An Unburdened HeartBy: Suzanne Eller
Your neighbor’s dog digs up your flower bed. It’s not the first time and your marigolds are lying in a heap … again.
A relative meddles in your marriage, causing a rift between you and your husband. You don’t know who angers you more, the meddler or your husband who doesn’t make it stop.
He touched you when you were a child and it still haunts you today.
Perhaps your heart is burdened with resentment, anger or emotions that won’t go away and you’ve been told to forgive, but those words seem inadequate. You know forgiving is key, but wonder if it’s really so simple. Can you just say “I forgive” and have it cover every situation no matter how small or large, no matter if the abuse continues, and regardless of the pain that stands in the way?
Years ago when I was a young mom and a new believer, I knelt beside my bed holding my Bible. I longed for healing from a painful past and was tired of the feelings that surfaced when least expected. As I prayed and read the Bible, passages about forgiveness tugged at my heart. I sensed that through forgiveness Christ was trying to pave the way to wholeness, but this led to honest questions, like:
Does forgiving mean that everything that happened was okay?
What about the feelings that won’t go away?
Am I supposed to be the only one who changes?
Every question seemed to lead to another, but I remained certain God wanted to give me forgiveness as a gift. So I began an uneven journey toward forgiving, accepting God’s grace while stumbling over the process of giving it.
Forgiveness is a multi-dimensional word
That early search led me to discover that forgiveness isn’t simplistic at all. It’s a rich, diverse word with several meanings that can powerfully impact both the giver and receiver.
One meaning is the word kaphar. It’s a Greek word meaning to purge or to pitch, to hurl away anything that stands as a hurdle in a relationship. It’s the word we find when Jesus took our atonement upon Himself to forgive us for our sins.
It’s also what God asked me to do with my mom.
Several years ago I sat with my mother on the couch, my hands holding her beautiful fingers swollen with arthritis. Our past was not a subject we talked about often. Those conversations were ripe for accusations, or misunderstanding, or discussions about actions she could not change. She had become a Christian and was on a journey of her own to heal. Talking about our past was an act of courage on her part, but I avoided these talks because she saw it differently than my siblings and me. Our childhood was viewed through her role as a mom to five, working full-time, battling suicidal thoughts and rages from a medication for chronic asthma. Details that were burned on my heart were ghosts in her memory.
I had forgiven the events of my childhood for my sake, but as I read about kaphar forgiveness, I realized it was time for me to release her from the past, and from things she could never, ever change.
This meant I stepped into her shoes for a moment. It allowed me to glimpse the young girl who had a baby at 15, who fled an abusive relationship only to be sexually assaulted, who lost a child, who desperately wanted to be a good mom though no one had ever shown her how. But more than that, it allowed me to acknowledge the changes she had made.
It also helped me give grace for changes that might never come.
That’s just the beginning
Years of study led me to new words in Scripture about forgiving. One was apolyõ, a Greek word that means to set free, to release, or be released. This word became life to my friend Carlie, whose husband left her after two decades of marriage. One evening she lay on her bedroom carpet, crumpled tissues in her hand, asking God to help her in her distress. As she prayed, she felt as if God was asking her to forgive her husband.
Her immediate response was, “This can’t be you, God. You wouldn’t ask that of me,” and she left the room in anger.
Apolyõ was the underlying word in the Scriptures Carlie had just read. On the outside looking in, it might have seemed insensitive for God to ask Carlie (or anyone) to forgive so soon after her husband’s betrayal, but God knew her well. He saw her as a woman of faith. He saw His plans for her were not altered by her husband’s choice.
He also saw she was at a critical place. Broken, unable to eat or sleep. In a sense, her “temple” was falling apart. By asking her to forgive, God was reminding her that, in spite of the assault upon her heart and mind, she could be released and set free. Forgiving was the first step in that process.
God meets us right where we are
Throughout the Bible we see Jesus relating with people right where they were. Jesus met with Nicodemus under the stars to answer his scholarly questions. He knelt with a tortured man in a cemetery. He knelt in the dust with a broken woman. He met me at a place where I was filled with questions and uncertainty, but also a desire to grow.
He’ll meet you today right where you are, whether it is at a willingness to forgive or at a place where it seems unattainable. It’s not where you begin, but who takes your hand as you start the journey.
It’s okay to acknowledge that forgiveness is hard. It’s complex because it involves people and emotions. And sometimes situations where you’re trying to change and another person isn’t. But the more we embrace forgiving as a way of thinking, and living, the more that transformation begins.
Forgiving will not change the past. It might not change some of the people involved, but ultimately it changes you. It offers dignity when it has been stripped away. It allows you to climb up and out of the past and live fully today. It shows you how to accept who and what you cannot change. What remains consistent is that forgiveness is key to God-sized healing.
No, that’s not the answer at all. Instead, take hold of the gift Jesus holds out to you, as He leads you out of the bonds of unforgiveness to embrace the freedom of an unburdened heart.
About the Author
Suzanne Eller is a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and author of “The Unburdened Heart: Finding the Freedom of Forgiveness” (Regal, 2013). She’s a mom, wife, gramma to four babies, and lives in beautiful Oklahoma where she hikes and rafts down the Illinois River. Connect with Suzie at <a href="http://www.tsuzanneeller.com" target="_blank">www.tsuzanneeller.com</a> or <a href="http://www.facebook.com/LiveIntentionallyFree" target="_blank">www.facebook.com/LiveIntentionallyFree</a>.