But I Don't Want To Forgive

Forgiveness is a tough topic but an important one. Sometimes we feel entitled to hang on to unforgiveness and letting go seems like letting someone off the hook, but we are called to forgive and there are benefits. Releasing things and being proactive with forgiveness can help us move forward and heal.  
Single mom, Amber, shares some of her journey to forgive even when she didn’t want to.  Like many divorced solo parents, Amber got married expecting it to last forever. But after 17 years, her marriage hit a crisis that ended in separation. She longed to see her marriage saved, and over the course of a three years, she waited, fasted, prayed, and sought wise counsel. She did everything possible, including many things driven by control and codependency, to avoid divorce. Ultimately, though, her ex was never fully on board to work on the relationship so, after 21 years, her marriage ended. From a place of painful devastation, Amber found herself on the difficult journey of needing to forgive.  
She shares it wasn’t infidelity that was the most difficult to forgive. One of the hardest things to forgive were the hurts and pains her children went through in the process of divorce. For former single dad, Robert, one of the hardest for him to forgive was the wasted time and effort he poured into his marriage wanting it to be restored only to find out his spouse wasn’t being honest and committed in return. That was difficult to let go of and forgive. Kimberley shares that, like Amber, the hurts she experienced were easier to forgive than the hurts done to her children. It has been hard to see them struggling and, as they have gotten older, to become resigned to the pain and losses they have faced. As parents, it’s difficult to see our kids hurting and often we are hurting too. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy under circumstances like these so how do we work toward forgiveness?
Forgiveness isn’t minimizing pain
Amber shares that forgiveness is a process and, even while she chose to forgive her ex, in no way, did forgiveness minimize the pain or the wrongs she experienced individually. While the hardest thing was seeing the pain in her kids, she had a lot of hurt she wanted to hang on to also. Forgiveness isn’t minimizing that pain and it’s not forgetting it either. It is a process and a choice.
Forgiveness prevents bitterness
Amber shares that early on, she didn’t want to forgive. She was angry. She felt like she was owed something, and she wanted her ex to pay. It was easy to justify her anger and hurt but she also realized she didn’t want to become a bitter person. She had seen others going through divorce become ugly and cynical. She wanted to remain someone who could love people, and not become hard and cold. But she knew that would be difficult, so she asked God, “Lord, please help me not become bitter.” A good friend challenged her too, saying “Amber, don’t let this sour your spirit.” And she felt that starting to happen, so she came before God and asked him to help her. She didn’t want to become angry and bitter, bashing her ex or others in the process. That prayer for help was the first step.
Forgiveness is a decision
After that, forgiveness was a decision. She says it took a lot of time and a lot of connection to God. It started with God nudging her not to hate her ex and she admits she had feelings of hate in her heart so even that felt like an important step. That was one of the first seed God planted. God checked her attitude of blame by reminding her to “look in the mirror” and be honest about the things she needed forgiveness for too. From that place of humility, forgiveness was a mindset and a decision.
Amber shares that it was an act of the will and one she didn’t make alone. She needed God’s spirit to guide her through it and, in the process, she says God never “gaslighted” her. She never felt like she should “pretend it didn’t hurt, minimize it, or deflect it”. Instead, she always felt seen by God. Somehow that made it easier to forgive, she says, “God cared, and He saw me. Even if I let go of wanting revenge or punishment for my ex, God was in control. Knowing He cared for me so deeply helped me let go of my need to punish and be punitive toward my ex-husband.”
Forgiveness takes time and multiple steps
Amber shares that the process of forgiveness didn’t happen overnight. She has been divorced five years and it took multiple small steps over that time to forgive. The first step was “Don’t hate him.” The next nudge was, “Don’t say anything bad about him in front of your kids.” While she didn’t do that perfectly, she did try to do that intentionally. Then she says, “God upped the game” and she felt led to begin speaking positively about him to her kids. She was like, “Oh, you want me to build him up? This guy who hurt me, who hurt them? You want me to say good things about him? Really? Thanks, God.” But she felt that nudge so strongly, she started to do that. She would tell her kids, “You know, your dad supports us financially. I’m really thankful for that”. She would look for ways she could honor him by saying things that were positive and true.
Then God upped the game again. She felt led to start saying good things about her ex to him.  She found herself saying, “You know, I’m really thankful for the way you’ve always provided for us. You are a man of honor in that. You’ve always been consistent. Not only that, I tell my family…you’ve been very dependable.” Robert noted that must have been hard, asking, “Wasn’t there a part of you that felt like you’re letting that person off the hook? Like, “Why am I going to highlight the good stuff? Do you understand this person has just railroaded me?”
Amber shared that was difficult and “saying it’s a process is a very short description for what was a lengthy time of tears, acceptance, and feeling really sad”. She said she talked about it a lot with people who cared about her, noting “You know it’s easy to say, “Well, yeah, it’s a process”, but the process involved so much work.”
