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The Day I Forgave My Abusive Father

Written by Aryanto Wijaya, Indonesia, originally in Bahasa Indonesia

I used to hate my father. In my eyes, he was a compulsive gambler, a hypocrite and someone not worthy of being a father.

On one occasion, he came home at the crack of dawn after a long night of gambling. He had lost 10 million rupiahs (SGD $1,039) that night. Sore and resentful, he took his anger out on my mother and I. Yelling, he kicked and punched the furniture in our house. Even my mother, who was cooking, was not spared. I watched helplessly as my father mocked and swore at her. He even tried to hit her.

I was sick of this treatment. Enraged, I approached him and slammed the kitchen door. I exploded in anger, shouting: “I don’t care about your gambling problems. It is your choice to gamble and your consequences to bear whether you win or lose. But can you at least not bring problems from outside into our house?”

He answered by attempting to punch me in the face. Dodging it, I ran outside as my father cursed and swore at me. I hated him so much. I did not want to acknowledge him as my father.

Not knowing where to go, I rode my bicycle aimlessly. I did not want to go back home—I knew my quarrel had made the situation at home very ugly. I decided to go to my home church, which was five minutes away. It was not a Sunday, and hence, there weren’t many people around. However, I still hoped I would meet a church friend there who could cheer me up.

I sat in church, daydreaming for hours. The scene of my outburst in the morning kept replaying in my mind. My heart felt as if it was being torn apart as I recalled all the unkind things my father had done to our family. It was not the first time he had gambled and vented his frustration on us. In fact, whenever he lost money gambling, he would hurt my mom, slapping and hitting her. It made me so sad that I could do nothing to stop it.

Fortunately, my friend came to church that day to retrieve his bicycle, which he had parked in the church garage. Seeing me in that state, he asked me what had happened. Sobbing, I tried to explain what had happened. My friend hugged me without saying a word.

That evening, I decided to go home. I hadn’t brought money or clothes out with me and I felt bad leaving my mother alone at home. When I got back, I learned that my father had gone out to gamble again.

 

Deciding to Forgive

As I lay in bed that night, I was hurt and angry. I began to question my self-identity as a Christian. I was reminded of my baptism in 2004, when I promised to follow Jesus with all my heart. Following Jesus meant extending forgiveness the same way God did. If God could forgive a sinner like me by sending Jesus to die on the cross for my sins, then did I have a right not to forgive other fellow sinners? Was I a true believer if I refused to forgive my own father?

Even as I prayed to God for a solution, the verses God impressed upon me were all about forgiveness. The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12 had made it clear to me: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus even told Peter to forgive 70 times seven times (Matthew 18:22).

To be honest, that verse sounded very clichéd to me. I felt like I had heard it many times, whether through Sunday School or sermons. Then I remembered Matthew 18:22, which talks about the core of the Christian faith—the receiving of forgiveness and the act of forgiving.

Reading that verse, I gave in. I couldn’t bear the burden of hating my father anymore, and I wanted to release all my pent-up hatred. That verse had clearly told me to forgive my father. However, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

In my desperation, I prayed: “God, please grant me the strength to forgive him.” God listened to my prayer. After praying, I calmed down and thought through the incident carefully.

I realized that it was partly my fault. I had allowed my anger to take over me and yelled at my father. Instead of being patient with him, I chose to fight fire with fire. I should have used water to extinguish the flame. That water was forgiveness, which would eventually dissolve the hatred in me.

Fearing that he was still upset at me, I texted my father, saying: “I apologize for what I did.” After apologizing, I felt so relieved and peaceful, I slept without any worries that night. The next day, I approached him and apologized again. Although I was initially disappointed that he didn’t say anything, I soon realized that I had nothing to worry about. I had already done what was right in God’s eyes.

Little did I know that apologizing to my father was the first step in setting myself free from the grudges and selfishness inside me. I came to believe that no matter who was in the wrong, I should apologize first. The act is important to me because when I apologize, I am humbling myself. Knowing that I had done what was pleasing to Him, I felt great joy. I also became certain that forgiveness would set me free from any hatred.

 

Forgiving My Father

It has been years since I forgave my father for the first time. In 2012, I went to a college outside my hometown and found a job in Jakarta. I no longer live under the same roof as him. Up till now, my father is still gambling.

I’ve learned that forgiveness might not change those who have hurt us or improve our condition. However, as we forgive others, we learn to be like Jesus. Forgiving him has helped me view the situation from another perspective—I don’t resent him anymore.

