It was a temptation to scream this phrase at the top of my lungs. Obviously, stepping off terra firma into outer space was not an option. Rather, what I desperately needed was to be free of chronic fatigue, stress, anxiety, negative emotions and erratic behaviors.
Sleepless nights spent rehashing painful events must also end.
What brought me to this place?
In the years previous, I had struggled through a lengthy and painful divorce proceeding. Along with my children, I’d also dealt with emotional trauma in the aftermath of betrayal. Circumstances leading to divorce dictated that I be the primary custodian of my children though their father shared joint custody.
During this process, I counseled with my pastor and purposed to spend time alone with God to give Him my grief and to seek His help in the process of forgiving my husband.
Always a stay-at-home mom, it was a difficult adjustment for me and my children when I transitioned to working mom. But God provided a path to a full-time job with flexible hours and we managed relatively well over the next few years.
And then, I was blindsided by something so painful it seemed I could barely breathe. Without any communication or conversation with me, my former husband persuaded our younger son, almost fifteen by now, to move out of my home to live full-time with him. A prospect I did not believe to be a safe or healthy choice. The three additional years I believed my son would be with me vanished overnight.
– Grit and Grief –
The concerns already on my heart for my son increased ten-fold. My only consolation was that he’d be nearby. But within a short time came another blow – my ex-husband took my son and moved out of town.
In the face of this loss and fear of estrangement from my son, I filled with resentment. It required tremendous amounts of energy to try and keep my emotions under control.
Over time, angry actions and words burst forth randomly at inappropriate moments. My resentment had become an ugly root of bitterness. I didn’t recognize this metamorphosis or understand my inability to contain my emotions.
When I read my devotional and my Bible, listened to my pastor’s sermons or had the radio tuned to Christian music, I was immune to any reference to forgiveness. In retrospect, I realize it was because I was intent on nurturing the anger that welled in my heart. It was like a spell had been cast over me, one unfamiliar but captivating.
Hoping to find some degree of comfort, I picked up the book ‘A Severe Mercy’ by Sheldon Vanauken, a true story of loss and hope amid tragedy. In it was a quote by C.S. Lewis, he wrote that anger is the anesthetic of the mind.
Instantly it hit me – I had held onto my anger with a vice-grip rather than fully experience the pain of loss. My will was broken in that moment of realization.
In the New Testament James says that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. My life in recent months had surely demonstrated that truth.
– Relief –
When I let go my anger, a virtual flood of grief spilled over me in pounding waves that knocked into me and then subsided, one after another. Because I allowed it, and somehow understood it was necessary.
Afterward there was calm in my spirit. I asked God to forgive me for harboring anger and unforgiveness. And I pleaded with Him to help me forgive my son’s father.
Words written by Paul to the Ephesians rang in my memory. I opened my Bible to read, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 NASB)
Then I thought about what Jesus did for me on the cross and how all my sins – past, present and future – were forgiven because of Him. I was humbled and convicted. What right had I to withhold forgiveness after what He had done for me?
The following evening was a weekly Bible study I attended at my church. When the time came for sharing requests, I asked them to pray for me to be able to sincerely forgive my ex-husband.
– Revelation –
Over the next few days, as I wrestled with the inevitable, God in His wisdom cleared the way. He brought to my mind some of my own decisions and behaviors that most likely contributed to my son’s willingness to go live with his dad. As I processed these scenes, I tried to view them through my son’s perspective.
God allowed me to see the big picture; it’s rare when one hundred percent of the blame for a painful situation lies at the feet of the one who hurt you. This realization didn’t change my desire to have my son back or diminish my concern for him but did show me I had a share of responsibility for the change in our circumstances.
In Luke 6:37 we are admonished not to judge nor condemn but to forgive –
By God’s grace, I forgave my former husband and by God’s mercy I was relieved of the many symptoms of bitterness. Peace in my soul replaced sleepless nights and negative emotions and erratic behaviors.
Also, I gained a deeper appreciation for Paul’s words to the Ephesians, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
Forgiveness is a daily practice. Not for new offenses only, but as I can attest, we are apt to revive old ones. The words of Martin Luther King Jr. serve us well:
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act – it is a constant attitude.”
Is there someone in your life you’ve been unable to forgive? I can promise you, if you look to God with an open heart, He will supply the necessary grace…
In His enduring love and compassion,