I read my first guest author’s contribution through tears, humbled at her courage and bravery. How she kept going, and how she was able to forgive, is the mystery we will explore in this series. I can’t thank her enough for being so open in sharing her story. For reasons of protecting her children, she asked not to be named. Trigger warning – abuse.
I knew I had to act the day I came home and found my thirteen-year-old screwed up in a ball on the floor screaming out of fear of her father.
It was the culmination of a long saga of abuse, control and unfaithfulness and I was the proverbial frog in the kettle. By the time it began to dawn on me that I didn’t have to be treated like this and that I was not a failure but was being wronged by the man I loved, I felt it was too late to get out.
I had made my marriage vows before God, I’d had every reason to believe my husband was a godly man – he was a deacon and the church youth leader – and as far as I could see from the story of God making a covenant with Abraham, a covenant is unilateral. Just because my husband didn’t keep to what he had promised before God, that didn’t entitle me to disregard my own vows. I believed that in the great scheme of things my faithfulness was more important than my happiness, and to a large extent I still stand by that. But I can now see, as I couldn’t then, that there comes a time when you should and must get out.
By the time of finding my daughter in a heap on the floor, I had been married to my husband for 27 years. I sent her to a safe friend’s for the weekend and went away to a retreat centre to pray about what to do. My church pastors urged me to get him out of the house for everyone’s safety but I had to hear it from God for myself. While I was away, an incident happened with my eldest daughter, then in her twenties, and I knew that for everyone’s safety he had to leave. He refused. But when our pastor pointed out that we had evidence we could take to the police unless he went, he left.
During our separation I cried out to God to show me how to forgive. I knew I must – if I didn’t it would eat away at me and, more importantly, would hinder my relationship with Jesus. But I didn’t know how to forgive. It was one thing to forgive what my husband had done to me, but our children had also been harmed, and that was so much harder to forgive. And so I began to read everything Jesus had to say on the topic of forgiveness.
And I noticed something – Jesus talked about forgiveness a number of times. But there was only one place where He defined what he meant by it, and that was in Matthew chapter 18, where He defined it as cancelling a debt. Once I realised that, I knew what I had to do. So I took a blank piece of paper and on it I wrote down everything my husband owed me, from the marriage vows he had made, and from what the Bible instructs Christian husbands to do:
- He owes it to me to love me.
- He owes it to me to honour me.
- He owes it to me to cherish me.
- He owes it to me to forsake all others.
- He owes it to me to be faithful to me alone as long as we both shall live.
- He owes it to me to love me as Christ loved the Church.
- He owes it to me to wash me with the water of his words.
- He owes it to me to lay down his life for me.
- He owes it to me to live with me as heirs together of the grace of life.
- He owes it to me not to provoke our children.
And so on, until I had listed everything that came to mind. And then, at the bottom of the page, I wrote, “Lord Jesus, with your help I am cancelling this debt and regarding it henceforth as paid in full.” And I signed and dated it, just as if it were a legal document.
At once I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from me. I told no one what I had done, but folded the paper and secreted it in my prayer journal. The next day, I met up with my husband, who up to that point had shown no remorse or repentance for his conduct. He handed me a large bouquet of flowers and said, “I owe you an apology. I’ve been completely out of order.” I was staggered beyond words. It was as if my forgiveness, given in the secret of my own heart and witnessed only by God, had unblocked a spiritual channel and set him free to begin to repent.
I wish that was the end of the story. After six months he moved back home, and gradually the pattern of unfaithfulness, lying and deceit crept back in. Eventually the abuse became so damaging I knew I had to get myself and my youngest child, who was still living at home, out and into a place of safety. This time there was no going back and we were divorced after 31 years of marriage.
Two years later he was taken ill and died quite suddenly, but I was able to sit at his bedside just before he died and assure him that the past was all forgiven and he had nothing more to reproach himself with. In the final hours of his life I witnessed him reach a place of peace with God. I know that if God had not shown me how to go about forgiving, my subsequent life would have been blighted by bitterness. Instead I am enjoying a freedom I never knew when I was married.
Amy’s book The Living Cross explores forgiveness through a series of daily Bible readings for Lent. You can find out more about it, and how to purchase, here.