World renowned British author and theologian C. S. Lewis described loving our enemies and forgiving them as “our terrible duty.” In his work Mere Christianity, Lewis said, “To mention the subject of forgiveness at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this is too high and difficult a virtue; it is that they think it is hateful and contemptible. That sort of talk makes them sick, they say.”
I get that.
For the second consecutive year my husband, Clint, and I prepared to enter into a time of fasting and prayer this past January. Last year’s season of fasting produced such joy and benefits, both to our physical health and in our relationship with God, that we eagerly anticipated the genesis of our Daniel Fast again this year. It’s hard to go into something you’ve experienced before without preconceived notions of what to expect, but I’m learning that God is not about staying in the flimsy boxes we create for Him. This year’s fast was nothing like the previous year’s for me.
In fact, my big breakthrough from this year’s fast didn’t come following the fast. My huge spiritual revelation didn’t even occur during the time of prayer and going without. As I’ve said, God will not be bound by human-constructed time constraints or dates on a calendar, so this year my large epiphany happened the day before our fast even began. And, initially, I was NOT happy about it!
There I was, enjoying my last Sunday prior to beginning our fast. I can’t exactly remember what I was doing, but it certainly wasn’t anything pious or spiritually noteworthy. I was sitting in our office, minding my own business, when suddenly and distinctly I felt the Lord speaking to me. I wish there were clear words to describe how God speaks to me. It certainly isn’t audible, but it is clear and resounding, nevertheless. Sometimes it is tenderly, always it is with compassion. Even so, that day, it felt like a pop between the eyes. Because that day, God told me to forgive an enemy.
Now as a rule, I’m not one who has a lot of enemies. I can get along with most everyone, or at least avoid people who rub me the wrong way and wish them well. But there was this one person…
This one person I couldn’t stand. For years. Years ago this person had overtly mistreated someone I cared about. For years I harbored resentment and animosity toward this individual. For years I wondered, quite frankly, how someone who had acted that way could possibly have any friends at all.
I couldn’t try to consider the idea that this individual had struggles to overcome; I didn’t want to look at them through the eyes of Jesus. I only felt what I felt, and those feelings ran deeply. I know we are called to pray for our enemies, and so from time to time I would pray for them, pray for my heart to be changed towards them, but try as I might on my own, I just couldn’t or wouldn’t get past the fact that this individual had hurt someone I cared about deeply. For so long I had had a sick feeling in my stomach any time I thought about the situation, and I avoided any interactions if at all possible. I blocked this person on social media and deleted contact information on my phone. Basically I had tried to shove any negative feelings deep down inside and move on.
God is not about shoving it down and moving on, my friends, let me tell you. Because on that Sunday afternoon that He told me to forgive this person, God was very clear. After all these years of deep animosity, I was instructed to not only forgive this person once and for all, but I was to reach out to them and tell them I forgive them and ask THEM for forgiveness too!
Are you kidding me?!?
It’s been said that holding onto unforgiveness is like you eating rat poison and expecting the rat to die. I knew this, and at the time, I was okay with that prospect. God apparently was not. He was very, very clear in His directive to me.
I walked out of our office, went to where my husband was sitting, and filled him in on what God had instructed me to do. I asked him to pray for me to have the strength to be obedient. Then I went into our room and began praying. Actually, “praying” is really a loose term, because it in all likelihood was more akin to wrestling. It was painful. Through tears and sobs I asked God why I had to do this. I tried to convince Him that I already did forgive this person. My method of avoiding contact was fine. Shoving down my feelings about them was fine. Not asking for forgiveness was certainly and altogether definitely fine. God was not having any of it. Not surprisingly, my persuasive arguments did nothing to change His mind.
When I realized that I was unsuccessful in convincing God to come around to my way of thinking, I moved on to my next tactic: negotiating. By this time, I realized that I had no choice but to be obedient to God’s command. After all, I remembered a wise mentor once stating that it is impossible for a follower of Christ to say, ‘No, Lord’, the implication being that if you said no, then He isn’t really your Lord. So instead I prayed in earnest for God to help me.
“Please, God, if I do this, PLEASE have my back! You know I do not want to do this, but I love you and I want to be obedient to you, so please, please have my back! Please don’t let me be ashamed, don’t let me be humiliated; don’t let this open up a can of worms. I am begging you.”
The Psalms contain similar prayers from David:
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! Ps. 71:1
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Ps. 31:1
O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Ps. 25:2
Finally satisfied (or maybe just exhausted and worn down), I logged onto FaceBook Messenger to see if I could even contact them there. I honestly hoped that blocking someone meant you couldn’t communicate through Messenger, but as it turns out, you can. I then proceeded briefly to explain that I had been holding on to unforgiveness towards them, and that I was sorry, that I forgave them, and that I hoped they would forgive me. With one final whispered prayer, I hit send.
Do you want to know something? In that moment, with that small, difficult act of obedience, I was free. Instantly, completely, finally… free. I knew it immediately. Frankly, I was shocked. I’ve never felt anything like it. In that moment my spirit knew with clarity what Jesus meant when He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). For years I had carried the heavy burden of hating an enemy, and in one instant, it was gone, replaced with Jesus’s yoke of peace and love. I can honestly say now that I can think of this person with no feelings of ill will, no surge of vitriol, but instead with a wish for well-being and peace.
I should probably let you know that in a few days’ time I had a notification from Messenger. I wondered what the response would be, but even though it was quite possible that I would receive a negative reply, I wasn’t filled with dread or fear. The peace of God that came from forgiveness and obedience was guarding my heart and mind in Christ (Philippians 4:7). As it turns out, this individual replied with grace, saying that they forgave me.
To be carefully clear, I’m not suggesting that every situation should be dealt with in an identical manner. Although we are called to forgive, there are some situations that require boundaries and distance, for either physical or emotional safety. Please don’t misunderstand that you must contact each person that has wronged you for you to be able to forgive. I am not saying that at all. The point I’m trying to make is that when you are obedient to forgive, God will have your back. He will not let you be put to shame. Jesus will exchange your burdens, shouldering them for you and trading them for His light, life-giving yoke of freedom.
How could forgiving an enemy benefit you? How could trusting God to have your back enable you to be obedient in a situation you face?