When Church Hurts. And When It Heals.

Church hurts. There, I said it…although I hate that. I was reminded today, at church, just how much church hurt is in my past, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts regarding church hurt…and also, how the church can help heal those hurts.

I’ll be clear: It is not my intention to speak negatively against any specific people, to drag names through the mud, or to, God-forbid, cause anyone else hurt. In fact, I have chosen against sharing openly about my thoughts on this topic, until now, solely for that reason. But some time has passed and part of how I heal is through writing. So here we are. My intention in sharing my story is not ill-willed. My intention in sharing the following is for this very purpose: to give hope to hearts that have been wounded by people in the church. That is all.

Back to today. The leader at our current church asked a question to our group about our experiences in our church – specifically relating to the topic of dress attire – from the churches of our childhood. Quietly, I glanced over at my husband, and we just shared a knowing look and a small, albeit sad smile. I waited until the others in the group shared their experiences and I debated, and prayed about, whether or not I should say anything. But after some silence, I felt peace to share what was expected in my childhood church regarding attire. Women were to wear dresses or skirts (below the knee) and head coverings. I am not suggesting that is wrong, it was just my experience. I also shared two memories from that church with regards to the topic of attire. 1. I remember when an elder stood up and read aloud an actual dress code that was to be adhered to amongst the congregants, and 2. When, after wearing dress pants to church one Sunday (years later), I was pulled aside and informed, not kindly, that if I chose to wear pants (instead of a dress) to church again, I would no longer be allowed to teach Sunday School. I’m aware that’s referred to as legalism. But I truly believe that those same people who did those things would most likely regret some of their actions today. I believe we all make mistakes, and I also believe that, by the grace of God, we can learn from them and grow.

And then he asked me, “Did those actions ever affect how you viewed God?” No hesitation. Absolutely, they did. “How?” For me, it made me believe, in a very skewed way, that God somehow expected perfection from me, along with certain behaviour I was to maintain, and that I was not worthy to receive His love if I didn’t act, behave, …dress… a certain way. I have forgiven those people who enforced their own personal convictions onto me…and our entire church, but as I shared those memories in our church group, I was surprised to find that I became emotional. My whole body was shaking and I fought back tears as I answered those questions. Sometimes, we don’t realize to what extent certain actions and behaviours hurt us until we are forced to think about them…and the consequences of them.

I have been blessed to know a few women who are wives of pastors, and let me tell you – they know church pain more than anyone else. The countless stories I’ve heard from them would shock most people. (I have permission to share the following.) One pastor’s wife shared with me how her husband would wear shorts to church, not out of disrespect, but due to significant discomfort. A member of their church didn’t like it, so she thought it would be acceptable to walk up to him after each service and pull his leg hair and then walk away. Pause. Consider that. If you aren’t outraged by that behaviour, you should be. That’s assault. And that type of behaviour and attitude has no place amongst God’s people. Another pastor’s wife recounted, “We were both serving in ministry together in a para-church organization when we got married. Shortly after we we were married, the directors suddenly left the ministry, leaving the entire weight of the ministry on our 5-month-married shoulders. The strain that abandonment had on our marriage was quite huge at the time.” Church hurt is isolating. I could go on with so many other stories from my friends who are pastor’s wives, but just trust me on this: there is behaviour in churches that would shock you, anger you, and grieve you. And it should. Because that’s not what God’s people are supposed to be like.

On a personal level, I know church hurt also, although differently from pastor’s wives. However, before I share, I want to restate the purpose of why I’m sharing this experience, and I ask that you remember it as you read. The purpose of this is intended only: to give hope to hearts that have been wounded by people in the church. It is not to cause more pain. I also want to make it clear that I harbour no bitterness or resentment to anybody in the churches referred to, and I have forgiven these hurts long ago.

