Fifteen is a young age to learn about the transforming power of God’s forgiveness… but not too young. It also wasn’t too young to begin learning that true, lasting forgiveness is only possible through Jesus Christ.
Being sinned against by my own father had made me bitter and angry. Trying to cover up my feelings and go on as though nothing had happened only served to distance my head and my heart from the truth and make me disconnected from what was going on inside me.
Eventually, the effort became too much, and I began experiencing a loathing towards my father that made me feel physically ill. Having to hold his hand in prayer around the table caused mealtimes to become something to avoid. One particularly violent emotional reaction sent me running to the bathroom to try to recover in private.
God met me there in the midst of my pain, but it wasn’t comfortable. I felt trapped and scared of my emotions. The tremendous effort I expended in pretending that I was okay wasn’t working. Trying to love my dad wasn’t working either. In fact, the harder I tried, the uglier the feeling inside me grew.
I did not want to admit that what I felt was… hate.
What a horrible, ugly word. It represented exactly what I knew Christians should not feel towards anybody, and yet, it accurately expressed what I felt.
The abuse had ended several years earlier, but as time went by, my knowledge of the gravity of the offense done to me grew and began to fester. I felt soiled and dirty, and these feelings fueled a rage that became increasingly difficult to hide.
It didn’t help that outwardly, we looked like a typical middle-class family. Dad worked as an electrical engineer, Mom was a homemaker, and we three girls went to school and busied ourselves with all the activities that teenagers typically like to do. In addition, our family was active in our local church and Dad was in training to become an elder.
At fifteen, my faith in Jesus Christ was well established. I loved Him and had asked Him to be my Savior when I was a young girl. I did everything I could in an attempt to grow in maturity and please God, including attending Sunday School and church, reading my Bible, and participating in youth group activities. Without a doubt, I knew that the horrible feelings that consumed me were not something that God wanted me to have towards anyone; not even my dad.
But part of me felt entitled to my anger. After all, I reasoned, wasn’t it my right as a victim to be angry with the person who had hurt me; who had never apologized, or made any attempts to make things right between us?
Wasn’t he the adult; the hypocrite who had covered up his sin and managed to look good in the eyes of everyone outside our immediate family, including the church? Furthermore, he was my father, the one who was supposed to be sorry for hurting me! Shouldn’t he be the one to ask for my forgiveness?
Because that’s what I was struggling with; the need to forgive my dad… and I. Didn’t. Want. To.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
The underlying cause of my misery was not being sinned against. It came from me doing everything in my power to avoid the truth; that God wanted me to forgive my enemy. All the trying to feel better, and do good things, and love my Dad in my own strength, was futile.
That moment in the bathroom remains seared on my mind and heart. When I sensed the Holy Spirit tell me that I needed to forgive my dad, I dropped to my knees on the floor sobbing, overcome with the need to cry out to my Jesus to enable me to do what He asked of me. Because without a doubt, I knew that my right to hold unforgiveness in my heart, stopped when my sins nailed Jesus to the cross.
When I look back on the hurting girl that I was, my heart overflows with thanksgiving to The One who cleansed and healed me. Because in choosing to obey my Heavenly Father by forgiving the one who had sinned against me, He set me free from a life crippled by bitterness and hate. To my great sorrow, I’ve seen what happens when someone allows unforgiveness to fester; it only poisons and destroys the one who clings to it.
At fifteen I began learning a lesson about forgiveness that has continued to draw me closer to the Heavenly Father who sent His only son, Jesus Christ, to die for me… and for you… and for everyone who will admit their desperate need for Him.