When Jesus was mocked and tortured on His way to Calvary, He didn’t curse or mock them in return. Instead, He prayed for them. It is written in Luke 23:34 that “Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

I have started to pray that my father will one day know Jesus. As time progresses, I have talked to him bit by bit—something that seemed impossible in the past. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that forgiveness is just like a seed that we plant. If we take care to water and nurture it, it will grow and bear fruit one day. The seed of forgiveness bears fruits of peace and reconciliation.

I can learn to forgive only because God first forgave me for all my sins. Through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we are now reconciled with the Father and can have peace.

Just as the Father has forgiven us, will you follow His example? Will you let go of your pride and forgive those who have hurt you?

Even if you find it difficult to forgive now, it doesn’t mean you can never do so. Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long process.

Let us remember the forgiveness that was first extended to us and forgive just as God has forgiven us, for He can grant us the strength to do so.

 

Why I Kept Failing to Truly Forgive

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

Forgiveness always felt like a mind game.

When people hurt me, I would tell them that I forgave them. But the truth was I was rarely able to move on from painful experiences. Despite knowing that Christian forgiveness required me to stop holding grudges, angry and resentful reflection came so naturally to me that I did not know how to change.

Every time I thought about past offenses or arguments, I obsessed over the details, captive to cyclical, anxious thoughts. How could I possibly pretend that something had never happened and did not affect me? I wanted to forgive people, but I also wanted them to feel my pain and recognize just how wrong they had been.

Because heartfelt forgiveness seemed like an impossible goal, I focused on learning life lessons from negative circumstances. I thought that if I could clearly understand what went wrong in a situation and what sins, insecurities, or misunderstandings drove a conflict, then everything would make sense and I could move on.

It never worked. No amount of rational reflection could take away my pain, and even if I came to a satisfying conclusion one time, there was no guarantee that I would be able to respond the same way when the memories returned.

Love does not heal everything; rationality does not fix my feelings. I felt like I would explode if I ignored offenses, but at the same time, I knew that my rage was the antithesis of Christ’s example. My mother often quoted from James 1:20, which said: “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

But what could I possibly do? No matter how many true things I thought, the churning bitterness was still there. Throwing this verse in my own face along with accusations of pride, disobedience, and lack of love never helped anything.

One night, unable to fall asleep, I started fuming again over a long-resolved conflict with a friend. Nothing in particular triggered it. I just suddenly became a flaming ball of rage about an issue I thought I had found closure with. My friend had long since asked for forgiveness and fully owned her mistakes, but I wanted to lash out with all the studied explanations of how I was right, she was wrong, and it was completely unreasonable and unjust for her to say and believe what she once had.

I hated feeling like this, because it was unloving, made me miserable, and robbed me of joy. The night of my angry episode, I told myself that I needed to somehow forgive her and move on, but at the same time, I could not imagine a world in which I could be free of bitterness.

Then it dawned on me: what if my everyday gospel application was not just “Jesus in my place,” but Jesus in her place? If I respond to memories of my own guilt by fixing my eyes on the cross, I can do the same when confronted with someone else’s wrongdoing.

Through Jesus’ sacrifice, I am forgiven and made whole, and I have no more debt to pay. The same is true for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Grace does not explain away someone’s wrongdoing and pretend it never happened. It acknowledges the truth of sin, but points us all to an even greater truth: Our sin is all finished and paid for, and we are free from the bondage of sin and from the prisons of our memories. If I want to apply this consoling, life-changing grace to memories of my own failings, I must extend the same grace to those who have hurt me.

That night of reflection changed my life. When painful memories now come to mind, I do my best to apply the gospel and reject the temptation to dwell on the past. I can gaze upon the cross, where both I and any offender have been vindicated in the sight of God. We are forgiven and clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and there is no condemnation for us.

I do not have to create excuses or justifications to make peace with another’s sin. Nor must I persuade people of their wrongdoing and make them feel my pain. God took their sin seriously, and Christ died for it, and my only just response is to say that if God’s sense of justice is satisfied, then mine is too.

Forgiveness is not a magical feeling that erases my pain—but it was never intended to be. Rather, forgiving others and myself is an ongoing process that pushes me into an even deeper reliance on God. I find peace in the gospel, knowing that forgiveness is possible through Christ alone.

5 Facts that Helped Me Choose Forgiveness

Written By Ching, Singapore

We all react differently when people hurt us. Some of us lash back, some of us brood quietly, and some turn to other sources of comfort for solace. Sometimes, we can become bitter after being hurt, and it eventually destroys our relationships.

Are there any broken relationships in your life? Is there anyone you cannot forgive, such as a family member who has said hurtful words?