Our family stopped attending church for 2.5 years because of significant pain caused by people in a previous church we attended. We just figured that the more you get involved in a church, the more you know, and when you know things, for us anyway, we felt it was important to stand up for what we felt was right and to stand against what we felt was wrong. When nothing we tried seemed to work, we relinquished our efforts, and chose to remain in that church for the sake of our pastors. My husband and I have developed a deep love and care over the years for those in pastoral ministry and we felt our calling, at that time, was to remain in our church to continue to love and support our pastors how we could. We tried to do just that. But for approximately 2 years, we hated going to church. It was exhausting. Draining. And it was evident we were no longer wanted there by some people. And yes, someone even said, “Well, there’s the door.” But, it seemed to us that we were just causing problems. The only reason we stayed for the time we did, was out of obedience.

After some time, my husband and I both felt peace about leaving. We met with our pastors and reminded them of our love and appreciation for them and expressed our desire, should they wish it, to continue a friendship with them. We sincerely desired and wished the best for that church (and we still do), but we could no longer attend. It was just too painful. Partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, our church attendance…to anywhere…just dropped off. We were reminded often by friends of the importance to attend church during that time. I also remember telling one friend that if it weren’t for my kids, I’d never join another church again. Not because I didn’t want to. Not because I didn’t miss worshipping with other believers. But because the idea of joining another church and putting myself into another situation to be hurt was just too much. What’s the definition of “crazy”? Isn’t it doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? No thanks.

There’s nothing quite like church hurt. Perhaps it’s because as Christians we expect other people in the church to behave…like Christians. Crazy, I know. But that idea IS kind of is crazy when you think about it. The church is made up of people. Sinners. And, if you are someone who has been hurt by the church, and you’ve been told this cliché before, don’t close your browser just yet. Hear me out, please. I used to hear people say that when they had been hurt by the church, they gave up on attending entirely. And, out of my ignorance in not knowing what church hurt can really do to a person, I would simply respond with that old adage that has been said to me: The church is made up of imperfect people. Yes, I know. Funny thing though: Hurt people already know that and hearing it doesn’t actually make the hurt feel any less or go away. But, there is a nugget of truth to that thought. I read the other day that churches don’t hurt people; People in churches hurt people. And that is where, I believe, the key to changing our perspective of church hurt lies. We weren’t hurt by our entire church. We were hurt by a few members in the church. Not the whole congregation. Not the pastor. And recognizing that truth was freeing for me.

We knew that we “should” have been attending church every Sunday for the 2.5 years that followed after leaving that church. But every time we would force ourselves to attend church “for the sake of our kids”, it was traumatizing. Yes, traumatizing. I would get fidgety and very uncomfortable and pray the singing and the sermon would just end! I wanted to claw my way out of the sanctuary. It was awful. And I hated it. The people in the new churches we “tried out” were friendly. There was nothing wrong with the sermons or the people, but I just couldn’t be there. And then a friend asked me one day if I had considered, given my reaction to attending any new church since our previous experience, that I may be having a trauma response. And just like that, it all clicked. It made total sense. I just didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. I was associating any “organized church” experience with previous hurt and pain, and I couldn’t shake it.

But, God is faithful.

My husband had been suggesting to me that we should try going to a small house church in the city. I was very hesitant, for many reasons. But we went. And for the first time in years, I exited church on Sunday morning with a feeling that was utterly indescribable. We were loved. We were cared for. We were prayed over. We were encouraged. We were wanted. And we had the opportunity to be and do those things for the others there. For the first time in years, I left church feeling refreshed instead of drained, exhausted, and depleted. We witnessed what church was meant to be: people searching the Scriptures with one another, praying for one another, and caring deeply for one another. And it was incredible. It was clear that this was where God had called us. Our house church has been a place of deep healing for us.

But I’m not stupid. Growing up, my mother would often say, “You’ll never find the perfect church, and if you do, don’t join it, because you’ll ruin it.” How right she was. I have no doubt that we also caused hurt in that same church, and we’ve owned that. Causing hurt was the last thing we ever wanted to do, but I know it happened. The church is made up of people…who are imperfect, yes. But, the church of God is also made up of people who don’t hurt too. It’s made up of healers and helpers.

For our family, for this moment in time, in order to learn how to heal and trust again, God has provided a small group of people who love us…even with our imperfections. In the only way I’m capable of right now, God has met me and has provided an opportunity to still worship Him in a corporate setting. Just a much smaller one, without any resemblance of “organized church”. And I am immensely grateful for that.

