Forgive Without Punishing

When I was young, I used to think I was a pretty good person, and didn’t really need much forgiveness.  I thought if I worked hard and took care of myself, I deserved a comfortable life.  Isn’t that the American dream?  

As life grew more complicated, I began to understand a new level of emotional pain.  I was married with three small children and an increasingly difficult relationship with my husband. Life wasn’t easy or comfortable.  The hurts that my husband inflicted began to take a toll on my heart.  I began to harbor wounds. Ugly words and actions that I replayed again and again on an endless tape in my head.  I hadn’t really studied God’s word, His timeless love letter to his children.  I didn’t understand the breadth of damage that bitterness can cause.  “Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you,” and “be quick to forgive, “are instructions found in His word.  But I thought my anger was justified.  I was continually mistreated.  I kept score.  

And then my health began to fail.  I developed a debilitating arthritis that impaired my ability to walk, to turn a doorknob, to carry anything.  I had to quit my job and look for friends and neighbors to help me with my children.  One day I realized that my daily bread, my simple prayer to my Father in heaven that I had known but never bothered to actually spend much time with, was for God to help me feed my children and get them to school.  My husband traveled often and I was alone much of the time.  Pain was my constant companion. I only wanted to survive and to see my children thrive.  

I spent a long time studying God’s word and began to understand the meaning of grace.  Unmerited favor.  My heavenly father had loved me all those years when I ignored him and life seemed good.  And He loved me consistently when I was alone and in pain.  He sent His son to die for my sins.  And my sins were not insignificant.  I had built up resentment for the man I married. I was bitter and my thoughts and words were ugly.  I asked God to forgive me and give me His forgiveness for my husband.  

I still remember the day it happened.  My husband’s temper blew and he stormed out of the room and slammed the door, but instead of my usual reaction of anger and fear I felt deep sympathy.  That man was tormenting his wife and children.  But he was tormented.  It took several months before I realized that I no longer felt the arthritis pain. That I had forgotten to take my medicine.  

My Rheumatologist could not believe that I appeared healed.  But I know that rather than feeling a burning desire to keep score and punish my husband for the hurts he caused, I had been set free.  Forgiveness does that.  It is better than medicine.  The Bible says that God “forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.”  And that, “a merry heart is good medicine.”  Forgiveness is for the forgiver, not the one who caused the harm.  It can change you.  I encourage you to study God’s word.  It is a love letter.  In it, you will find life.