She remembers a time when she needed to detoxify from negative feelings of rejection, abandonment, and hurt, and all the ways the divorce was impacting her as a woman and as a wife. A mentor told her detoxifying was necessary and suggested she take a bath to detox. But, she said, “As you’re there, pray and ask God to detoxify all those things you are thinking and the lies you are believing”. Amber followed her guidance, and as she did, she felt God saying, “You are chosen. You are accepted. You are loved. I will never abandon you.” Every toxic thought and feeling she brought before God, she felt like He began to replace with the truth and detoxify her heart and spirit.
“So, when I say it’s a process, I don’t mean it happened quickly or overnight. When God would nudge me on these things, you know what I said?  No way, Lord. Seriously?!” She argued with God, asking Him why. Eventually, she felt God asking her to pray for her ex’s happiness, and she thought, “No way. I deserve to be happy. I have sacrificed. I am here every day with the kids, pouring into them, through
difficulties I’ve faced alone. You want me to pray for his happiness? I deserve to be happy.” She found herself saying, “Lord, I don’t want to do that.”
Forgiveness isn’t easy
Forgiveness isn’t something that comes naturally. It isn’t easy. We often don’t want to forgive. Robert shares, “We need grace for ourselves when we don’t want to forgive. We need God to help us with the process. And it’s one little step at a time. It’s not flipping a switch… It doesn’t happen overnight. We need to have grace.” That couldn’t be more true and God’s grace continued to lead and be enough.
Forgiveness is one sided
Amber shares that for her, forgiveness came before an apology.  The process started long before her ex ever acknowledged his part in things. Then, one day, at the start of the pandemic, he called her while she was in the car and said he was sorry for all that had happened. She says it was so impactful, and such a shock, she had to pull her car over to hang up and cry it out. The apology came long after the work God had already done in her heart. She says, “I had to forgive before then because the apology may never have come.”
Forgiveness isn’t conditional on an apology. Forgiveness is something we can do in the absence of another person’s acknowledgement. They may never own their part in things and it’s hard to forgive when it feels so one-sided but there are things we will be faced with as Christians that we don’t want to do. Even Jesus didn’t want to face the cross, but he yielded to God’s will. Forgiveness isn’t getting to the place of feeling as if we want to do it. It’s getting to the place of realizing God will get us there even when it is one-sided.
Forgiveness has benefits
Amber shares that with each small step of forgiveness, seeds were planted that paved the way and opened the door to benefits for her and her kids. There was better communication with her ex, it provided space for him to show up in her kids’ lives in ways he hadn’t before, and it opened the gates for mercy and grace in ways she didn’t expect.
Forgiveness allowed her to not engage in ugly, negative talk about her ex. It gave her peace and stopped a lot of family drama. While her kids were angry and hurt by their dad’s absence, forgiveness created space for him to come back into their lives. As they got older and began to process their feelings, Amber encouraged them to talk with him about those things. That opened the door for accountability with their dad and provided an opportunity for them to reconnect.
This was highlighted this summer as Amber was planning a trip to the beach. Her son came to her and asked if his dad could come along. After checking to see if he had any thoughts that they might “get back together” again, and realizing it wasn’t about that, she asked her daughter about it too. When both kids wanted their dad to come with them, she said she felt peace about it. Her kids are teenagers and the time with them living at home is short. So, she asked her ex if he was willing to come along at the kids’ request. She was surprised when he said yes but really sensed God at work.
While at the beach, she saw the seeds of forgiveness that had been planted long before began to bear fruit. She really saw “God’s beautiful redemption as he took something that was so broken and hard and challenging and turned it into something where we are connected…as a divorced family.” Her kids have been able to see and experience that redemption too.
Forgiveness makes healing possible
As God’s grace has led her on this journey, Amber is grateful, “Forgiveness doesn’t make healing complete, but it makes healing possible.” She sees that happening with her kids. She sees the healing connection they are establishing with their dad in ways she never thought would be possible. Her daughter’s views on men, on marriage, and relationships were forever changed by divorce, but they are also being changed by this time of redemption. That seems evident in her son too as he felt the freedom to ask if his dad could vacation with them at the beach in the first place. God continues to lead them toward further healing and forgiveness.
Author and speaker, Lysa Terkeurst says, “Forgiveness is a complicated grace that uncomplicates my anger and helps me see beautiful again.”  Amber shares she is “amazed at God’s ability to restore and redeem the most difficult, painful parts of our story”. She didn’t know eight years ago that this year at the beach with her ex would be possible, but she is so thankful to serve a God who knew that, and who is still writing His story of redemption.
As we make the decision to forgive, even when we don’t want to and need God’s help to do it, we find ourselves taking one step at a time toward unimaginable benefits. We move toward freedom and set up a culture of healing for us and for our kids. God brings beauty from ashes as we are obedient and walk in His grace.

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