When It Is Just Too Hard To Forgive (Part 1)

The choice is ours, but the rest is up to God

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I check my schedule when I get to the office and notice that a patient was accidentally booked in two appointment slots. My schedule is typically full, so I notify the front office so they can open that spot in case someone calls that day needing to be seen. Later that morning I realize who filled this opening and I begin to fret inside. What possibly could I do or say to help this patient? His daughter was killed just a few weeks prior by a serial killer, and the memorial service happened to be four years to the day after his wife’s memorial service . . . who lost her battle with lung cancer.

I knew it would be futile to pretend I had the medical or spiritual answers to help this man, so I pleaded for help from the Holy Spirit, and I walked into the room . . . completely dependant on God to show up. I decided that if I had nothing else to offer, I could at least offer my compassion, and just sit with him in his pain. I told this patient (let’s call him Mark) that there were simply no words for what he had been through, and I asked him if I could give him a hug. He let me embrace him, and then I asked him how he was.

As you can imagine, Mark was distraught with grief, and wrestling with anger. He complained of his neck hurting constantly since all this happened, most likely from all the stress. I asked Mark if he was willing to talk to a trauma therapist and he agreed. I noticed the Christian tattoos on his forearms, so I asked him if he had a preference for a therapist, whether he wanted them to be a Christian. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Well I kind of have a problem with God right now.”  Of course he did - I understood, and I told him that most people in his shoes would feel that way.

I asked Mark if I could pray for him, and he willingly accepted my offer. I knew in my heart that forgiveness was key to helping Mark heal, but it seemed too much to even pray – it felt wrong to even suggest this in the face of such a heinous crime. So instead, I asked God to help Mark release his anger to Him, and I asked God to bring peace and comfort to Mark’s heart.

When I was done praying, Mark looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “I know I need to forgive him. I have tried, but I am so angry.” I gently reminded Mark that forgiveness does not mean it was okay what this man did, and I pointed out that our God is a God of mercy and justice . . . so it was right for this man to pay for the crime he committed. I also reminded Mark that forgiveness is not something we can do in our own strength; it is a gift from God. Just like salvation is an act of grace through the finished work of Christ, the continued working out of our salvation (in acts like forgiveness) is also fueled by grace. Trying hard to forgive does not lead us to breakthrough; surrender does.  The truth is, we do not even have to feel like forgiving - God only asks that we come before Him as we are, and choose forgiveness. Then we lay it at His feet and let Him do the work.

“Like when you sit in front of a fire in winter — you are just there in front of the fire. You don't have to be smart or anything. The fire warms you.” - Desmond Tutu

Suddenly I remembered a story my friend from Guatemala told me and I felt led to share it with Mark. My friend’s husband lived with a man named Carlos, and his family had an incredible testimony of how they found God.

Carlos’s brother Pablo was a staunch atheist who constantly inflicted his anti-religion beliefs onto him and the other family members. Eventually, Pablo became a university professor and married his secretary, who was a Christian. But Pablo was a heavy drinker, and one night he ended up with alcohol poisoning and was pronounced dead in the ER. Pablo felt himself being pulled down into darkness, but in that moment he cried out, “Jesus save me!” He then felt himself being pulled into a place of light. He met Jesus and pleaded that he be able to return to his family to tell them the truth, because Pablo felt responsible for their lack of belief. The Lord allowed it, and Pablo felt himself going back into his body . . . and he woke up in the ER. Over the next few years, Pablo’s family members came to know the Lord.

There was a civil war in Guatemala at the time, and the army would kill off people on certain lists, especially those who had sympathized with communism. Hired assassins would kidnap people and torture them, or gun them down with machine guns. Though Pablo no longer carried communist beliefs, he was known for this in his past, so Pablo prepared his family for the possibility that he could be killed. And since Pablo had asked the Lord for just enough time for his family to come to the Lord, and this had now happened, he figured his time could be short.

One day Pablo was coming out of his house and some men gunned him down. The family all came outside and a crowd gathered. Pablo’s daughter got up in the truck bed and spoke to the crowd. She said, “If the killer is still here, I want him to know that I forgive him in Jesus name. My father was ready to go to heaven because he believed in Jesus as his savior. And Jesus will forgive all sins, even you for what you have done.”

Years later, Pablo’s wife was going to church and came across two deacons at the door. They asked her, “Are you related to Pablo Ortiz?” She got goose bumps because no one had asked about him in years, but she said, “Yes.” They replied, “Praise the Lord. We are his killers. We hid our weapons and mingled with the crowd and we heard your daughter. We tried to go back to our jobs as assassins for the government but we could not forget what she said, and we found a pastor who led us to the Lord. We know that God has forgiven us, but we would really like to hear it from someone in the family.” She said at the moment all she could think about was Pablo’s bloody dead body, and that she hated them and did not want to forgive them. But she said to the Lord, “I know You want to forgive them – so You will have to do it.” She then felt this warmth come over her body and she saw herself extending her hand - without realizing what she was doing, she was saying, “I forgive you in Jesus name.”

Mark’s eyes got big and a peace came over his face as he said exuberantly, “That is it! Why did I not think of that?” His countenance completely changed as he realized the work of forgiveness was not his burden to carry. Mark then paused. He looked at me and said, “My neck does not hurt anymore.” The weight had literally been lifted off his shoulders (Matthew 11:28-30).

I wanted to jump up and down with joy at Mark’s breakthrough. As I walked into the room a few minutes earlier, I knew there was hope even for this man in Jesus. But in the face of such a tragic loss, I had no words to communicate that hope, and no solution for his pain. But the Lord answered my desperate plea for help, and was teaching me that I did not need to have all the answers to be used by Him; showing up was enough. Jesus multiplies what little we have to offer, just like He did when the disciples felt helpless to feed the 5,000 (Luke 9:13). Our job is simply to step out in our inadequacy, while leaning on Him (1 Corinthians 4:7). In fact, these are the opportunities where His glory can shine most brightly, when our wisdom and gifts are undoubtedly not enough.

If anyone has a right to hold onto resentment, it is Mark . . . but Mark never had a forgiveness problem; he had a theology problem. Somewhere along the way Mark forgot that forgiveness requires supernatural intervention – he assumed he just had to try harder. In reality, Mark’s only work was to choose forgiveness . . . and keep choosing it. The rest was up to God.

I admit that I haven’t yet acquired the absolute fullness that I’m pursuing, but I run with passion into his abundance so that I may reach the purpose that Jesus Christ has called me to fulfill and wants me to discover. I don’t depend on my own strength to accomplish this; however I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead. I run straight for the divine invitation of reaching the heavenly goal and gaining the victory-prize through the anointing of Jesus. Philippians 2:13-14 (TPT)

**The details of this account were shared with Mark’s permission, but his name was changed to protect his privacy

Click HERE to read PART 2 of this article

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

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