How to Face the Fear of Forgiveness
“Forgive my husband?” my counselee exclaimed, “He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven!”
Truly, this woman had been sinned against over and over again by her husband. In fact, he had been visiting prostitutes, viewing pornography, going to strip clubs and massage parlors the entire time they were married.
When she came to Pure Life Ministries for help, I will never forget her face as she walked into my office. Beaten down and hardened by all the years of sin, she had no joy, no hope, and no light in her eyes.
As she shared her story with me, my heart broke. I couldn’t hold back the tears hearing what this woman had suffered. She was at the end of her rope and was desperately looking for help, not for her marriage, but for herself. She knew she was in a terrible place spiritually, but felt trapped. I can recall her desperation as she asked, “What do I need to do to get my joy back?”
As we began that first counseling session, she acknowledged that she had allowed a stronghold of bitterness to take control of her. She was full of resentment and had a deep-seated hatred towards her spouse for stomping on her heart the way he had over the past 20 years. In fact, prior to her husband enrolling in our Residential Program, he had been out of their home for 3 years at her request.
Wondering how best to begin counseling her, I began to probe her a little bit. I gently asked her, “Do you believe you have truly forgiven your husband?”
Her outburst was certain and revealing, “He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven!”
A Crossroads of Fear
Just like this women, the issue of forgiveness brings many wives to a major crossroads. A wife that has borne the brunt of tremendous amounts of pain because of her husband’s sin is often afraid of taking this step. To forgive means to release her husband, and to release him means that she will act as if it never happened. That she will become vulnerable again to the very person who has hurt her over and over again.
To make matters worse, often times a husband who is beginning to seek help for his sexual sin will demand forgiveness and mercy from his wife, without appreciating all the hurt, pain and rejection she has had to endure while he freely indulged in sin. Little does he know, this attitude reveals a lack of brokenness in his heart for his sin. This only makes it more difficult for his wife to begin to forgive.
However, despite my counselee’s pain, my response to her was immediate, “Do any of us deserve to be forgiven, especially when we see what Jesus has done for us at the Cross?” Her head fell. I knew the Holy Spirit was at work.
Take a minute and consider the loving forgiveness of the Cross. Is there any more perfect picture of agape love, than the Cross? The love that was shown on the Cross is most certainly a love that “suffers long and is kind.” It shows us a love that “does not seek its own,” a love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” The love of the Cross is truly a love that “never fails.” (1 Corinthian 13:4-8)
Beloved, when He asks us to love and forgive others who have caused us great pain, He is only asking us to do for others what He has already done for us. He asks us to be willing to come to His feet and lay down all of our hurts, pain, disappointments, rejections, griefs and sorrows—knowing that He Himself has experienced all that we have faced. He asks us to surrender the fears that keep us from loving in this way.
My counselee was quiet for about ten minutes as she pondered what Jesus had done for her. I prayed for her silently as the Holy Spirit moved, not sure what else to do. After some time she lifted her head and said, “I know that I have been forgiven much by my Savior.”
Little did I know, in her time of silence, the Lord was reminding her of the tremendous debt she had owed Him and how He had wiped it all away in an instant. She knew she didn’t deserve such mercy. It was at that moment she had made to release her husband. She said to herself, “Even though I know he doesn’t deserve it, it is the right thing to do.”
A Breakthrough of Joy
From that moment on, little by little, she went through an incredible transformation. The light of God began to shine through her eyes. Her countenance was more and more bright each time she visited her husband in our residential program. It was as if she literally went from darkness to light. A genuine joy radiated in her smile each time she came to visit her husband. My heart was blessed to see God at work in her life and in her marriage.
Before her breakthrough, my counselee had allowed herself to become a prisoner to fear—fear of forgiveness, fear of letting her husband get off scot-free, fear of being hurt again. It had stolen her joy. It had stolen her peace. Yes, she had been sinned against, but the only way out of her prison of fear was to forgive, to give out what Christ had so freely given her.
Beloved, we don’t realize what we forfeit when we remain captive to unforgiveness. Many times we hold onto things based on the fact that the offender doesn’t “deserve to be forgiven.” What I have seen in my years of counseling at Pure Life Ministries is that when we surrender to forgiveness, we also open up the way to true joy, peace and happiness.
In closing, I would encourage anyone that is struggling with forgiveness to do exactly what my counselee did—consider what Jesus has done for you. Spend some time reading Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 and Psalm 103. Ponder Matthew 18:22-35, where Jesus gives us the parable of the Unjust Servant. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart to the reality of what Christ did for you on the Cross. Seek Him for the grace to walk in that same mercy toward the one who sinned against you. If you will do this humbly and sincerely, I believe you will find again the “joy of your salvation.”
Rose Colón is the former Director of Women’s Counseling at Pure Life Ministries, a position she held from 1996 to 2015. Rose has a Masters of Ministry in Biblical Counseling from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity in Evansville, IN and holds certification from the International Association of Biblical Counselors (IABC) in Denver, CO.
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