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I recently wrote an article that asked when it was okay to not love someone, the response was tremendous. A lot of questions were asked about circumstances and situations that caused pain. What about people that harmed us? What about those who abused us? Jesus clearly pronounced judgement on the Pharisees and the religious system of His day, was that an act of love? Aren't there different types of love? These are such incredibly profound questions to wrestle with as we walk through life and build relationships. I feel like this requires more than just one article, maybe a series of articles addressing some of these issues in a personal way, a way that may challenge us, a way that might not be easy for any of us. But I believe it will be worth it. I want to invite you to take this journey with me. I can only speaking from my own experience and what I have seen others experience so I welcome your thoughts and experience.
The first area I want to address in this conversation is the question of loving those who have harmed us. How can we love those who have caused trauma and inflicted pain in our lives? I want to say at the outset that by no means do I ever want to communicate from a place of judgement or condemnation, I realize that the process of healing past hurts is different for everyone, there is no magic formula or guaranteed program of success. I can only share from my perspective, my experience, my strength, and my hope.
I have experienced the freedom of forgiveness, I have experienced a level of freedom in my life that I never thought was possible. If you'll allow me to be vulnerable I will share some of my story.
My parents were very young when I was born, my mother was 15 years old for a month when I was born. My dad was only 18, he had spent the early part of his life in Argentina, and a product of a sometimes volitile environment himself. My alcoholic grandmother took me in when I was very young, not long after my sister came into the world and we became a trio. My dad was very active in my life early on, mom not so much. Grandma drank excessively, attempting to hide the pain of her own trauma and experience. Much of her depression was taken out on my sister and myself, this continued for the majority of my childhood. Around 13, my dad moved to Florida and out of anger and frustration I put walls between us. My mom had been in and out from time to time but no consistency whatsoever. Around this time I had been smoking pot and drinking. I had a neighbor who was a heroin addict, one day he started to mix his heroin in front of me and it peeked my interest. When I asked to try it, he obliged. This became the beginning of a decade plus long battle with addiction and depression.
Over the course of my addiction I had hurt many people and been hurt by many people. I used all these things to excuse my addiction and had all but accepted that this would be my fate. The years of abuse, self inflicted and otherwise had taken it's toll. I was convinced that my life was a waste, I was just a junkie kid from the gutter and that is all I would ever be. I would act in outlandish ways then blame others for judging me. I would use and hurt people intentionally because I had been hurt and used. I couldn't tell you what love was and if I did it was some polluted version that I made up to think that I actually loved something but the truth was I didn't love myself or anyone else. I came to the end of myself in a prison cafeteria, where I experienced the radical forgiveness of God. After this experience I knew God had forgiven me but the problem was I hadn't forgiven myself, I hadn't forgiven my parents, I hadn't forgiven my grandmother, I hadn't forgiven anyone.
I once read that harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, I'm not one for clichés but that one hits the nail one the head. My unforgiveness had been a poison, it became a tool I used to discourage myself, keeping myself in the bondage of guilt, shame, and condemnation. To keep the clichés going, it was a song that made a difference, a song on forgiveness. The song was "Forgiveness" by Matthew West. I began to ask God to show me how forgiven I was, I began to ask Him what things had I done that were unforgivable. The answer I got was profound. The answer was NOTHING! I was completely forgiven.
I came to realize that I needed to forgive myself before I could forgive anyone else. I had been my own worst enemy, my own worst critic, my own toxic relationship. I decided to spend some time in prayer and fasting. I began to confess to myself the things I had done that I hadn't let go. I began to forgive myself, as I did I felt free. I felt weight lift off my shoulders. But that was just the beginning of the journey. I began to forgive others. I wrote down the date and their names, Everyone who I ever felt hurt me, I wrote "Today I forgive (insert name here)". As I went down the list I felt a deeper sense of freedom, a deeper sense of connection to God. After I wrote the names down, I finished it with "I forgive myself" and then I threw it away, in what I called the sea of forgetfulness! The slate was clean, I was free! Did everything get better in that instant, NO? Did it make those things okay, NO? But what it did was incredible. It changed the culture of my heart. It brought me to a place where I was ready to learn to love myself, only then would I learn to love others.
Today many of those past relationships have been restored, my dad and I have a great relationship! Better than I could ever have thought! But some are not, nor will they ever be. Honestly, I'm not sure how God feels about me loving people from a distance but I know my heart is new and it continues to grow so restoration is always possible. I truly believe that we can forgive people while keeping healthy boundaries. I believe we can pray for those who hurt us and hope that they experience the radical forgiveness we've been given. This journey is an ongoing experience for me, full disclosure I'm still learning how to love people, I pray I never stop.
I would love to hear your story, your experience, your struggles, and your hope.
Anthony and his wife serve as pastors feeling called to focus on their local community and work in the drug and alcohol recovery and the inner city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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