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Moving From Guilt to Freedom

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

My heart was tense. I kept remembering the recent conversation with my former church leader. I had explained to her my decision to leave for a new church,* and apologized for letting her down.

But she was visibly upset, and directed hurtful, accusing words at me. After that conversation, I tried texting her once a week, but her reply was always short— “I’m fine. Thank you.” The last time I texted her, she stopped replying altogether.

This leader had been a great help to me during my discipleship journey. I remember when she first brought me to the church five years ago. I was facing some complex family issues then, and she was one of the persons who directed me to God and showered me with love.

I grew spiritually in that church. I was grateful for the comfort they provided, and I made a promise to stay faithful to the church and to eventually bring my family there for worship. But that never happened, and now with my departure, it won’t be happening at all.

I felt helpless, and God seemed so far away. I was so consumed by that feeling of helplessness that I woke up one Sunday morning, and didn’t feel like worshipping God. But I figured I should at least go to church and listen to the sermon, so I eventually dragged myself out of bed.

 

The Bondage That Held Me

As the worship leader led us to begin singing the song “No Longer Slaves,” I remember praying, “Lord, show me what is hindering me. I just want to worship you.”

God brought to light my guilt over leaving my previous church. While it was not necessarily wrong for me to leave, I felt guilty for not fulfilling my promise to my former church leader.

I had also raised my voice during the discussion with my church leader. I was defensive and somewhat bitter as I explained my reasons for leaving. Hence, I was guilty also for taking offense instead of seeking peace (1 Peter 3:11, Matthew 5:9). I should have answered with gentleness and respect (Proverbs 15:1), thus keeping a clear conscience. Instead, I sinned, and in turn, led my church leader further into sin also.

As we continued singing, I became immersed in the lyrics: I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. . . We’ve been liberated from our bondage, we are the sons and daughters, let us sing our freedom. . .

I found myself lifting up my hands as we sang. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how the Lord had rescued me again and again in the past. Though I have faced many tough situations, the Lord has always carried me and walked me through my darkest moments.

At the end of the song, I felt as if God were speaking into my heart, “Don’t hold onto the guilt of leaving anymore. Look at My redemptive work on the cross. Lay down your burden; I will carry it. You are no longer a slave. You are mine. Be set free.”

 

Where Freedom Is Found

As I shared my worship experience with a trusted friend, she pointed me to Romans 8:1-4. If we are in Christ, there is no condemnation; the Spirit is life-giving and sets us free from the power of sin and death. No matter what mistake we have made, Christ has died to set us free from condemnation. As long as we put our faith in Him, His sacrifice on the cross justifies us. No human work can do or undo this justification.

When we live according to the Spirit by faith, we can repent, experience Christ’s forgiveness, and move on by His grace even if the person we have wounded has not yet forgiven us. Our flesh is weak. We do things we should not. But there is power at the cross. At the same place where God freely offers forgiveness when we ask, there is a redemptive work that empowers us to live differently—to let go of guilt, and focus on leading a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way and bearing fruit in His kingdom (Colossians 1:10-12).

Through the worship on Sunday morning, God taught me to focus on the power of His cross—even in our confusion and brokenness, it brings both healing and direction for a way forward.

Though my former church leader has yet to forgive me, I know that God already has. Because I am set free from the guilt, I can now pray without hindrance for my church leader to also find healing at the redemptive work on the cross. I continue to pray for the eventual reconciliation of our relationship.

 

* I do not encourage changing churches lightly. No church is perfect, and generally we should remain in our home church and seek to grow spiritually there, encouraging and supporting one another to grow in Christ. However, if you do feel led to move on to a new church, it should be done only after careful consideration, a period of prayer, seeking the Lord through reading His Word, and counsel from mature Christian mentors or church elders.

No Longer A Slave to Bitterness

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

“Don’t you ever dare think of taking Jack away! You need to prove yourself as a mother first.” Those were the harsh words of my mother-in-law, trying to stop me from taking my son home for the weekend.

My husband and I had just bought a new home. Friday after work, I arrived at my in-laws’ to bring my 6-year-old son home to stay for the first weekend after unpacking. My mother-in-law has a strong emotional bond with Jack since she has played a vital role in taking care of him since he was born. She was the voice of the home, and everyone in the family was afraid to defy her. My attempts to reason with her eventually led me to raise my voice, and she slammed the door at me.

