Almost six years ago (5 years and about 11 months, to be exact), I wrote a blog post about forgiveness. It was a huge step for me to forgive this person, J, who had deeply hurt me, and the blog post I wrote was a catharsis for me. The physical act of writing the post was the culmination of the emotional act of forgiving J, and posting it enabled me to truly forgive and let go of the pain.
I didn’t forget the pain, but it hurt less after I forgave. When J would come to mind, over time I felt less and less vinegary toward him. I remember the day I got a Facebook friend request from him. It took me a full 24 hours of prayer and pondering before I was able to accept the request, but I did it. Then I started running into his wife at stores around town. It wasn’t awful, and I was even able to be friendly to her. But in the back of my mind, I always wondered what would happen if I actually ran into HIM.
Late last year, I got the news on Facebook that J was fired from the same ministry where we worked together. I reached out to him, told him I could relate (and not in a mean way, I promise!), and reminded him of his value in God’s eyes – and not because of his employment, but because of God’s gracious adoration of us. J shocked me with his response, asking me to forgive him for how he was involved when I lost my job, and even admitted that he wanted to reach out to me back when it happened but felt his job would be in jeopardy if he did. I replied that I had forgiven him a long time ago, but his asking for my forgiveness meant more to me than I could explain. It was beautiful and courageous on both our parts to move past our shared history.
Still, I wondered every now and then how I might react when/if I ever saw him in person. And… I found out tonight!
The funny part is I was shopping at Aldi and saw a woman who looked a lot like J’s wife. I realized it wasn’t her, and then thought to myself (as I have many times before), God, when are you going to make THAT happen in my life? And I chuckled inwardly, not realized God was chuckling right alongside me.
Because about 20 minutes later, I was pulling into the Target parking lot and saw his wife walking toward their car. She was following a man I realized was J, and there was a child too. I made the split second decision to honk and wave at her, knowing that would invite interaction which would lead to me seeing J, face-to-face. As I parked and stepped out of my car, I said out loud to myself, “Okay, God…” and then I did something the 2008 Elizabeth would not have done:
I embraced the person who wronged me. And, man! It felt good!
I asked them both about their lives, and they asked about mine. We listened to each other and I felt like we genuinely cared about each other’s answers. I asked how his job search has been going, since I have been off Facebook and wouldn’t know. He told me he’s been working a part time retail job, and also started a home improvement business on the side with another pastor (he’s a pastor too). That was NO coincidence, since my neighbor had been asking me just yesterday if I know of any contractors who could fix a leak in her roof. And guess who does that? Yep, my old boss J! I got his contact info (which I have already passed along), and then talk turned to our former employer. He said he was glad to get out alive, and I told him I could relate. But I said as painful as the departure was, I am grateful that God brought me through it. The pain was used to bring me to a point where I could surrender to Jesus, even though some of the pain still haunts me today. (Literally, today at my current job I had a fear bubble up that I know comes from that specific position and firing I went through.)
I needed to say these words to J’s face. As much as I feel like he needed to hear them to understand my forgiveness, I needed to say them as a way to place that pain in its final resting place. It’s buried. It’s gone. And there is no longer weeping at the graveside! Instead, my weeping has turned into dancing because it’s another instance in my life where God has turned “into good what you meant for evil.” (Genesis 50:20) It’s another signpost in my life of God keeping His promises and granting me the beautiful perspective of seeing how He can truly redeem the unforgiveable.
As I drove home, I smiled and thanked God for giving me that gift tonight. I gave Him the glory and said, “You did this, God!” And, immediately, I heard His response in my head: “But you LET me.”
That’s when I realized truth: God did it, but it couldn’t be completed until I surrendered and let His way become my way. He is gracious and gentle because He modeled forgiveness to me, but that only goes so far until I take the conscious step to choose His way over my own.
I think it’s nothing short of extraordinary that God has painstakingly worked on this lesson in my heart for THIRTEEN years. I pray I can remember the waiting is as much a part of the change as the actual end result.
God, I am humbled tonight that You allow me such sacred glimpses into Your heart. Thank You for seeing me as valuable and worth rescuing. Thank You for not leaving me in the pit of bitterness and anger I used to live in [and, let’s not kid ourselves, some days I go visit it still]. You lived in it with me, and then climbed out and threw a rope down to help me climb out, too. Over many years You put people in my life who could demonstrate surrender and release to me, which dismantled my resentment without me even realizing it. I didn’t realize You were changing me, but You never stopped Your relentless remodeling of my heart. Oh, thank You, God! I am so glad I am Yours. Amen.
This makes me wonder: what other remodeling projects is He working on even right this minute that I haven’t noticed quite yet?!