I don’t know where God will meet you in your journey of healing, but I beg of you to remember this:

God is faithful.

His people are imperfect. (Including you.)

But God’s love for you is perfect.

And if you ask Him, (although it may take time) He will answer you and meet you where you are. Be patient in that process. Imperfect people will always hurt you. And you will hurt other people too, even if that’s not what you’re intending. But recognize that it is not the whole church of God that has hurt you. It may have been people in a church or it may have been certain beliefs a church holds or it may even be the structure of a church. But it wasn’t the whole church of God.

No church is perfect. The real church of God is humble. And it recognizes when it hasn’t been humble. The real church of God loves people well and it doesn’t cast people out. The real church of God is one that brings healing to wounded hearts and souls.

The only way the church can be real is to love God more than anything else. The only way a church can help heal your wounds is if you allow them to. And I know that can be a very difficult thing to do. But search your heart. If you wish to be part of a church that heals others, you must, as I have learned in this process, also learn to: Practice humility. Love Jesus. Read His Word. Obey His commandments. Set aside your pride and even the identity you have assumed from being wounded by the church and slowly, allow Jesus to bring healing to you – through His Word, through His presence, and through His imperfect church. If you give up on the church entirely, because you’ve only seen the ugly, it means you also give up seeing the beauty that’s there as well. It might be more hidden – because yes, it’s made up of sinners – but beauty IS there. Seek it. And when you find it, grasp onto it and never let it go. Because in it, there is a family that is waiting to embrace you with open arms, to love you, to pray for you, to care for and encourage you. And it’s worth every bit of hurt you experience in the process and every bit of searching you do. Choose to become a part of that healing for others. Choose to become what God intended His church to be – His beautiful bride. And from that, you will reap abundant blessings and indescribable joy.

Side note: When you do find that church family, remember to love your pastor and his wife well. And be their friend.

Elatasad: A Story of an Empty Home, Broken Hearts, and Inextricable Happiness

Did you know that it’s actually possible to feel inextricably happy and sad at the exact same time? It’s definitely possible. I learned that this past week. I “researched” Google to see if there is a word that describes feeling both of those emotions at the same time and my results seemed to come up a bit skewed. The closest word I could find in the English language to describe feeling both happiness and sadness, simultaneously, was: “bittersweet”. However, I don’t find that word actually provides me with the satisfaction I require today. It just doesn’t seem to convey what I feel…precisely. Google’s mixed results also suggested the words, “saudade” – a Portugese term referring to “a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for something or someone that one cares for and/or loves”, and “elatasad”, which apparently means, “feeling sad but also happy and excited”. I don’t know if the Oxford dictionary recognizes those terms or not, but frankly, I don’t care. They’re exactly how I’m feeling right now, so I’ll go with them.

As you most likely already know, there are seven stages to the grieving process. You also are probably aware that those stages rarely are experienced in any order…and those stages are likely to repeat themselves at any given time. The seven stages of grief don’t care one iota about order. They just hit you hard, usually when you least expect them. I won’t bore you with providing an exegesis on those seven stages, rather, for the sake of some brevity, I’ll assume you know most of them.

Anger. I’m so angry that I don’t even know what to type at this very moment. You know it. You’ve felt it. I mean REALLY felt it! There have been times where the anger you’ve felt has made you want to vomit, to shake, to scream profanity into the freezing cold, dark night. And then…you realize there is nothing you can do. So you just stare. At nothing really. You just feel…empty. Angry. Unbelievably depressed. Wondering if there is something, anything, you could have done to help prevent the current events that are swirling inside your mind. But that’s just it. You couldn’t. There is/was nothing you could do. And that’s when you stand in your friend’s empty house, making sure the pipes haven’t frozen in -40 degree weather, staring at the emptiness around you, recognizing that the emptiness you see before you, matches the empty and gaping hole left in your heart. They’ve gone. And no amount of questioning or re-running conversations in your mind will bring them back. And there you are amidst all the “empty”, left to figure out how to grieve it all.

