“Mom, I don’t want to do this,” she pleaded through tears.
“You have to, love,” I said. “This medicine will help make you well.”
My daughter, ten years old at the time, had developed a skin infection all over the back of her legs that required antibiotics to treat. We tried one prescription, but it didn’t work and the rash got worse. After a second trip to the doctor and pharmacy, we had the new prescription in hand. The pills were quite large and difficult for her to swallow.
“I know you don’t want to do this. Swallowing this pill isn’t comfortable, and it may not seem like it will help you at this moment, but it is what’s best for you. It’s going to help you heal,” I encouraged.
Forgiving people who have hurt us is like swallowing a large pill. It’s not what we want. It feels easier and better to not take it and to stay in our hurt, anger, and disappointment. But if we sit there too long, bitterness spreads like an infection and becomes more difficult to treat.
Five years ago, I found myself in new territory. I was thirty-three years old, and my parents unexpectedly separated. They had been married all my life, and this sudden, drastic change emotionally wrecked me. Navigating the breakup of my parents as an adult child with children of my own is the most painful thing I have been through. It was a roller coaster for the next two years, not knowing whether they would reconcile or divorce. Eventually, they signed the papers, and the divorce was final. Everything was different now.
The divorce of your parents is difficult, no matter what age you are. But as an adult child, you know more. You put pieces of the puzzle together. You see where things went wrong. And although the marriage wasn’t yours, the marriage affected you and so does its dissolution. It affects your own kids and your family forever. In that painful place, it becomes easy to cast blame and build barriers.
Establishing individual relationships with my parents in this new way felt unfamiliar and challenging. Forgiveness was a difficult pill to swallow. Although I knew that God called me to conduct myself in a manner worthy of the gospel (see Philippians 1:27), I did not feel like it at times. Reacting in my flesh seemed preferable. It would release the pain and the hurt I felt inside. Perhaps it would even prevent me from being hurt further. Yet I knew God commanded me to forgive. Did I want to? No. Would it help me and make me well? Yes. But it somehow felt that forgiving meant erasing all the hurt and pain, forgetting that it had happened. That just wasn’t possible.
What eventually helped me to forgive are these two principles:
Pursue righteousness first. As I pursued God, who is righteousness, he comforted me in my grief. He acknowledged my pain, even if others did not. He allowed me to question. He allowed me to be mad and hurt. Through his Word, he reminded me of who he is: a heavenly Father who will never disappoint us, leave us, or forsake us. He gave his own Son for us so that we can be healed. He gave me the desire to pursue righteousness, to reflect his character and goodness to others, even and especially to those who had hurt me. Knowing that my words and actions give others an impression of who God is eventually gave me a greater desire to forgive. Colossians 3:12–13 reminds us, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Accept that forgiveness is a process. There are days when, even though I have chosen to forgive, the pain still bubbles up. The impact of my parents’ divorce is still felt years later, and in the moments when hurt and pain are present, the process begins all over again. When it does, I have a choice to make. Do I choose to focus on my feelings, or do I choose to focus on Jesus? Do I choose bitterness or forgiveness? Do I want to stay stuck or be well? In Matthew 18:21, Peter asks Jesus how many times to forgive his brother—up to seven times? Jesus answers, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (verse 22). Jesus calls us to continually choose forgiveness.
While I cannot forget all that has happened, and there are still moments when I do not feel like forgiving, I know it is the prescription God has written for me, and for you. While it may not be the medicine we want to take, it allows healing to take place in our hearts.
About the writer: Andrea Fortenberry is a writer, speaker, podcaster, and Bible teacher. She loves to help women find freedom from perfectionism and love their real life. @andreafortenberry
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible.