“Why should I be sacrificed on the altar of his growth?!” I remember the day I said these words out loud to God. I was angry. Angry and hurt. I didn’t think I could get that angry. Now it seemed like God was taking his side.
For an entire year a young man in my Christian community had publicly insulted my weight and femininity. His sideways, passive comments were lobbed in front of our friends and although we tried to ignore the jabs, we all knew what he thought of me. I was fat and unattractive. In private, friends tried to assure me, “He’s wrong.” “Stacie, you are pretty.” But these comments went to the heart of my insecurities.
At the end of the day I was left to struggle with his words. The worst part was that deep down I believed he was right. I knew enough theology to know that God saw me as precious and beautiful, but the rest of the world? This man was just voicing what everyone thought and no one was willing to say. I was undesirable. So, there I was, hurt and angry.
Months passed. I sank into sadness and isolation, functional on the outside and withering on the inside. Prayer became a plea for God to rid me of this person and help me feel better about living in a world where I was less than everyone else. Wasn’t God angry too? Then came a pivotal conversation. A trusted friend stepped into my world and offered his help, with one condition. I needed to confront the person hurting me, share my injury and forgive. Nothing could have seemed more unwise to me.
Although I had read the passages in the Bible about forgiveness and confrontation (Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 18:15), this had to be an exception. Isn’t is unwise to confess hurt to someone who has only shown that they can and will hurt you? I was pretty certain he had no idea of his effect on me and I was determined to make sure he would never know.
But then the Scripture became inescapable.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. -Ephesians 4:29-32
I was not allowed to attack back, scream and rant in anger. I had to go to him for HIS good. I read and re-read and screamed through Ephesians. Someone else’s behavior never lets me off the hook for acting for their good. I am never off the hook of love and forgiveness.
My choice seemed terribly simple. I could either die the slow death of withering from the inside, wallowing in anger, hurt, and bitterness, or I could obey God and move toward my enemy’s good. Two paths that felt like death lay before me and God would only walk with me down one of them. God would sacrifice me on the altar of his good. I wish I could say I had spiritual strength, faith and foresight. What I would do next was merely obedience and little else.
I knew pride, resentment and ugliness were rooting deep in my heart and I was desperate for their death. I was desperate enough to submit to God and confess in deep repentance the ugly truth: I didn’t care about his good. I didn’t want to love this person. I didn’t want to forgive. I wanted him to pay.
In order to share with this man how he injured me I would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit but this didn’t feel strong. It felt open, vulnerable and weak. I didn’t even think I could talk without crying. I prayed through Ephesians 4 over and over again, unsure of whether I could even be kind or civil. I prayed for the heart I wanted, but didn’t have. I prayed for strength and compassion. I prayed to expect nothing. It could not be about getting an apology or seeing repentance.
At this point you may be tempted to think, “But he is wrong. He doesn’t deserve kindness.” That’s true. But neither do we. Why is it that when I wrong someone I want mercy, but when someone wrongs me I want justice? The cross of Jesus shows how equally in need of forgiveness we all are and how graciously it has been offered by the One who has never been in need of it.
So, we talked. I cried. Then, something miraculous happened. He didn’t understand. He did not apologize. His words were stoic and formal. He was caught off guard and at a loss for how to respond. I didn’t get deep sensitivity or caring. But it didn’t crush me. I climbed on an altar, expecting to be sacrificed but found myself freed. Like a tiny seed in my heart, something began to bloom. I wanted this man’s good. I wanted God to be kind to him. I was able to forgive.
I have rarely in my life felt so protected, loved and cared for as I did the day I walked away from that conversation. I had done as God asked, not just for his good but for mine. My heart could break without breaking me. God’s rebuke of me could be kind. God saw my pride, self protection and rebellion. I had dared to ask God to choose my good over another one of His other children, as if I were faultless. Something in me was ugly, prideful and demanding. Here in the ugly bits of myself there is forgiveness, mercy and grace.
Since that time Paul’s words on forgiveness live in me like light in darkness.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:6-8
Forgiveness is a miracle. It is one of the most amazing ways we as Christians can experience the miraculous nature of the cross in our relationships. His forgiveness of us births in us the humility to forgive, even those who hurt us. Forgiveness is still hard, but necessary.
Do you know what it is to be forgiven? Do you need to forgive?
5 thoughts on “The Anger in Forgiveness”
Stacie, though you’ve shared thus story with me, today it impacted me differently as I’m reading it. Did your act of obedience and courage ever produce fruit in him or is that still unknown to you?
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Ditto Betsy’s response. There is Power in these words. Thank you for your open raw honesty.
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I really loved this article. Forgiveness is an issue everyone deals with at one time or another especially in the context of family relationships. Should you go to the family member in the same way and tell them, in love, how they have hurt you knowing you can’t just walk away but will be seeing this person on a regular basis for the rest of your life? Isn’t the purpose of forgiveness to restore the relationship? Do you have any suggestions for handling this problem with a close family member? It is a real mine field that needs to be tread in lightly.
Great thoughts and questions Bonnie. Yes, family is much harder. For family or friend I would ask if it is for their good that they know how the relationship has been fractured. Is it for their good that they know you have been hurt and seek to forgive? Do they need to know you love them enough to talk? In the end though some relationships can’t be repaired. Reconciliation depends on the good will of both parties. “If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:8
I loved this, Stacie. Well-written. So very relevant to pretty much everyone who’s ever had confrontational people in their lives.
I have a question that stems from my own issues. Would you consider him to be a toxic personality? Forgiveness is necessary for every person, but I wonder if you still had to deal with him after your healing, and if he didn’t seem to change, was it reasonable to distance yourself from him? I have a person in my life, (Family), who reels me in emotionally and then stomps on me when I get close. The problems resulting no longer consume me like they used to, which tells me I’ve forgiven, but I do struggle in the area of “how involved should I be?”. I still get mad are things this person does to the other people in my family, though. Which might require another bought of forgiveness asking lol. Thoughts appreciated.