I know what it feels like; bitterness and unforgiveness are the norm in my family. To cut a long story short, it took me all 28 years of my life to learn to forgive my own family members. Over that time, I discovered a few things about my inability to forgive:

A. Not forgiving is a choice.

A mother once scolded her child for holding a grudge against his sister for years. He retorted, “If it’s so easy, why don’t you forgive your own brother?” Shocked at his impetuousness, the mother exclaimed, “Never! Do you know what he did to me?” The child then asked, “Then how would you expect me to forgive my sister?” The young boy was simply mimicking his mother’s decision to not forgive.

Consciously or unconsciously, we often choose to withhold forgiveness as a way to “punish” the person who has hurt us. Unfortunately, this ends up becoming a poison to ourselves.

B. An unforgiving spirit chokes us.

An unforgiving spirit is a weed that saps our strength and drains life out of our souls. It wears on us physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. However, so often we still choose bitterness over forgiveness, and so fertilize these weeds that end up choking us.

C. An unforgiving spirit feels awful but is almost impossible to let go

Isn’t it strange that we hate to be bitter (after all, it describes the most repugnant taste!) but find ourselves drawn to it? Why do we want something that saps our energy and “dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22)? If bitterness and an unforgiving spirit are so unpleasant, why are they so hard to let go of?

Jesus preached a radical message of forgiveness. He told His disciples to forgive people who sin against them over and over again (Matthew 18:22). This message jarred with the prevailing worldview then, as it is now—payback was and still is the norm. But Jesus was a model of forgiveness to the end, and even gave His own life so that we can be forgiven and can in turn, forgive others.

In my own journey to forgiveness, here’s some things I learned that helped me:

1. Forgiveness is impossible on our own.

Throughout my life, I had come across countless sermons, books, and conferences about forgiveness. But I could not—and did not want to—forgive the people who had hurt me. Over the years, I would make feeble attempts to forgive them, but each attempt lasted only a few hours before bitterness came back with a vengeance.

Forgiving others on our own is not only difficult, it is impossible.

A supernatural outcome requires supernatural means. When we cannot accept that our offender deserves to be let off with forgiveness, ask the Holy Spirit to help you overcome. Rely on Him and surrender your inability to forgive.

2. Forgiveness is easier in a safe environment.

In her book, Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, Christian psychologist Diane Langberg wrote that she was once asked why a woman who was still living with her habitually violent husband could not seem to get over the trauma of his abuse. Langberg replied, “You cannot ‘get over’ something still happening.”

We know that when we go through a bout of flu, all we can do is to keep the fever, chills, and sniffling from getting worse. We must wait until the illness is over before we can begin the work of recovery and regaining our strength.

Likewise, if our bitterness stems from a traumatic, abusive or violating relationship, seek safety and stability. This may involve living separately or taking other actions to ensure our safety, such as seeking protection orders or reporting to the appropriate authorities. Living in a safe refuge, away from the trauma, will make it easier to begin the healing process of forgiveness.

But it may not always be realistic or practical to move out, especially when there are other loved ones in the picture. Also, the bulk of us may not face such extreme situations. More often, it could be a matter of us struggling to forgive our loved ones for their unreasonable behavior. In such instances where we cannot pluck ourselves out of the situation, seek help from a trusted friend, a professional counsellor or qualified pastoral staff who can aid us in our journey.

 3. Forgiveness is best done in a community.

Bitterness can deepen and fester when we remain isolated. But in a Christ-centered community, we can learn from our spiritual mentors or fellow believers who have forgiven others. A spiritual mentor can help us identify where the bitterness stems from and keep us accountable as we resolve to break the unforgiving spirit in our lives.

This however, requires us to be vulnerable and authentic. It takes courage to open up to another person but this may be a necessary step.

If we’ve yet to find such a community, let’s pray that God will be gracious to provide us godly individuals who can journey with us.

4. Forgiveness is a daily choice.

We all have times when we attempt to forgive, but then something triggers a memory and we experience the hurt all over again. Forgiveness is a constant, conscious, daily choice. Each time I am tempted to withhold forgiveness and choose bitterness, I need to surrender again and let God’s Spirit work in me.

Walk with Christ daily. Pray for the desire to forgive. And rely on His strength in forgiving.

5. Forgiven people forgive.

“Hurt people hurt” is a common saying in the social service sector where I work. It means that sometimes people who have suffered some form of hurt pass that hurt on to others, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Christ came to break this cycle, and in fact, to reverse it. His death and resurrection redeemed broken people and enabled them to become forgiven people, and to use their lives as a blessing and a channel of forgiveness for others.

Forgiven people forgive.