For me, my anger and despair arose this week from saying goodbye to a friend. Not through death, but from a long-distance move. You might think that I’m being overly dramatic. “Your friend moved away? Seriously? Anger and grief because of that?” I hear you. And something inside me snarls that I know nothing of real grief. But the real me knows that I do. We could discuss my childhood friend dying in a horrific and tragic car accident when he was only 5 years old…before I could say goodbye. We could discuss watching my father leave my childhood home while I begged him to come back…before I could say goodbye. (He didn’t.) We could discuss the time I booked my plane ticket in the middle of university finals to fly to Ontario…to say goodbye…to my grandfather, just to be informed the next morning he passed away. I made it for the funeral. I have a profound hatred for goodbyes. I wonder why….

But, we don’t need to get into all that. I do know grief. In my own way. And you know yours. But here’s the real thing: My anger/grief/emptiness/whatever you want to call it, doesn’t stem from the saying goodbye…this time. It stems from the reason my friend had to leave.

I’ve said goodbye to two friends in the last three years due to very unjust and unfair circumstances. This one? Abuse. Does that make you cringe? I hope it does. Because of abuse that had gone on for way too long, my friend and her husband had to pack up their family, their belongings, their whole life, and move away. Her husband quit his job and they are moving from a beautiful, new home to a bat and mice-infested home far away. Why? Her words to me were, “Because it’s better than abuse”. That’s why I’m angry. That’s why I’m devastated. It’s so unfair and unjust. If I’m this angry, how must my friend feel? She’s the one having to say goodbye to everything. I’m angry, not only for me, but also for her.

“Every heart has its secret sorrows which the world knows not, and oftentimes we call a man cold, when he is only sad.”

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The burden of grief weighs heavily, doesn’t it? This past year has afforded me the privilege to provide care and a listening ear to two women who have lost their husbands. I’ve had the opportunity to sit with both ladies – to listen to their hearts, to hear some of their grief. And that has been an honor for me. I don’t take those opportunities lightly. I appreciate them. Those moments are sacred. They remind me that our life here is short. Our time is not unlimited. Our relationships and friendships do not and cannot last forever. At least, not here on earth.

But THAT is where we have hope! Our hope lies in Jesus Christ – the One who comforts us and grieves with us. The One who knows grief intimately. The One who said goodbye to the riches and beauty and comfort of His heavenly home, to take on human form, to give us eternal life – forgiveness of sins and the hope and assurance of heaven, where we will never have to say goodbye ever again.

That is why I can smile tonight. That is why I can feel grief and inextricable happiness at the same time. Not only because of the hope we have of heaven and no more “goodbyes”, but also because I love my friend dearly and desire the best for her. And right now, the best thing for her is to move away from her current situation to a more peaceful one. When you love someone, it hurts to say goodbye, but you also can’t help but rejoice to see them encounter freedom and peace in their lives. You rejoice in all happiness for them and their new-found home and hope. That’s just what friends do.

When was the last time you experienced it? Grief, that is.

The sad reality of life here on this planet is that we all do and will experience grief more often than we would ever desire to. But…God is gracious. And yes, I may have to keep reminding myself of that fact (every day), but it’s true. I won’t, even for a moment, pretend to have answers for you on the topic of grief, how long it will last, when it might overwhelm you, or what constitutes the appropriate situation to cause grief, because we cannot be the judge of one another’s grief…ever. I would argue that grief is sacred. It’s a process that must be honored and respected by all and never given a time frame.

I believe it was Dr. Seuss who penned, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” There is profound truth to those words. It seems like just yesterday that a co-worker of mine told me (when discovering I was moving to my current home-town) that his nephew’s wife lived there and that I should really meet her because we’d get along great. I nodded and agreed, having no clue how I’d actually get in touch with or meet this woman, but God did. I found myself sitting in a very random group of ladies one evening when I overheard someone whisper that the woman sitting directly across from me was “so-and-so’s nephew’s wife”. Immediately, I terrified her by excitedly asking her to confirm that remark and by stating how I was told we were supposed to meet and be friends. Thankfully, the surprise and fright that I caused her didn’t last, and by God’s grace, we developed a beautiful friendship over the last few years. One of trust, mutual respect, and love. Although I hated saying goodbye to her this week, I’m profoundly grateful and thankful for the time God allowed us to be friends. And by His grace, we will continue that friendship with the wonderful use of technology. A blessing. Absolutely.

