-sustaining gift.
This realization freed me to forgive the family that I was first engaged to marry into. In fact, I found myself echoing Joseph’s words in Genesis 50: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” Corrie ten Boom and Joseph could forgive because of what God had done in their lives and I discovered that I could, too because the truth is that God is at work redeeming everything that happens in our lives. Whether we are lucky enough to see what God is doing to bring good out of our pain or not, we can choose to believe that He will do it and that frees us to forgive.
***The information about Corrie ten Boom and her meeting with the S.S. guard is taken from her book The Hiding Place. If you haven’t read this book, I definitely recommend it! During college, I was blessed with the opportunity to tour the ten Boom house and to gaze into the hiding place where they hid their Jewish guests. The picture at the beginning of the post is of a wall that was cut away to reveal the ten Boom hiding place. It is amazing to see the ordinary people and places that God works through in extraordinary ways!