I felt the weight of my morning schedule as it derailed.
Dashing into the Bible study room, I scrambled to find an open seat. I hate being late, especially when I’m the new person, so with a frazzled heart and some deep breaths, I privately celebrated my punctual arrival. Sometimes simply showing up calls for a declaration of success and it was definitely that kind of morning. I’d withdrawn lately and with loneliness settling in, I was finally ready to dig in and connect in community.
Scanning the room, I hoped to find someone I knew, but suddenly my stomach sank. My breath quickened. My hands shook. I can get along with nearly anyone, but there is one person in my lifetime of “peopling” that I wouldn’t choose to see ever again . . . and there she sat. The visceral reaction that occurred in my body and mind shocked me.
I wanted to scream, “Lord, are you kidding me? Of all the people in the whole wide world and it had to be her? In my new Bible study?”
Sensations catapulted me back many years to when this woman maligned my reputation without really knowing me. I’d spent a challenging, extended season clinging to God’s Word, begging He would renew my mind as I detangled emotions over that traumatic situation. I had cultivated a spirit of forgiveness, but all those feelings I’d ushered aside came swirling back.
That night, an internal dialogue played over and over again as I lay awake in bed. The details of how she unjustly wronged me. The apology never extended. The raw wounds once scabbed and scarred over now pricked back open. I fought to take those burdensome thoughts captive, but I couldn’t quiet my mind. I tossed and turned all night. Finally, as the sun broke, I pondered Peter’s question on forgiveness.
“Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?”
I bonded with Peter over his frustration. I mean enough is enough. Surely there must be a limit. Peter offered a number he assumed was overly generous. To forgive seven times — the number of perfection amongst the Hebrews. In fact, the Jewish rule mandated one only had to forgive another person three times before moving on. It was the law, so Peter intended to go above and beyond the cultural norm in forgiving his enemy, but Jesus pushed those limits. He turned everything upside down when He commanded us to not only forgive “seventy times seven,” but to love our enemies and lay down our lives for each other as He did.
Candidly, I wasn’t quite ready for this. Did Christ understand the sacrifice? The steep ask of our vulnerable heart? He did. More than anyone, Jesus is keenly aware of the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual implications when we allow seeds of bitterness and resentment to fester. I thought of my sleepless night. If I was already exhibiting ramifications from one evening, how much deeper the impact might it be if I didn’t uproot any lingering unforgiveness or bitterness?
This process didn’t happen overnight. Every week I saw her, and often toddler tendencies resulted in my internal kicking and screaming of, “This isn’t fair!” But I brought my disappointment, frustration, and heartache to the Lord. My varied emotions didn’t catch Him by surprise. I trust that He ordered my path to intersect with hers for His ultimate purpose. While I often wondered what that might be, I begged Him to transform me along the way more into His image.
At times it feels impossible, but when we step forward in love toward those who have wronged us, it is undeniably of God. And while we aren’t usually put in situations where we literally have to give up our lives for another, we are called to surrender. Surrender our frustrations, our pride, our need to be right, our bitterness, our justifications and excuses for why we shouldn’t have to because of all they’ve done to us. We are commanded to lay aside all that for others, for her, for the ones most difficult to forgive. It’s where we allow the Holy Spirit to tutor us on loving amidst undeniably painful situations. This is how the world knows that we are different. It’s how the world will know we are His disciples.
I don’t remember much about that Bible study, but I kept going back when I wanted to run. I never did receive an apology, and honestly, I don’t really like her, and that’s okay. The Lord did major heart surgery on me because it expanded with love for her that I never expected. It’s still a minuscule seed of love, but it’s love, and that’s a start.
Are you struggling with unforgiveness? You’re not alone. Sometimes it’s just so hard. I’d be honored to link arms with you in the comments.