I left her home in tears, and without Jack. I had spoken to my husband the day before about fetching our son back to stay for the weekends, but he did not want to do the work of talking to his mom. He left me to speak to her about it, despite knowing her unwillingness and the possibility of a disagreement.

This again led to our quarrel when we were home. Why wouldn’t my husband be responsible and talk to his mom about reasonable expectations? How could he leave me alone to deal with his own mom? Because I lost my cool and raised my voice, I was labeled as the bad daughter-in-law and bad wife, but could anyone understand my feelings?

I went to bed feeling bitter that night, and cried myself to sleep. I felt like I had married someone who refused to shield me, and that I was a daughter-in-law who had the support of no one.

When I woke up to read the Bible the next day, I still felt bitter and angry and could hardly concentrate. Determined not to let my emotions overcome me, I continued reading, and Psalm 73 caught my attention. It is the Psalm of Asaph, and it describes a time when Asaph’s spirit was grieved and embittered—he saw that people who did not follow God had no struggles, while he himself was afflicted.

Like Asaph, I was grieved and embittered at how I was treated in this whole affair. Why could I not bring my son home after such a long wait? Why would my husband not support me?

Asaph’s turning point came in verse 17. He entered the sanctuary of God, and came to understand that the wicked people’s earthly comfort would not last for long unless they repented. In the final verses, Asaph affirms that God is righteous, and that his own suffering would not be in vain. Though his flesh and his heart may fail, God will be his strength and his portion forever.

In reading Psalm 73, I was reminded not to see things only from an earthly perspective. Instead, like Asaph, I should see things from a kingdom perspective—the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). When I applied that to my own experiences, I was lifted up.

Earlier, I had felt bitter, upset, and burdened. I had found it hard to communicate with my husband without feeling angry. But as I fixed my eyes on Jesus, I knew I had to respond in faith. God is all-knowing, and He has allowed all these to happen so that I may find a solid anchor in Him and marvel at His light. With God’s truth in mind, I reconciled with my husband by apologizing to him.

However, it was not easy facing my mother-in-law. Her unreasonable words tempted me to be bitter again. I realized that while I cannot control her response towards me, I can control my own response towards her. I can choose to surrender my bitterness and follow Christ. I saw the need to guard my heart with the Word of God—which leads me out of darkness and sets me free from bitterness.

When I was bitter, I felt like a prisoner chained in the darkness of anger. By following Christ and choosing to surrender my bitterness, I felt like a prisoner set free. I was able to walk with Christ unhindered. Though my flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:26). The Bible reminds me that as a servant of God, I must be compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient to others. I can choose to respond in kindness to my mother-in-law even though her heart might still be hardened, and my efforts to show kindness may not yield any remorse. As I fix my eyes on the unseen, God reminds me not to waver—because He sees our deeds and rewards us (1 Corinthians 15:58).

When I turn my thoughts to God’s truth, bitterness can no longer destroy my faith in Christ. Had I remained bitter, I would have gotten into more quarrels and missed out on the power of God. As I surrendered my bitterness, God took my bitterness and turned it into forgiveness, power and courage to love again. Through it all, God has shown me that His love surpasses all bitterness, and forgiveness is made possible by His strength, especially when the hurt is deep.

The Bible tells us to love our enemies and to pray for them (Matthew 5:44), which I found hard to do until I remembered that my struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12). Knowing that God is sovereign over all events and that He wills all things for our good (Romans 8:28), I prayed to surrender my situation to Him in repentance and committed my thoughts to obey Him. Just like Asaph, I saw the goodness of God only when I turned my eyes to Him. And now I can say as he did that it is good to be near God, I have made the sovereign Lord my refuge (Psalm 73:28).

I Thought I Would Never Forgive

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

When I got married and moved in with my husband’s family, there were many conflicts. I was immature and hot-tempered, and exchanged many harsh words with my in-laws. I continued to anger my in-laws for days after heated quarrels, and eventually my mother-in-law called me a “nobody’s child,” emphasizing how unwanted, unloved, and unwelcome I was.

After a year of this—my husband often siding with his parents—I left the house on a bad note. My departure supposedly marked an end to the verbal abuse I had suffered. However, I carried with me a lot of anger and hurt. These had been accumulating since the day I got married and left my parents’ home to stay with my in-laws, all the way to the day I was called a “nobody’s child.” The insults left a deep wound in my heart. In my darkest moments, I even wished misfortune upon my husband’s family.

