Forgiveness is not easy but it's also not optional. Our partner in ministry, Beverly Weeks, has shared before so eloquently about forgiveness and how it can be hard to let go of the pain that has been inflicted by others through their harsh words or unkind actions. As I was reading I thought, what about all of those folks who are struggling with not being able to forgive themselves?
THEN I thought about how I've struggled with forgiveness for myself for some of the things I've done. That's when I realized, everyone, on some level, must have things they've done that they're ashamed of or at the very least words or behavior they're not proud of from their past.
There is a reason you can't forgive yourself: you were never designed to do so. It's like being depressed and melancholy because you can't flap your arms and fly through the air! You're not designed to do it, so how frustrating it would be to continue to try, day after day, flapping your arms and expecting to somehow lift off the ground.
Forgiveness is meant to be sought out from the person you've offended or hurt, but, you ask, what if that person is not available to you? Maybe they've moved and you don't know where they live. Maybe they've passed away. I want you to know today that forgiveness is still available to you. You don't have to carry this burden one moment longer.
Carrying the burden of unforgiveness is like living in a prison. You can pretend you're not inside that prison, you can even decorate the prison cell and even paint the walls to look like the outside where there's freedom, but guess what? No matter how you dress it up, you're still in a prison, no matter how hard you try to make it appear otherwise.
I know. I lived in that prison for almost 10 years before I even realized I was a captive to it. In May of 2004, when I was heavily involved in an adulterous affair, the woman I was involved with became pregnant. She was nearly three months along before we realized what was happening. She already had two children and I was not interested in having a child with her, since I was living for no one but me during that time, ignoring my wife and child at home. I was drunk every day and night, hooked on prescription pain medication, trying to self-medicate the hallucinations and other effects of PTSD from being a firefighter.
I remember that day like it happened yesterday. The drive to the women's clinic, signing the paperwork, handing over the money. Me waiting in my truck in the parking lot, trying to get drunk as fast as I could so I wouldn't have to think about the procedure that was taking place inside. The procedure that was killing my unborn child.
I managed to get drunk enough to pretend aborting my child didn't affect me, but the reality is that you can't be unaffected by something like that. I stuffed it away, and continued my destructive pattern of living, until the day Jesus met me on the road to North Carolina and changed my life.
I was saved, I was redeemed, but there were still consequences and fallout from my days of sowing seeds of destruction... my "testimony gathering time." Some of them Sherry and I dealt with right away, forgiving lavishly for the ways we had been hurtful to each other. Others took more time, several years in fact, to come to light and be washed over with the grace and love of God so that Sherry and I could reach a level of transparency and intimacy that had been previously unmatched.
There were some things I had done though, that I didn't believe were forgivable. Not even by God. I had paid for and approved the abortion of my own child. How could Sherry be with a man like that? A man like me? How could God forgive me for killing my own baby?
In April 2013, at a men's retreat called Top Gun in the mountains of Virginia, where I received the answer God had for me. It started during a quiet time of prayer and reflection: a name which was unfamiliar kept coming to me in my mind over and over, "Abigail." Then again, "Abigail." I prayed, "Lord, I don't know what this name means. Why do I keep hearing it?" Again, "Abigail."
I was stirred to turn towards a man whom I had seen at this particular retreat in previous years, but with whom I had never started a meaningful conversation. Earlier in the day, he had approached me and said that he had seen me at the retreat before, but this year God was pressing on him to hear my story. So as I prayed I turned towards him and knew that I needed to speak with him after our time of prayer.
We adjourned to a quiet room and it was there that I shared with him the awful truth from my past. As I sobbed, I shared that I didn't know how to let it go, how to move past it, how to forgive myself. He assured me that I didn't have to forgive myself, that God had already forgiven me for all of my sins, past present and future. He helped me to see that I was trying to bear a burden I was never designed to carry.
I explained to him how during the time of prayer, I had heard one name over and over again: Abigail. As I shared this with him, I suddenly realized that it was her name I was hearing. It was the name of my daughter, Abigail, that God was sharing with me.
It was then that I understood. She was His daughter before she was mine. He loved her and knew her before she was even conceived. He loves her and nurtures her still, healthy and whole, with Him in Heaven.
My peace, my joy and my freedom come from knowing, truly knowingthat I will see her one day and that until that day, God wants me to be free. He wants YOU to be free, too. Stop struggling to forgive yourself. Receive God's forgiveness, and walk free from guilt, shame and condemnation.
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