“I can’t believe she said that to me” I fumed as I gathered my Bible and purse and made my way to my car. The church service had been a little long and there was long list of tasks ahead of me for the afternoon. I wanted to talk with my husband and tell him how this woman had just hurt me, but our teens where within earshot and I realized that I was going to have to keep this to myself for a while.
I thought about it all afternoon, felt self-pity wrapping her consoling arms around me and my pride was slowly restored. Before the day was over I had come to terms with how wrong this person was and how righteous I was, in fact, I did not even bother talking to my husband at all, in my mind it was settled. She was wrong, now I could forgive her and add that to my list of “good deeds”. In my mind I came out ahead.
I saw her again the next week at church and plastered on a fake smile. I greeted her warmly while I was inwardly seething. “It’s so good to see you again Nancy, how is everything?” I asked as I gave her a halfhearted hug. My first thought was of the words she had spoken to me. Then again, they had not been far from my mind all week anyway. I had replayed the moment over and over again, even thinking of snappy comebacks that I wished I had said.
During service I took a quick break to the restroom where I bumped into a friend. Sarah had often shared with me about women in the church that hurt her feelings. I felt she would understand better than anyone would. I eagerly relayed the story about how Nancy had hurt me. Sarah listened with rapt attention, and responded as I had hoped with a mixture of outrage and indignation. After all, she knew I was not deserving of that type of treatment. She reminded me to forgive Nancy and I assured her that I had done just that.
During the next several church events I avoided Nancy. Sarah would see me and shoot me a knowing look, and that was enough to sooth my damaged ego, I had an ally. I chose not to attend a church women’s event because Nancy was playing a key role in it. I learned later that it had been a dynamic time and I wished I had been there. In my mind, it was Nancy’s fault and added that to the things I was forgiving her for. I did not understand how they did not see her for what she was, how could they let such a nasty person be in a leadership role?
Months later, our pastor called on Nancy during the church service. She came to the platform and began to share a testimony. I almost excused myself to go to the restroom, but I was afraid it would appear too obvious that I just did not want to hear Nancy. I sat with my legs crossed, swinging my foot with irritation. I stared straight ahead with the biggest smile I could muster.
Nancy began “Almost no one here knows what I am going to share. Six months ago, my husband of 27 years told me he wanted to end our marriage. He said he had met someone he would rather be with. I was completely caught off guard, I had no clue that our marriage was in trouble. My heart was shattered in a million pieces, I begged him to go to counseling with me, to try to work it out. He had no interest in that.”
I was completely frozen, I had no idea that Nancy was going through this. I had met Jim a few times thought they had a completely stable marriage. Jim was not a regular church attendee, but he around enough to make a few friends. I was under the impression that his work schedule kept him from being there more often.
Nancy continued “I went to the only place I could think to go, and that was to the Lord. I began earnestly praying and fasting several days a week, seeking his will. I did not want a divorce, but Jim was not a believer and the Bible says to let him leave if he chooses to.”
Again, I am stunned. Jim was not a believer? I had no idea. Nancy was in active in church ministry. How could she be so bold and step out without the support of her husband? I relied on my husband’s support for much smaller roles in the church.
I listened intently now to what Nancy was saying, my heart was really breaking for her. “The Lord has been so good to me. He has brought me comfort when I needed it most, often in the form of a perfectly timed phone call or an invitation to dinner with a dear friend. I felt it was best to keep this quiet for many reasons, but most of all it was because I was so ashamed, so embarrassed. That was pride, I realize it now. However, God in all his mercy saw past that and made his presence very known to me and I never once felt alone.
“My husband filed for divorce and it will be final in a few weeks. That is not how I had hoped it would end, but I am very much walking in that peace that passes all understanding. And I now see that God has a plan. I am very excited to share this with you. I have received an invitation to join a missions team and will soon be leaving for India where I will stay for 6 months.”
Nancy filled us in on the ministry she would be working with and her excitement was contagious. Before the service was over, we took up a collection to support her. She also needed someone to care for her dog while she was away. My teens had been asking for a dog, I felt a little nudge inside and approached Nancy after the service to volunteer for that job.
“Nancy, I was wondering if we might be able to take your dog in for you?” I nervously asked. I knew that I had been harboring bad feelings toward her but felt safe that she did not know. I assumed she had long forgotten what she had said to me, and in retrospect, it was not that bad anyway compared with what she was going through. I felt ashamed of my pettiness.
Nancy looked up and had tears in her eyes. “You have no idea how many times I have wanted to talk to you. I wanted to apologize for treating you badly that day; it was the first Sunday after I learned that Jim was leaving me. I did not want to tell you what was going on and I could not think of any way to apologize without a viable explanation.”
I hugged her and we both cried for several minutes. She eagerly agreed to allow us to care for her dog and thanked me not holding things against her. If she only knew how untrue that was. I walked away feeling pretty horrible. I avoided Sarah in the foyer. She was the only one who knew about my resentment and I hated that I had a witness to it.
I spent a lot of time talking things over with God that week. Several times, he brought to my mind the scripture where Jesus says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I knew the concept of forgiveness in my head, and until now, I thought I had been rightly applying it. God says he won’t forgive us until we forgive others. I began to think about what it means to forgive someone.
When God forgives us, he doesn’t have any reservations. He doesn’t require a good explanation or justification. He doesn’t tell us that he can’t forgive us until we have suffered a little. Best of all, he FORGETS the offense. He never thinks of it again. He wants us to do the same thing.
Nancy and I had been in the same church for 12 years. We had worked on committees together, been to many of the same events, and had chatted more times that I could count. She and I were not close, but we certainly had been friendly prior to the day that she had hurt my feelings. I could easily think of dozens of good memories I had with Nancy and yet I had allowed the single negative moment to become the definition of our relationship.
A few weeks ago, I ran into Sarah at the grocery store. She almost immediately began telling me about someone who had slighted her. For the first time, I saw the pettiness of her complaint. I tried to steer the conversation in a better direction by pointing out that the offender might be dealing with something in her personal life that we did not know about. Of course, I was thinking of my experience with Nancy and hoped Sarah might connect the lines without me drawing it out for her. She apparently had not shared the same revelation as I had because she sarcastically responded, “I am sure her personal life is a mess with the new $400,000 home her husband just built for her and that new SUV in the driveway. My heart is bleeding for her.” She then added quickly, “of course I forgave her, but can you believe she did that?”
I began to share some of things the Lord had showed me about forgiveness and she quickly cut me off and claimed to have an appointment she had forgotten about. As she briskly walked away I prayed that the Lord would help her to find the freedom of forgiveness. I picked up the dog food for Nancy’s dog and went home to play with him.