For now, my heart hurts. And that’s ok. Because I know that God is not only with me, but He’s also with her in this move, guiding her steps, filling her with His peace, and being her Providence. And He does that for each of us when we ask Him to. Regardless of our circumstances, regardless of our current pain or grief or heartache, He is our peace. Lay your head on your pillow tonight, resting in the knowledge that He will provide for you, that He is your Peace…in every situation you face. Rest in the hope we have of heaven: a place where we won’t have to say goodbye ever again.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

– John 14:27

Continue reading “Elatasad: A Story of an Empty Home, Broken Hearts, and Inextricable Happiness”

Forgiveness – The Unexpected Gift of Freedom

It’s springtime here. And it’s beautiful. We moved last September to a tiny, hamlet-style town just 20 minutes from the city. We love our new home…and neighbourhood. I have absolutely no green-thumb, but my yards are completely (and meticulously) landscaped (from the previous owners). Each time I bring the children outside to play, I’m constantly checking the shrubs and perennials that line our fence. I check often because I have no clue if I’m supposed to be pruning off the dead, stick-like stems of what were once beautiful flowers just months ago, or if I should leave them in hopes of a miraculous, life-like appearance once again. But each time I go outside, the signs of new life are everywhere. The trees are budding and tiny, green shoots are peeking through the rock beds. Each time I venture into my own backyard, I witness something new and alive. It’s beautiful. Miraculous!

It’s Sunday afternoon. The thunder rolled and the rain poured. The puddles are deep and wide. Peacefully, my children napped through the storm. After waking from her rest, my daughter took one look outside and her face awoke with excitement, eyes widened, a smile cracking, revealing an inner joy. To add to the already blossoming excitement, she saw her friend already outside jumping in the puddles on our cul-de-sac. I had the ultimate joy of sitting in my livingroom, watching the girls play on our street, running through the puddles and squealing as they chased their umbrellas which were tumbling around in the wind. For some reason my five-year-old thought that having her umbrella run away on her was the most hysterical thing in the world. I smiled, listening to the rain gently fall, and the squeals of glee, mixed with the all-out gutteral bursts of laughter coming from my daughter. Is there anything more beautiful and peaceful than the joy that comes from listening to the sounds of your child’s laughter, or to witness their pure and innocent joy and happiness?

When we witness the happiness of our children, it brings a rush of joy to our hearts and souls. Think about it. Why do parents go to the ends of the earth to find that lost teddy bear? Why do parents painfully pull out their wallets once again at the carnival when they see the pleading in their child’s eyes to play that game or ride that ride just one more time? Why do we lavish gifts on our children at Christmastime (or Easter, or Valentine’s day, or for the really bad ones…Arbour day? ;)) If you’re like me, chances are you’ve probably even thought something similar to, “OK, I mean it. This year, I’m going cheap. They have more than enough toys. They really don’t need anything! A couple small gifts each. That’s all they really need.” The next thing you know, you’ve spent $400 at Costco (on the kids gifts alone) and you didn’t actually think through how you were going to get all of your purchases home. Or maybe you’ve stood in line for hours (or days) on Black Friday awaiting the massive sales on toys – that special one your child has been eyeing for weeks. Of course, I always think it’s sad how we rush out to get more stuff after we just finished celebrating Thanksgiving – the holiday where we are supposed to be thankful for the things we do own…but I digress. Why do we put ourselves through all of that hassle? I think it’s because, sometimes, we live for that moment – the build-up – when they finally open that gift and you get to see their widened eyes, their mouths open in awe, sometimes with squeals of delight or sometimes with no words at all – that moment where joy and happiness radiate off of your child. At the core, we are selfish people. Yes, we want to bring joy and happiness to our children, but being able to witness it – that does something for us as well. It brings joy and happiness to us. We can’t help but smile. We might even shed a tear depending on the situation and we might even think, “Yup! It was all worth it.”

