Women and men who have experienced sexual assault, abuse, and aggression have been finding their courage and coming forward to tell their stories. And people are listening. There’s such good in this. And, as I wrote last week, more is needed.
With some of those who are bringing their stories to the light, I get concerned. I get concerned about the timing, I get concerned about who they’re telling their story to, I get concerned about where they go from here.
As many others who have been telling their stories can attest, healing from a sexual violation can be a long, difficult process. Healing requires a safe and confidential place to share openly, an experienced mentor or counselor to help process what happened, support and guidance in establishing and learning to maintain healthy boundaries, and time.
As I wrote last week, healing also requires forgiveness.
Leanne Payne taught that forgiveness is one of the primary blocks to wholeness. And so with all the excitement around the wave of people sharing their stories, if we want to bring about real healing, we need to walk the difficult road of forgiveness.
First, forgiveness is not the same thing as…
A feeling or emotion.
Forgetting what happened.
Minimizing what was done.
The passage of time. (Just because it happened long ago, doesn’t mean it’s forgiven.)
Continuing a relationship with the offender.
Confronting the offender.
So what is forgiveness? The therapist I saw for many years defined it this way:
Forgiveness is giving up your right to hurt the other person back for the ways he/she hurt you.
Forgiveness does not mean an offender’s wrongs become right. But it does mean we let go of being judge, jury, and prison warden. Instead, we release them to God.
“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 18b, 19).
Giving up both overt ways of trying to get back at someone, as well as subtle attacks, passive aggression, gossip, and harboring internal bitterness.
We don’t forgive because the offender deserves it. If forgiveness is cancelling a debt, then by definition, they do not deserve it.
We don’t wait for the other person to get the extent of how they’ve hurt us. Jesus is our model here as He prayed on the cross for all of us, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
This isn’t a shallow “of course I forgive” that’s actually denial in disguise, but a sober “I know
what was done and what it’s done to me” choice to release the offender to the care of God.
Struggling to forgive is normal. And forgiveness is precisely what Jesus asks of us.
One more thought for you: Unforgiveness is like a wall you construct to protect yourself from further hurt. But over time…
That which was constructed to keep you from harm also hinders love from coming in.
But your loving Jesus stands at the door and knocks, waiting for you to let Him in. (Revelation 3:20)
That which was constructed to protect you from your offender serves as a constant sign over your life of the offender and offense. But God wants to be your Defender (Psalm 27:1), and His banner over you is Love (Song. 2:4).
That which was constructed to make you strong keeps you a victim.
But God means for you to outgrow the old self-protective shell, to stand upright, to breathe the free air, to become an overcomer (Romans 8:37, 38).
If you have been sexually violated, Christ’s call for you to forgive comes from His love for you. He is no abuser. He will not violate you by rending forgiveness from you. Everything He asks you to do He will help you to do.
If you find you have no forgiveness within you to extend, look to Jesus on the Cross and keep looking. The mercy that flows from His wounds is for you.
And if we can help, please let us know.
Question: How has forgiving another helped or healed you? Please share your brief story here.