This week, Marcella wraps up her excellent series on Forgiving "Him" (the one who betrayed us) with more on her forgiveness journey. Realizing the cost of unforgiveness, versus the benefits of forgiveness, helped Marcella to move forward. Ultimately, though... it was "pressing in" that made all the difference.
Thank you Marcella for sharing your heart and wisdom! For more on Marcella's story, see the Compassion video series.
The Cost of Unforgiveness and the Benefits of Forgiveness
When we have been deeply wounded, we often feel trapped in a cycle of anger and resentment which can give rise to a series of self-destructive patterns. We were wronged, and we may feel we have the right to be angry and justified in our unforgiveness. But the scripture tells us what the end result of staying in bitterness and failing to forgive will be. In Matthew 18:23-35 we read the story of one who failed to forgive, even though he had been forgiven much.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Reading this passage of scripture after being betrayed made me feel frustrated and hopeless. I wanted to obey God, but I could not even imagine forgiving what my husband had done. It was a violation of everything he had promised, and very fabric of our marriage and family was shredded. I was in such misery, I couldn’t sleep or eat or even think straight. I lost blocks of time. I cried or screamed even knowing I could be kicked out of my small apartment with nowhere to go. My mind was bombarded with such horrible thoughts and fears. I was certain they would lock me up in a mental hospital very soon.
When I knew I could not go on any longer without losing my mind, knew I'd had more than I could take, I began to cry out to God, and I told Him that I wanted to obey Him, but I would never be able to forgive this offense. I heard His quiet whisper say, “I never asked you to do this on your own. Just continue to press into Me, and I will do in you what needs to be done.”
I realized then that I had allowed my bitterness and resentment to grow and grow in the years before “D” day, and that I had already been experiencing the “tormentors.” I could not live like this any longer. It was very hard to even believe that God still wanted a relationship with me; I believed He had judged me and found me wanting. But where else could I go? He alone has the words of life.
So, I did what I could, I pressed in. I told Him all my fears and doubts. He reminded me of the verse in Isaiah 42:3 “A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice (NIV). You couldn’t get any more bruised or broken than I was, so I took comfort in that. I knew the Lord would have to do a great work in me for me to be able to forgive. But if He was willing, so was I. I just could not go on the way I was.
I looked up scriptures on forgiveness, many of which I was familiar with. And, then eventually looked up studies on forgiveness. I made a mental list of the benefits of forgiveness and the cost of staying in bitterness and resentment. I remembered things I had heard at AA tables many years before (my dad had made us go to AA with him because “alcoholism is a family disease").
It seemed that those who were making the most progress in their recovery talked a lot about "letting things go." I read that therapists have seen that people who do not forgive often stay immature emotionally. Those who forgive often begin to mature, even those suffering from serious psychopathy.
Those who are unable to forgive are often trapped in a cycle of anger and resentment that spills over into other areas of their life, and this leads to other self-destructive behavior. Those who choose to forgive begin to find relief from this cycle. I remembered the scripture from Hebrews 12:15 “Take heed, that no man fall away from the grace of God: let no root of bitterness spring up and trouble you, lest thereby many be defiled” and I could see that I had allowed this to happen when I looked at my own precious children. I still see it to this day.
I realized that I needed God's forgiveness as much as anyone else ever could and that He uses the same measure to forgive us that we use to forgive others. I asked Him to do in me what I could never do on my own. And the adventure began.
Marcella Burns is a recent graduate of Liberty University, with a MA in Human Services Counseling/Life Coaching. She is the mother of nine children and grandmother to four. She was married to a sex addict and intimacy anorexic for 34 years. She is working toward certification as a Life Coach, intending to work with partners of sex addicts. She used to be the “Queen of Bitterness” but has resigned from that position and is working toward walking in love and forgiveness toward all.