Basking in the moment of listening to my daughter’s joy, I had to wonder if that’s how God feels about His children. It only makes sense. Having a child tends to reveal a depth of love which I don’t think most of us know we are even capable of producing. The moment a child is brought into the world and placed into our care, instinct sets in. Regardless of the kind of parent you are, regardless if you let your kids watch too much t.v. or none at all, regardless if you let them eat only chips for supper or if you provide a full-balanced meal, regardless if you scream at your kids sometimes or are completely calm and collected all of the time (you’re a liar by the way), regardless if your baby has sat in that poopy diaper for 20 minutes longer than he probably should have or if your child was potty trained right from birth, regardless if you live with your child or only get to see them every other weekend, regardless of our failings or shortcomings, when our child is threatened or hurt, that also does something to us. We either rise up as an evil monster comes out of us to do whatever it takes to protect our child, or our hearts will break as we watch them suffer and learn the hard knocks of life on their own terms. We are connected to them because they are our own and we love them. Just like God is to us.

How He must hurt when we hurt. How He must wish we wouldn’t have made some of the decisions we did. How He must ache, draw near, and comfort us. How He must want to guide us in healthy directions, keeping us from harm. How He must yearn to take our place sometimes so we don’t have to go through the pain of learning or paying for our mistakes on our own. Oh, wait. He did. Over 2000 years ago, on a cross, on a hill called Golgotha. Because we are His own and He loves us.

Can you imagine how it must have felt to watch His only Son be tortured? Spit on? Mocked and ridiculed? To witness the false accusations against Him and sit by and say nothing?

How deep the Father’s love for us? How vast beyond all measure!

For sending His only Son to die a death that was never deserved, He sure doesn’t ask for a lot in return. As a loving Father, He seeks to steer us toward paths of righteousness – good things! He desires to keep us from the hurt that this world brings. He asks for our trust, our belief, and our obedience. If you think of God in any manner but a kind, compassionate, and loving Father, you must think Him to be demanding, cruel, and a keeper from a life full of fun and happiness.

But just suppose for a moment He is Who He says He is. Suppose for a moment that He actually is the way, the truth, and the life? What if He is good? What if He is kind? What if He is the best example of what a loving parent ought to look like? What if He actually tells the truth and means what He says? At first glance, what God asks for in return – our trust, our belief, and our obedience – doesn’t seem all that impossible. But when we take a closer look, these three little words have big implications on every aspect of our lives. But I want to look at one specific area of obedience that Christ calls His children to – an area in which God has been teaching me a lot about lately –

Forgiveness.

Do you cringe when you hear that word? Maybe you’re even thinking, “Oh, she’s going there? Nope!”, and proceed to exit this webpage. But if we haven’t fully forgiven, doesn’t it just mean that we aren’t spiritually mature enough to face that area of our lives? Harsh, I know! But nevertheless, true?

Two points I want to make right from the get-go:

  1. Forgiveness does NOT mean that you must continue in a relationship with somebody who has harmed you or hurt you. Forgiveness takes only one person.
  2. Forgiveness is NOT the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation takes two people.

So what IS forgiveness? Forgiveness is the relinquishment of your desire for vengeance and justice against the person who has wronged you. From her book, Passion Pursuit, Author Juli Slattery states,

You must understand that the forgiveness God has called you to, for yourself and others, does not compete with justice. The loving Savior who hung on the cross is still the judge who is seated at the right hand of the Father. He is still the Righteous One who says that, “Everything done in secret will be exposed.” (Mark 4:22)

But this righteous judge has another name: Redeemer. He brings redemption for one reason – because He loves.

Forgiveness brings freedom – to you. It has nothing to do with the person who has wronged you. Extending forgiveness releases your hold of anger, vengeance, justice, grudges, and hostility – on yourself. It frees you to be at peace. It does not mean that when something unlawful has occurred, you refrain from making a report to the local authorities or don’t press charges. It does mean that you:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, fault-finding] and slander be put away from you, along with every kind of malice [all spitefulness, verbal abuse, malevolence].

And instead, choose to:

Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and FREELY], just as God in Christ also forgave you.

