Freedom in Forgiveness

My pen, tightly gripped in a trembling hand, etched the words onto paper. Hesitantly, tearfully, I crafted the beginning and the ending of a long-overdue letter with the same three words; “I forgive you.” Sandwiched in between was a litany of infractions, bitter memories and stinging disappointments that spanned well over a decade. It was time to finally let go.

The Greek translation of forgiveness literally means “to let go”. Accepting that forgiveness was not an emotion I needed to feel but a decision I needed to make was something that instilled both resistance and relief. The letter, though painstakingly written, was never mailed, never read by anyone but me. This honest outpouring of emotions was the key to releasing me from the emotional prison that held me captive for so many years.

It is humbling to recall the moments that I found myself huddled in a corner, in a fetal position, my tear-drenched arms clutching my knees so tightly folded against my chest. I continually battled flashbacks, feelings of helplessness, exhaustion and overwhelming grief. During the darkest times, I cried out to God in bitter anguish, begging him, desperately pleading with him, for the key to unlock the prison door that separated me from the one thing I desired most which was hope.

In my early twenties, I gave my heart to someone who didn’t cherish it as he had promised he would. The one I had committed my whole life to, vowed my unending love to, was the very one that sentenced my heart to that prison cell. The ugly details of a failed sixteen-year marriage aren’t important now, and there really is no value in recalling each painful moment that brought me to that level of despair. What matters now is sharing the journey, the journey from that deep valley of desperation to the higher road of forgiveness.

That familiar old phrase, “forgive and forget”, seems utterly ridiculous to me now. Choosing this kind of selective amnesia and erasing years of my existence was something I actually tried to do. In an attempt to block out the difficult memories, it became impossible for me to recall the joyful times. My identity had a gaping void that had me questioning who I really was and what had brought me to this time and space. I slowly came to the realization that I had to accept my past and, in my present, make a deliberate effort to choose joy. I did all I could to focus on gratitude for God’s extreme outpouring of undeserved grace and mercy during every single one of those dark days. Daily choosing joy infused new life into my soul and blossomed the very thing I craved most, which was hope.

I’m the kind of person who is impacted by the power of words, so choosing joy was not just about making a mental shift but also creating a visual reminder. I started placing trinkets in my home, magnets, mugs and pillows, where the word “joy” was prominently displayed. Supportive friends caught on to my focused collection and began giving thoughtful gifts of art, teddy bears and figurines to add to my joy-filled home. It became such an obvious shift of focus that my children made a humorous observation, affirming my intentional decision, “Mom, there is way too much joy in this house!”

I’ve heard it said that a difficult past can make you “bitter or better”. This holds so much truth. Dwelling on past hurts and recalling memories with bitterness only poisons your own life. Resentment and anger aren’t weapons to wield against your perpetrator; they are the very things that destroy the one who holds tightly onto them. The path to forgiveness became my intentional journey; healing one painful wound at a time. At the very centre, I needed to continually remind myself of God’s gracious and unmerited gift of forgiveness towards me. In light of this great truth, who was I to be unforgiving?

The road to forgiveness hasn’t been a clear and easy path beginning with just one decision to let go.  It has been an uphill journey for me, with days of trial followed by days of triumph. Flashbacks still rear their ugly head from time to time and attempt to draw me back into the darkness. But their strength has weakened as my strength has deepened. I am so thankful for this space I occupy now, a space encompassed by genuine love and comforting peace. I couldn’t have arrived at this beautiful place without trekking through the difficult valleys, and acknowledging this makes the pain of the journey so worth it. There is freedom in forgiveness and joy to be found in every day. “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” (Lewis B. Smedes )