 

Sometimes, those closest to us are the hardest to forgive. My mentor used to say that “ministry starts at home”. I would like to add that ministry at home can be the most difficult.

But at the end of the day, I know that bitterness and an unforgiving spirit can lead to a lesser life and immense pain. I also know that by God’s grace, we are able to forgive the people who have hurt us, and to live a life free of bitterness.

There is sweetness in forgiving. It may take years or decades, but let God help you let go, as you embrace your identity as “forgiven” and then a “forgiver”.

I have started this process, and am still in the middle of this beautiful journey. Will you join me?

 

 

The following works are where a lot of my ideas for this article came from. I encourage you to read these articles in your own journey to forgiveness.

Battling the Unbelief of Bitterness” by John Piper. The article offers good theological grounds for not being bitter

I Am Forgiven” by Mark Driscoll. This is a very practical and biblical sermon series on the theme of forgiveness.

Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, by Dr. Diane Langburg. This is a fantastic book by a veteran psychologist and counsellor about trauma and suffering.

Is it Possible to Forgive Our Enemies?

One evening in 2015, an unassuming young man walked into a church. The regular attendees of the church’s weekly Bible study warmly welcomed him and proceeded with the meeting for an hour. Suddenly, that young man stood up, took out a gun, and shot everyone in the room. He shot each person multiple times, uttered racist remarks, and walked out. Nine people died that night, including the senior pastor.

This was not the dramatic opening scene to an action-thriller movie. This was real life. The church was the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. The nine murdered were regular church members—and African Americans. The young man was 21-year-old Dylann Roof, a white man who later admitted that he had committed the heinous acts in an attempt to ignite a race war.

What words can describe the horrors of such an atrocity? Who can comprehend the anguish and outrage the victims’ families and friends felt? Surely they must have desired justice, or even vengeance.

But instead, the families of the victims responded in an extraordinary way. Though they were in tears and struggled for words, they chose to extend grace. In their formal statements to Roof at a court proceeding, the grieving relatives stood up one by one, declaring that they forgave Roof and that they were praying for his soul.

Wow.

Imagine that. Imagine someone hostile or just not particularly fond of you, destroying people who are dear to you. How would you react? Would you, like the Charleston believers, choose not to retaliate but offer your enemy forgiveness instead?

By our own strength, most probably not. But what the Charleston believers had, and so do all of us, was faith; faith in a God who not only died for His enemies but forgave them as well. As Christians, we know the command Jesus gave in Matthew 5:44 well enough: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It sounds so simple and straightforward, yet it’s almost impossible to obey in reality.

Reading about the Charleston news caused me to reflect on my own experience. Five years ago, a friend of mine was stabbed to death by her perpetrator after an attempted sexual assault. Although we were not related by blood, she was like a sister to me. Losing her was like losing an important piece of my world. I felt a gut-wrenching loss.

Her killer was caught in the act and charged with 26 years in prison. When I received news of the sentence, I didn’t respond as the Charleston believers did. “It’s not enough,” a mutual friend expressed, echoing my own thoughts. We were still so angry. I struggled to forgive.

It took me months to hear and understand God’s call to forgive. Through the biblical account of King David, God softened my heart.

Here’s a quick recap. Before he was king, David spent some eight years running from Saul, Israel’s first king, who was hell-bent on destroying him. It was a time of constant unrest, fear, and suffering. Yet, even when David had the opportunity to kill Saul, he did not. He knew that Saul was still God’s anointed. And when Saul finally died, he even mourned for his enemy (See 2 Samuel 1:11-12).

Ultimately, it was out of obedience to God that David chose not to exact revenge on Saul. And I believe that like David, the relatives of the Charleston victims did the same, because they recognized that God had authority over Roof, as much as He did over them. Roof’s life was in God’s hands, not theirs. Because of that, they were able to surrender in obedience to God and forgive their enemy.

In the same way, I had to acknowledge that my friend’s killer was in God’s hands, not mine. I had to acknowledge God’s authority over him. So, as absurd as it felt to me then, I verbally forgave and prayed for my friend’s killer. It didn’t take away the grief, but the act of forgiveness released me from whatever illusion of rights I had over him—rights I believed I deserved because he caused me pain, because he was an enemy in my eyes.

Forgiveness, I believe, is the first step we need to take to love our enemies.

It is a step of trust in the almighty God who is sovereign. And whether we like it or not, we were once God’s enemies. But God chose to provide a way of forgiveness for us, so that “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son . . .” (Romans 5:10). Having received God’s forgiveness, let’s extend that forgiveness to others—even our enemies.

Is there someone you need to forgive today?