Wow! What a calling! And yet…when we stop focusing on the sin of others and “look at the log (the bigger sins) in our own eye” (Matthew 7:3), we slowly come to a place of humility. Before the perfect God in heaven, recognizing our own sin, we can’t help but fall prostrate in repentance. In that very moment, forgiving others from their “debt” against us, becomes significantly easier. But in that moment of our own sin recognition, we also come to a place where we realize that we must also forgive ourselves. I would argue that, most often, forgiveness of self is the most difficult kind of forgiveness we could ever extend. Upon realization of our own sin, self-forgiveness becomes almost impossible – because there are weights attached to it. It would mean the relinquishment of guilt. It would mean letting go of the shame we are burdened so heavily with. It would mean freedom from our own personal vengeance and justice – letting go of the self-inflicted need to suffer for our sins. It means letting go of your own pride – your independent desire “to settle your own score, pay your own bill, make your own way” (Passion Pursuit, p. 142). Let me be very clear:

WE CANNOT SAVE OURSELVES.

BUT, we can, however, place ourselves in a similar posture of the woman from Luke 7, before the ultimate Savior and Redeemer. Do you remember her? This is the woman who had “sinned much”. From Luke 7:36-50 (TLB):

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to come to his home for lunch and Jesus accepted the invitation. As they sat down to eat,
37 a woman of the streets—a prostitute—heard he was there and brought an exquisite flask filled with expensive perfume.
38 Going in, she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping, with her tears falling down upon his feet; and she wiped them off with her hair and kissed them and poured the perfume on them.
39 When Jesus’ host, a Pharisee, saw what was happening and who the woman was, he said to himself, “This proves that Jesus is no prophet, for if God had really sent him, he would know what kind of woman this one is!
40 Then Jesus spoke up and answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“All right, Teacher,” Simon replied, “go ahead.”
41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—$5,000 to one and $500 to the other.
42 But neither of them could pay him back, so he kindly forgave them both, letting them keep the money! Which do you suppose loved him most after that?”
43 “I suppose the one who had owed him the most,” Simon answered. “Correct,” Jesus agreed.
44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look! See this woman kneeling here! When I entered your home, you didn’t bother to offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
45 You refused me the customary kiss of greeting, but she has kissed my feet again and again from the time I first came in.
46 You neglected the usual courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has covered my feet with rare perfume.
47 Therefore her sins—and they are many—are forgiven, for she loved me much; but one who is forgiven little, shows little love.”
48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 Then the men at the table said to themselves, “Who does this man think he is, going around forgiving sins?”
50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

Did you catch it? “She knelt BEHIND Him, at His feet, weeping.” This woman was at the lowest of lows in her town, her social class, and probably even her self-esteem. She didn’t even feel worthy to kneel before Jesus’ feet; she knelt behind Him. What sorrow and brokenness she must have brought before the Savior! This woman had indeed, “sinned much”. But where there is much sin, there is much forgiveness. Where there is great sin, there is great redemption.

In order to forgive ourselves, we must believe that Jesus really is the TRUTH. If He is true, what He says is also true. Psalm 103:

vs. 3: He forgives all my sins. He heals me.

vs. 8-13: He is merciful and tender toward those who don’t deserve it; He is slow to get angry and full of kindness and love. He never bears a grudge, nor remains angry forever. He has not punished us as we deserve for all our sins, for His mercy toward those who fear and honor Him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west. He is like a father to us, tender and sympathetic to those who reverence Him.

Do you believe it? If not, you are indeed calling God a liar. God longs to forgive us. “He is like a Father to us…”

Do you dare let go? Do you dare cling to truth? Do you dare believe that God forgives you and even calls you to forgive yourself? In humility, in brokenness, in repentance, dare to approach your “tender and sympathetic” Father. From 1 John 1:9,

But if we confess our sins, God WILL forgive us. We can trust God to do this. He always does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrong things we have done.

God is that parent to us who longs to see us, His children, joyful and happy. He hurts when we hurt; but how it must bring joy to God’s heart when He sees His children living in the freedom that He offers us, the freedom that His only Son died to purchase for us. God delights in His children! Psalm 149:4 states,

For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with victory.

Choose this very day to put your stake in the ground. Claim the freedom and the miraculous newness of life that comes with forgiveness. Run through those puddles and let out those squeals of glee, because you know that your tender and sympathetic, heavenly Father says to you, just like he said to the woman who had sinned much:

“YOU ARE FORGIVEN. GO IN PEACE.”