Experiencing and Expressing Forgiveness
Click. The startling sound of the tarnished doorknob twisted in its locked position like a cannon commencing a war.
The moment my date locked his bedroom door, I convinced myself it was too late for me to back out. Ignoring all the warning signs, my heart raced rapidly as he slowly moved in my direction. I felt trapped as if the walls were collapsing in on me. The war within had begun and I was losing the battle.
This was the night of my sorority’s formal, a social event filled with cocktail dresses and dancing, and as the twilight pressed on, my moral behavior was nowhere to be found. Even though I didn’t lose my virginity that night as a junior in college, Satan’s lies tricked me into believing I was now damaged goods.
Bitterness left it impossible for me to forgive this guy I barely knew. My flesh feared confessing my sin to God. Filled with regret, I felt too shameful to even receive God’s grace of forgiveness.
But the longer I avoided all areas of forgiveness, the longer I experienced pain. I desired to forgive, acknowledge my sin and accept God’s forgiveness.
I didn’t have the strength to initially face my date after the dance and forgive him. Instead, I pretended like I had forgiven him. For the next eight months, I pushed memories of that night under a rug and acted like nothing had happened between us. However, my resentment only grew stronger every time I was reminded of him.
It wasn’t until the following semester that I tasted forgiveness: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31,32).
After reading this, I realized that it was absolutely necessary for me to forgive and let go of my past, because Christ had already forgiven me. I needed to revisit my pile of dirt under the rug and stop sweeping. As a result, God prepared my heart to write a letter to my date expressing that I had forgiven him as well as asking for his forgiveness:
“. . . I forgive you and myself for what happened. . . I just want you to know that I’ve let go of that night and no longer feel guilt or shame, because of God’s mercy and grace He has on those who believe and ask for forgiveness.”
Acknowledging My Sin
Prior to forgiving my date for the sorority formal, I had been too busy noticing the speck in his eye without noticing the log in my own. I became tangled in my own pride and resentment, blaming his faults without recognizing the depth of my own need for forgiveness.
Author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Not only did I need to forgive him, but I needed to confess my sin as well: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Accepting God’s Forgiveness
Still, forgiving my date and confessing to God my responsibility was only part of the journey of experiencing the fullness of forgiveness. I still needed to accept God’s forgiveness for me.
Even though I already acknowledged that God had forgiven me, I continued to feel guilty afterward. I spent those next few months after the dance trying to make up for what I had done wrong without realizing Jesus had already made it right. It was the first time in my life I felt so unworthy and displeasing in God’s eyes for my external actions. No matter how hard I tried to overcome feelings of guilt by reading through my Bible, praying, even attending Cru’s weekly meetings, I still saw myself as broken.
I needed to learn that whether or not I felt forgiven, I was forgiven. It wasn’t until I typed my date a letter of forgiveness that I accepted this truth: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by
grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4,5).
I remember repeating this verse to myself as I completed the final sentence in the letter. Holding my breath, I clicked “send” at the bottom of the screen. Exhaling, a sense of freedom released me from months of resentment. I finally felt at peace knowing I had experienced the fullness of forgiveness. I no longer
saw myself as damaged goods, but instead as someone who had been redeemed and rescued out of eight months of darkness. Confessing to God my attitude and bitter heart, I found myself reciting from the Lord’s Prayer, “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).
Almost two years have passed since I wrote him the letter. During that time, I completed my senior year of college and started a new chapter in my life. Eight months after graduating, I decided to return back to my alma mater for a weekend trip.
Sitting inside a Chinese restaurant, it was my first night back in my college town, and I couldn’t have been happier. But as soon as I glanced up from my phone, I saw a familiar face from the formal walking through the doors of the restaurant.
Out of all the 35,000 students I had to see while visiting campus, it had to be him? Painful memories corrupted my thoughts immediately. Fear, bitterness, anger and shame filled my emotions yet again. At that moment, my forgiveness toward my date felt foreign to me. Even though God’s forgiveness is permanent, I knew I needed to revisit the process and power of forgiveness all over again.