A number of years ago God taught me an important lesson about the power of forgiveness. There was a person in my life who had truly wronged me, even to the point of sinning against me in a public way. I was hurt and let a root of bitterness grow in my heart.
What contributed to this bitterness was that shortly after meeting Sally*, we had a negative encounter that left me with a bad impression of her. Over time, I continued to have interactions with Sally that contributed to my negative attitude towards her. A careless comment. An innocent statment misunderstood. A perceived slight.
All these things left me with ill-feelings towards her. And because I never brought these feelings before God and never talked with this individual about how I perceived them, my heart grew cold towards them and I entered into what Christian psychologist Henry Cloud calls "the Good/Bad split." I could no longer see any good in Sally. Only bad. And it all came to a head when she sinned against me publicly. What she did is not as important as knowing that it was something that you'd probably agree crossed a line and was not acceptable behavior.
I was so infuriated with Sally that I wanted nothing to do with her and, if I'm honest, actually wanted harm to come her way. I eventually shared how I was feeling with another friend. With a sympathetic ear, he listened to the history of our relationship and what had recently happened. Although he agreed that I had been wronged, I had worsened the situation by my response. I didn't have control over what had happened to me, but I had chosen to respond poorly.
This friend challenged me to begin praying about this situation and to confront Sally about the history of our relationship and, specifically, what she had recently done to me. I then began praying daily that God would work in my heart and work in her heart to bring healing to our relationship. Remarkably, my heart began to grow warmer towards Sally. For the first time, I started to look more at her as a child of God and less as an enemy. I also began to understand the depth of my own sin in how I had chosen to assume the worst of her, talked about her behind her back and had not sought to quickly resolve our conflicts.
After a couple of weeks, the time had come to talk with Sally. I sat on the couch in my living room and prayed for the phone call I was about to make. I prayed that God would move to bring healing and somehow be glorified through all that had happened. No sooner had I said "Amen" that the phone rang. Amazingly, it was Sally on the line. She had no way of knowing how I was feeling nor did she know that I was about to call her in about three seconds.
God had been answering my prayers and had been working in her heart. She shared that the Holy Spirit had convicted her of her behavior towards me in the recent incident and she was calling to apologize and ask for my forgiveness. I was stunned. I accepted her apology and told her that I would like to get together with her since there were other things we needed to talked about. She agreed and we set up a time that week to meet.
During our meeting, I recounted the history of our relationship and the many things that had been done that had hurt, embarrassed and humiliated me. But I also confessed to Sally my sin in how I chose to deal with these things. I had been immature by not going to her right away and had allowed sin to build in my heart as a result. We had a wonderful time of confession, healing, forgiveness and restoration.
I will never forget the lesson that I learned from this situation. When I sought to deal with these things how I wanted to, they only got progressively worse and more difficult. When I finally yielded to God and asked Him to works things out according to His will, I saw Him do some remarkable things. Unforgiveness harms us more than it hurts those that have wronged us. We may feel justified in our resistance to forgive, but it will ultimately eat away at us and will even affect our relationship with God. I'm so thankful that God taught me this important lesson fairly early on in my Christian walk. I still don't always apply this like I should but He often brings this example to my mind when I need it most.
*The person's name has been changed here.