Forgiveness – how many times do we need to forgive? Mel Menzies poses this question with authenticity, for she has had to forgive over and over again, as you’ll read in her deep and searching post. I think you’ll be encouraged by her example.
You only have to forgive once.
That’s the repeated phrase that leapt out at me in the film version of The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman.
Is that true? Jesus spoke of the necessity of forgiving seventy times seven, a number that showed the complete and never-ending quality of God’s forgiveness of us. So how does this pan out in real life?
My first marriage, begun in less than ideal circumstances with a baby on the way, is a case in point. To put it bluntly, my husband felt trapped. Having told my child’s father that I’d rather go it alone than have a termination, I felt I was subsequently presented with the choice as to whether our baby daughter was to live or not when she developed encephalitis. I begged God’s forgiveness for my wrong-doing and, pleading with him for her life, I promised to follow him faithfully.
My first book, written to comfort others with the comfort I received from God, tells the story of The Tug of Two Loves as the differences between my husband and I escalated now that I was a disciple. I’d already had to visit an STD clinic when he admitted to a one-night stand, and I now encountered a repeating cycle of infidelities. Another woman’s nightwear appeared beneath the pillow on my bed after I went to visit my parents, and female underwear appeared among the washing in my husband’s suitcase when he went away on business trips.
Unable to bring an end to our unhappy marriage himself, he would goad me to do so. ‘Well, if you don’t like it, you know what you can do!’ But the fact was that I couldn’t; I loved him, and I saw in him what I recognised in myself. He was the least favoured son, second to an academic older brother, just as I was a misfit in my family. Besides, how could I condemn him when I knew myself to be less than perfect?
For fifteen years I went on forgiving him, until – one Christmas morning, having destroyed his best friend’s marriage – he brought ours to an end. But that wasn’t the finish. His best friend died in what was assumed to have been a suicide, and our second daughter began a heroin addiction. For a further thirteen years, although both remarried, her father and I remained in touch, forced by our daughter’s circumstances to collaborate. (Her story, A Painful Post Mortem, is available as an e-book.)
He was already a heavy drinker, and increased alcohol consumption took its toll on his health until, with his death imminent, he begged me to attend his funeral. Visiting him in hospital, I sat and held his hand, praying that he might know not only my forgiveness, but would seek God’s, too. A few days later, at his wish, our first-born, now a Vicar, took his funeral, which I attended.
The pain of this experience brought home to me in some small measure, as nothing else could, the hurt God must feel when we wrong him. To this day, I am unable to stem the tears when I take communion and remember what Jesus has done for me.
Shaking the Dust from Your Feet
Other experiences have taught me, however, that there are times when forgiveness does not equate to reconciliation. When an agreement made between my parents, my youngest sister and her husband ripped our family apart, I applied the same principles of forgiveness. Verbal or written admissions of clemency, however, can have a negative effect. In forgiving someone, openly, we are stating that they are in the wrong. And if they don’t, or won’t, acknowledge any wrong-doing, the discord in relationships may go from bad to worse.
Enduring fourteen years of vitriol from my father in which my every attempt at reconciliation failed, I reached a point of peace when my dad lay dying in his bed. Sitting, holding his hand, I sang his favourite hymn, Dear Lord and Father of mankind, and, on my return home, learned that he had passed away ten minutes later. It was, I felt, as if he thought he had been given permission to let go.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about my youngest sister and brother-in-law, but I live in hope. Recognising the depressive and suicidal effect that the venom directed against me has had on my senses, I spoke with Revd David Coffey OBE, my one-time minister and friend, and understand that I can achieve nothing by staying in touch with my accusers. Into God’s hands I commit my forgiveness and prayers, in the sure and certain belief that in him all things are possible.
Merrilyn was first published in the 1980s, with commissions from Lion and Hodder & Stoughton, one of which became a Sunday Times No. 4 Bestseller. Her God-given directive is to comfort others with the comfort she has received in times of sorrow, and to this end she is available for speaking events. In the belief that God has now told her to ‘entertain your readers so they will absorb truths they might otherwise resist’, she now writes fiction under her maiden name, Mel Menzies. Her Evie Adams series – mysteries with a message – are set in Devon and have a counsellor, rather than a detective, to solve the mystery. Time to Shine went briefly to No. 1 in its category on Amazon and, as well as Chosen?, has received a number of reviews. www.melmenzies.co.uk ALL PROFITS & ROYALTIES ARE FOR TEARFUND TO SUPPORT SYRIAN CHILDREN.