During this time, I stayed with a church friend. My pastor and mentor continued to follow up with me concerning my family struggles, and they constantly urged me to bring them before God. In the quiet home where I now was, I began searching through God’s Word. The more I searched, the more I was captivated by God’s promises for us during bad times, He was constantly reminding me of how He keeps track of my tears (Psalm 56:8) and how His plans for me are good. In those times of desperation where I felt extremely vulnerable, God’s assurance of my future held me close to Him. Through His Word, God continually led me to a place of repentance and surrender.

But I still struggled internally. Even though I was no longer staying with my husband’s family, phone calls with my husband triggered memories and anger again. My husband continued to side with his parents and insisted that I owed them an apology. It felt like everyone accused me of being the problem.

 

God Is My Defender

Through all this, I wrestled with God. I kept telling Him, “It’s not fair that I have to go through all this. I did not marry to be bullied. Everyone has a defender except for me. Who will hear me? Why can’t I just escape it all?” I wished that I had a different battle, something I could either manage or escape. But so often in life, we cannot choose our battles.

As I wrestled with God, I was reminded of Romans 8:31-32. If God is for me, who can be against me? He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for me—how will He not also graciously give me all things? As I read those words in the Bible, I felt as if it were God speaking to me, assuring me that He is with me, and would give me the strength I needed to overcome this situation. As I continued reading in verses 34-35, I was reminded that there is no condemnation in Christ, and nothing can separate us from God’s love.

I began to see that God was not being unfair. I began to sense that He was indeed with me. Even if everyone in the world were to condemn me, because of Christ’s sacrifice, God does not condemn me. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. As I leaned into the words in Romans 8, I began to see my situation in a different light. I began to see the purpose in my hurt. Through my hurt, I experienced God’s assurance and comfort. Even if I was condemned by people around me, I found hope in God.

God had allowed these events for me to see His love for me. If I had not been failed by men, I would not have turned to God. God in His faithfulness had used events in my life to draw me back to Him and show me His blessings. I could not deny God’s sovereignty throughout these events.

 

My Struggle to Forgive

While Romans 8 comforted me, Matthew 7:3-5 convicted me. In this passage, Jesus reminds us to get rid of the plank in our own eye before accusing others of the speck in their eyes. These verses spoke to the heart of my situation. If I were to say that I was not at fault, I would obviously be lying to myself. I shouted at my in-laws instead of showing them respect. I was rude to them, and that was not pleasing to God either. These verses reminded me that, all along, I had been pointing fingers at others without paying attention to the plank in my own eye. I owed my husband’s family an apology.

I knew I needed to repent. But truth be told, it was hard for me to do so when neither my husband nor his family showed any remorse for their actions against me. They continued to insist that they were not at fault. Surely, it wouldn’t be fair if I pretended like nothing had happened and allowed them to continue to bully me.

 

Enabled by God’s Love to Forgive

Over time, God encouraged me and renewed my mind. As I continued reading the Bible, I increasingly realized that I was God’s precious child, not a defenceless “nobody’s child.” In my broken moments, I learned to anchor myself in God. I no longer needed to walk in the brokenness of unfairness, anger, and despair. Instead, I could see my situation through God’s eyes—filled with hope and purpose. I was determined not to fall back into my old self, enslaved to self-pity and hopelessness.

When I first tried apologizing to my in-laws, they remained aloof and continued to hurl words of insult and condemnation. But I held on to the promises that God had given me and persevered. And through a long period of endurance and patience, my husband and family eventually softened their hearts and accepted me as family once again.

This process involved a lot of self-denial, heartache, and pain, but God showed me that we should overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). The famous words of Martin Luther King, Jr. resonate with me. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The only way to experience forgiveness and be able to forgive is to first experience the love of God for ourselves and show others His love.

Our reconciliation eventually moved my husband to purchase a new home with me, and we had the blessing of my in-laws to live as a married couple. But more important to me than even this reconciliation, is realizing that having God in my life is the greatest good, especially in the face of conflicts or trials. None of this would have been possible if not for God’s love for me, compelling me to live a life worthy of Him and radiate His love to others. Nothing surpasses the worth of knowing God. As I see the goodness of God working in my life to redeem me from the darkness, forgiveness is made easier.