This is a tough one for me to write! Have you ever had someone close to your heart not reciprocate your kindness and love? Maybe a friend or even a family member you were once very close to, who you shared a part of your life with? You reach out to them, lift them up with your words, you make every effort imaginable only to receive coldness in return? Someone very close to my heart has treated me this way for quite some time now.
What do you do? How do you react? What can fix this brokenness? Maybe not what you think…..
When faced with these moments in life where I really need to “get it right”, I go to the one source that has never failed me – the Good Book. While giving hard and true advice, the Word tells us to love others as Christ loves us. Wait a minute! Hold up! Are you telling me that even when I am kind and another is hateful in response that I should forgive that person? Pray for that person? Still keep loving them and lifting them with my words? YES! That is exactly what Christ wants us to do.
True forgiveness is when you can say, Thank you for that experience. –Oprah
Easier said than done!
I will share with you that it can be done though. God isn’t telling us to stay in an unhealthy or unsafe relationship of any kind. What He does say is to forgive. Forgive a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a former spouse, a boyfriend/girlfriend, a former boyfriend/girlfriend, a boss, a former boss, and any person who has hurt you emotionally or physically. And please hear me when I say this….love them where they are!
Ouch. You are killing me here! Really? Why? Why can’t we just tell them why they are wrong, what their failures are, walk away and drop them from our life?
I will tell you why, and the reason is a little shocking! So many times in life, things are not about you but about other people. This is not one of those times. This is not about them. It is about YOU! It is about releasing your heart from the painful burden of hate, anger and bitterness. A release vital to your mental health. Vital to your ability to live a happy, healthy life. Vital to your ability to reach out to others and share your experience so that others will follow your lead.
For those of you reading this who may think I am asking too much – know that it is not me asking! If it were up to me and my naturally stubborn and rebellious inclinations, I would be with many others – sharing the mindset that I’ll never forgive. It’s easy to justify no longer trying. It is natural to think, “They need to meet me half way”. It is so easy to think many negative thoughts that will never relieve our burdens or allow us to be the best God made us to be.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. -Psalm 103:12
If you have never heard the story of Mary Johnson; it’s a powerful story to know and tell. In 1993, Mary Johnson’s son was in the wrong place at the wrong time, when he was shot and killed by a 16-year-old boy in a gang related altercation. Mary Johnson was understandably angry and full of hate. Some punk had taken the life of her only son.
The shooter, 16-year-old Oshea Isreal, was arrested and was to be tried as an adult for first-degree murder. Can you imagine the compounded pain and anger Mary felt when the judge suddenly lessened the charge to second-degree murder? Oshea was convicted of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to 25 years of incarceration.
During this time, Mary Johnson struggled. She was full of heavy grief. No parent should ever have to bury a child, and she thought about this often as her anger stirred inside her. As part of her healing process, her pastor asked her to teach a class on forgiveness. She did, and as she read the study materials, God was working on her heart. She felt convicted to pray for Oshea. She was faithful, and did pray, but she wasn’t sure if it was genuine or if she was just going through the motions.
Twelve years later, in 2005, she mustered up the nerve, through faith, to call the department of corrections. When someone answered, she requested a face-to-face meeting with the boy, now man, who shot and killed her son. Mary had to make sure what she was praying for was true in her heart. If she saw Oshea face to face, could she look him in the eye and say, “I truly forgive you”?
According to transcripts and interviews with Mary Johnson, the meeting was both powerful and moving. When she told Oshea that she forgave him, from the bottom of her heart forgave him, he asked, “Ma’am, how can you do that?” and Mary replied “because of Who is in me”. Oshea then asked if he could give Mary a hug, and they hugged for a long time. Mary was so filled with emotion, love and peace that she literally fell to the ground and Oshea continued to hold her.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong. ―Mahatma Gandhi
When Oshea was released early in 2010, Mary hosted a homecoming party for him. Mary and Oshea are now neighbors, and they go around the world together speaking about the power of forgiveness.
If this isn’t a powerful story of love, redemption and forgiveness, then I don’t know what is! As Easter approaches, this story echoes God’s passion of forgiveness.
As a parent, I can hardly even allow myself to think of this situation and how I would react if faced with hard decisions like Mary was forced to do.
What I know I can do is continue loving those who don’t love me back right now. I can continue loving those who it would seem do not deserve it, because we all deserve love. It is true that every person comes into our life for a reason, for a season, or for a lifetime. If, like me, you are dealing with someone who is often negative that God has placed in your life for a lifetime, don’t write them off. Love them as God loves you, even if it is difficult.
You may not be in a place right now where you talk to or spend time together, or even think nice thoughts of that person, but like Mary Johnson, we can pray for that person. We can pray for ourselves that God would soften our hearts and that we be filled with love, peace and forgiveness. We can love them from a distance until that time comes when God does works on their heart and allows them to open the door to forgiveness and love, just as we have done.
If you are like I was, wondering what small first step you can take toward restoring a relationship, my best advice is to start where Mary Johnson started and take it to Him in prayer. If you do that, and spend some quiet time listening for that still small voice, you will hear an answer. We all hear those answers in different ways. For me, it is always a strong gut feeling that points me in some direction or to something.
Sometimes I am led to the card section of the store where I find a card with perfect words capturing what I want to say. Sometimes I grab a blank sheet of notebook paper and jot down my thoughts. Sometimes I send these cards and letters, and sometimes I don’t.
I’ll be honest with you all – to date – these notes have yet to be appreciated or taken to heart with the intent in which I wrote them, but I was faithful in sending those words of love regardless, and that my friends will one day make all the difference. I am in prayer daily that the relationship of which I write is restored fully. I envision a day, when just like Mary Johnson experienced, I will hug this person and we will both be so filled with love and forgiveness that we fall to our knees in tears and laughter. I do know that day will come, but until it does, I end every prayer I say for this relationship, and every letter I write with these words:
“You Can’t Stop Me From Loving You”.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. -John 13:34
Do you have a story of forgiveness that you would like to share? Leave a comment below or visit my Facebook page. I’d love to hear how you have overcome a negative situation through love and forgiveness!