What I learned about forgiveness from Love Does.
I have always struggled with forgiveness. Not necessarily just giving or accepting it, but really understanding it. It's just always been something that's a little bit illusive to me. I'll sometimes feel as though I've stumbled onto a small part of what it means, only to find that it was just a crumb and not the full course. Then I'll find another small crumb later on, then another, and another. But I can never find its fullness. I can never find the meat of the thing. Most of the time, I just end up leaving the trail, dissatisfied, confused and honestly tired of trying to figure it out.
It's always been something that frustrates me. That I can't define forgiveness or fully understand it, or for that matter, seem to read enough or think enough to figure it out either. I'm an extremely curious sort of person, so when I land on something that strikes a nerve, I can dive in, full force, until I've satisfied my curiosity on the subject. But not with forgiveness. I've read and scoured and searched and always come up a little bit short. Never fully satisfied, and also never fully grasping what it is about forgiveness that leaves me in knots.
Lately, I've been reading Bob Goff's, Love Does (I know, a little behind the curve), and although several things have stuck out to me throughout the book, there was something in the last few chapters that I think will stick with me for a long time.
In chapter 26, Jailbreak, Goff describes a trip to Uganda he and some colleagues took to organize official trials for children who had been imprisoned for years without hearings, mostly for minor crimes. After some red tape and negotiating and putting the pieces in place, there were 72 cases brought before a judge. The children, their parents, the accusers and all the officials were present for the trials. Before they began, the judge sent the children to another room and addressed the parents ...
"... His admonition was simple: "Parents, forgive your children."
... A short time later, he walked into the other room where the children were and said, "Children, your parents have forgiven you." The children were brought back into the courtroom and fell into the arms of their parents.
They had received what they needed as much as they needed justice.
They had received forgiveness."
Later on, Goff goes on with what he's learned and says,
"But what I forget is that we're talking to a God who knows that what we need the most is to return to Him, to return to our lives. And like the judge, God knows that we can't fully return until we know we've been forgiven."
I don't know about you, but there are some things in my life that haven't healed.
There are some hurts that I've inflicted and that others have inflicted on me from my very earliest years that I've never been able to work through, get past or otherwise deal with. They still hurt. And the ones that hurt the most, the ones that are still the biggest gaping wounds ... those are the ones that left me a different person afterward. Reading this passage spoke to something I've struggled with my entire life. "God knows that we can't fully return until we know we've been forgiven."
For me, this hit a soft place in my soul I've known about for years. One of the biggest, most devastating hurts of my life was 10 years ago this month. It defined me for a long time, and even when I thought I'd worked through it, the residual effects were that I felt like I lost part of who I was. I lost something of an innocence and parts of dreams that I'd had. That I'd lost some of myself and the life I'd hoped for.
I carry this weight of who I was before that specific hurt versus after it, and I've always felt like two different people. It doesn't matter how many times I pray or try to tell myself simple mantras like, "let it go," or "be the bigger person," or "you have to move on to move forward," nothing seems to really help me move past it. I've always been left feeling a little disjointed. Like I had a life before that hurt, and now I have a life after it, and sometimes it can feel like two completely different lives.
And these words, "God knows what we need is to return to Him, to return to our lives. And like the judge, God knows we can't fully return until we know we've been forgiven," spoke to that part of me that had felt like that for so long. The invitation God showed me was that He saw me. He saw my heart. He knew how I had felt for so long and He was calling it out. He was calling me to Him.
My mind began spinning as I kept reading until a couple of chapters later it all just clicked. Without realizing it, I'd been hiding all this from God. Of course He knew, and it's not like He hadn't been the recipient of countless hours of tears and heartbreak and accusations and questioning, but what I hadn't done was confess. I had never confessed my own part of not just that hurt, but so many others.
Some hurts were because I'd created idols out of things like people, reputation or qualification. Some because of the brokenness of others who never cared enough about what they'd done to ask forgiveness. And some where there because of what I'd done that I couldn't imagine being able to let go of. Confession brought all of that to light in a way that could allow for receiving forgiveness and also giving it.
In my humanity (and lack of humility) I think I've always struggled with the concept of forgiveness most when it has to be one-sided. When the other person doesn't ask for forgiveness, isn't apologetic, or doesn't even know they've wounded me. It doesn't feel just, and don't we all think we want justice? But what I immediately began to realize was that without confession, there can be no forgiveness, justice or grace.
What I began to realize all over again, was the goodness of the Gospel in an extremely tangible way. That what Jesus did was take the world's undeniable confession of sin, forgive it, place justice upon it with His death, then apply everlasting grace to those of us who will follow Him. And what do we all know? That to give grace away, you must first receive it.
Confessing these deep wounds to a God who eternally forgave me and issues grace daily, showed me that He wants to heal me where I cannot heal myself. For so long I had been settling for a salve instead of full healing. I'd been self-medicating with books and short bible verses, Instagram quotes, and minimal prayers of grief or frustration or confusion, but no deep, affectionate confession that would actually lead to healing.
This was about humility and knowing my hurt and my failure so intimately, yet, having given them away to Christ, they no longer define me. And because I am not defined by my failures or the failures of others toward me, I'm able to embrace my identity in Jesus instead.
This identity isn't false or hypothetical or ignorant either. Jesus' identity that He has given to us comes after knowing what we've done, how we've been hurt, how we've hurt others and how we've failed, and He says, 'I'll take that for you. I'll give you healing. I'll give you forgiveness and help you forgive. And then, I'll give you grace and you can give grace to others. Now you don't live in the past with those hurts. You live fully in the present with me.'
That is freeing. That is a lifetime's worth of shame and guilt and low self-esteem and people-pleasing and disappointments and rejections falling at the foot of the cross in confession to a God who then says, "I got this."
Goff says at the end of that chapter that he took the door of the jail cell off its hinges and it stands in the corner of his office to this day as a reminder of what he learned. Then he says,
"The thing Jesus said about setting captives free actually works,
so I haven't given the door back."
I don't want to lock down those things again. I don't want to close the door on what Jesus is offering—a path to healing and forgiveness. If he can take these long-held hurts and failures and brokenness and help me forgive myself and others, that's freedom to live a beautiful life full of presence and grace and love, knowing there's nothing that can't be healed along the way.
P.S. To learn more about Bob Goff, visit his website: www.bobgoff.com. To learn more about the organization he founded called Love Does, visit www.lovedoes.org.
P.P.S. I plan to read his most recent book, Dream Big soon (before it's almost a decade old like I waited on this one, haha). I'm super excited about it!
Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash