Read: Matthew 18:21-35
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Multiple people pulled me aside to share concerns over my decision to take a new job. These people shared their first-hand knowledge and experience of the devastating wake resulting from a specific individual’s behaviors. Taking the job would require me to interact with this person on a regular basis. Despite these warnings I felt strongly that this was the right move at the right time. I accepted the opportunity, with eyes and heart open.
At first things went well. I felt fulfilled by my responsibilities and appreciated for what I was able to accomplish, but it didn’t take long for things to change. Over the course of two years, I experienced the behaviors I had been warned about. The individual spoke unfavorably about others, inappropriately shared confidential information, questioned everyone else’s perspective, and more. It became a toxic, fear-filled environment and no one wanted to become the next target.
Things were so bad that I was physically ill every day. I kept to myself as much as possible. I doubted my every move, always questioning how anything I did or didn’t do would be perceived. I was afraid to report what was happening for fear of things further escalating. The way I was being treated was exactly what others had warned me of. I looked for a way to leave that position, as many before me had already done. But who would then become the next target? How would things ever change if no one spoke up? So, I did speak up. And it cost me a lot. Forgiveness isn’t something I typically struggle with but this situation was different.
Some years had passed since this horrendous experience yet every time I thought about this person, I felt my pulse increase and my stomach tie in knots. I regularly asked God to help this person see the error of their ways and to help me forgive. I felt conflicted. Horrified at the thought of the individual not experiencing God’s forgiveness and but also feeling justified in wanting a front row seat at their downfall.
When my son died this past summer, I realized this person might show up. I didn’t know how I would face them in the midst of deep sorrow and exposed vulnerability. I recounted to God all the injustices I’d endured at this person’s hand and cried out for Him to help me and show me how I was to respond if they came. Immediately I thought of my hero, Corrie Ten Boom, Post-WWII she faced the very same brutal S.S. guard who had caused both her and her sister so much harm. The guard was asking for her forgiveness. Corrie tentatively extended her hand in forgiveness and I knew that I too, would have to extend mine if asked. And I was asked. Not for just a handshake but for a hug.
The individual who wronged me didn’t ask for my forgiveness. I doubt they are even aware of the depth of hurt they inflicted on me. But I knew God was asking and offering me the opportunity to respond. I thank Him for the freedom from bitterness I had begun to experience, not only in that moment of choosing to extend forgiveness, but again when their flowers arrived, and weeks later when I opened the card with their handwritten prayer for me. My healing from the bitterness I carried was linked to forgiveness. Forgiveness, not because it was deserved but because I too, have been forgiven despite all my wrongdoing.
Apply: Where are you bound by unforgiveness? To whom are you exacting payment despite the forgiveness and mercy Christ has extended to you? Don’t become like the Unmerciful Servant for “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Don’t be bound by the chains of unforgiveness; ask God to break you free. After all, God raised Jesus from the dead, so He can break these chains. Just extend your hand, as God had asked me.