Moving Forward in Forgiveness
Natalie was devastated the day she found out her dad had been arrested. His costly mistake sent shockwaves through the entire Brown family and pushed away many friends. Forgiveness was not easy for Natalie, but it was where God started restoring her relationship with her dad.
On December 10, 2009, my world was rocked. My mom picked me up from school and she told me that my dad had been arrested.
As a 12-year-old daddy’s girl, I refused to believe what she said. In my confusion I thought, "Only bad guys got arrested, right?"
Turns out, when good guys make mistakes, they also have to face consequences. It doesn’t matter if someone has a history of doing good, loving others, loving their family, or working hard. If they break a law, they have to face the consequences.
For my family, our lives changed forever, and we are still facing the consequences today, my dad especially. But the reason I am sharing our story is because of how we experienced forgiveness in a new way.
A Costly Mistake
We had been attending our home church since I was 18-months old. It wasn’t considered a small church back home, but it felt like one. Everyone knew everyone and we had some amazing friends there.
My dad was a regular attender and he worked hard for the church he loved. He was in a Sunday school group, volunteered in AWANA on Wednesday nights, and served at many church events.
When members found out about what he did, many were appalled, even outraged. They were angered that the church let him come back, that my mom decided to stay with him, even that she let him live with me and my two sisters. Rather than forgiving him, many people left the church.
Because my dad had made a mistake. This one mistake caused others to see him as a completely different person than they had before. This one mistake not only blemished his character but also outright destroyed it in the eyes of others. People that had known him for years seemed to turn their back on him during a time when he needed their love and support the most.
For me, this was beyond confusing. These people were or friends. They were Christians. Or at least they claimed to be.
God calls us to forgive, right? Then why did they believe they had the right to judge my dad for the mistake he made? Why didn’t they love and support him at a time when he needed it the most?
"Forgiveness is Hard"
I must admit, at this point in time, I still hadn’t forgiven my dad. I had lost so much trust in him that I didn’t believe he deserved my forgiveness. Then I realized I was doing exactly what I was so angered about.
Forgiveness is hard. It can take every ounce of our being to forgive someone. But that is what we—as children of God—are called to do.
"Forgiveness is not a one-and-done-deal. I have to forgive my dad on a daily basis. It is easy to say that you have forgiven someone, but it is a completely different story to act that out." — Natalie
As children of God we are called to forgive everyone, whether we deem them deserving or not. And to do so continuously. We are human, and we cannot forget the sins of others. So we must choose to forgive every day, especially during times when we are angered the most.
Because we can never forget, we must always choose to forgive.
Forgiveness is a Choice
Forgiveness is defined as choosing to stop feeling angry or resentful towards someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake. In the Bible, it is equated with canceling a debt.
A key part of the forgiving process is telling the other party that they’ve been forgiven. This is especially important when they have asked for forgiveness. If we withhold our forgiveness, how else are they supposed to know that they have been forgiven?
As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. And if we claim to love and follow the Lord, we will develop the fruits of the Spirit. While all of them are important, I believe there are three in particular that stand out in this situation—kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
Not only should we be kind to others, but we should be gentle towards them. And, in the act of true forgiveness, we should demonstrate self-control in communicating with them. If you cannot tell someone that they are forgiven because you don’t think you can do so in a civil manner, it's a strong indication that you are still harboring something against them in your heart.
God does not tell us to keep our mouth shut if we can’t “be nice.” Yes, forgiving someone in your heart is important, but part of living your life with a posture of forgiveness is vocally expressing that forgiveness with grace and mercy. If anything, telling the other party that you have forgiven them—and why—is liberating. It is a huge step forward in letting go and moving forward.
Forgiveness is Turning to God
I would not have forgiven my dad and moved forward had I not turned to God. That's because I believe there is a difference between moving on and moving forward.
Moving on means going past the situation without a willingness to be productive or to turn bad into good. Moving forward means acknowledging that harm was done, forgiving, and then looking for ways to find joy in the situation and make things better than before.
Second, I had to turn to God to find truth and not to others. The vast majority of other people, including some Christians, didn’t think my dad deserved my forgiveness. And if he did deserve my forgiveness, he didn’t deserve my love or my willingness to mend our relationship or build back trust.
Had I listened to them, I would have gone against God’s calling for me and would have absentmindedly betrayed him just as much as he betrayed me. I would not be as close to my dad as I am today—closer than I was before his arrest.
That is why it is so critical and so necessary and wise to go to God for advice. FIRST. He is perfect, he is truth, he always has our best in mind.
Have faith in him.
Turn to him before you turn to yourself or to others.
You will see just how willing and able God is able to use a broken situation for his glory and for your good.
We live in a world of sin. Because of man’s chosen separation from God, sin flooded our world. Because of this, we face pain and hurt every day. We are by no means perfect. But by God’s saving grace we have been redeemed. We may be a part of this sinful world, but we have Jesus. And in Him, we can know love, we can know joy, and we can know freedom.
God Calls Us to Forgiveness
By the power of God and the grace of the judge, my dad’s sentence was only 10 days. It went from 65 months, or 1,975 days, to just 10 days. We are still facing consequences from his probation sentence, but the grace that was extended to us through the judge was remarkable—only through God’s power and our faith in him was it perceivable. This is the kind of grace that everyone deserves, not the world’s judgement or what the world deems fit.
God calls us to love everybody—the broken, the poor, our enemies, EVERYONE. In God’s eyes, everyone is loved, everyone is worthy, especially those who are his children.
Just like I have evidenced in my own life, God can do amazing things through any situation, no matter how bad it may seem. But only when he is at the center. When his truth and his Word are the guiding factors and not human emotion or thought.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured at the cross, despising shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” —Hebrews 12:1-2
More About Natalie
Natalie Brown is a senior at Appalachian State University majoring in Business. She is from Wilmington, North Carolina. Natalie found theHeart during her junior year of college. Her passion lies in prison reformation, and after college, she hopes to start a non-profit to help prisoners recover and start fresh once out of prison. She is excited to make new friends and cultivate deeper relationships with those in the High Country. She loves how theHeart “feels like home.” Natalie's responsibilities as a returning intern will include helping further develop some of the essential administration functions at theHeart.