What role can pride take in keeping us in a prison of unforgiveness? Anita Kelly shares vulnerably of how God encouraged her to escape this prison by choosing to forgive one close to her.
When I was in my mid-teens, my dad left my mum for another woman. I was devastated for my mum and myself.
The timing of my dad’s departure felt callous and calculating. He chose a time over the Christmas holidays when I was away at a friend’s house, and also after the recent death of my grandad (my mum’s dad) whom my mum was very close to, being an only child. I was angry with the lies my dad had told us about working late at work when really he was out with his girlfriend. As this happened when I was 14; this was already a time of huge emotional turmoil for me.
Over the years, my anger towards my dad over these painful events has exploded with huge vitriol at times, but, over the past two decades or so, God has brought powerful forgiveness and healing to our relationship. After about 5 years after my dad left, I started to hear God challenge me about my hatred and negative attitude towards Dad’s girlfriend. In my pain I had refused to have any contact with her. I think God spoke to me through a sermon about Holy Communion and making peace with those we have fallen out with. God asked me to love this woman with His love and not allow the pain of past hurts to block any chance of relationship with her.
I had to choose to lay down my angry and judgmental opinions of this lady I had avoided meeting and choose the more humble way. Being able to forgive her for stealing my dad from our family and causing us immense pain and loss started a new chapter in my relationship with her. I was being treated for depression at the time, which the professionals believed to be triggered partly by the separation of my parents.
Choosing to forgive didn’t mean I was instantly healed, nor that my relationship with my dad was repaired miraculously right then. Somehow God enabled me to move through my place of pain and show grace to C* where I’d previously only known hatred and resentment. Maybe I didn’t realise it straight away, but I had started on the path to freedom from my dark past which was negatively impacting my health in the present. In 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, Paul makes the point that he’s not in a position to judge others or himself; only God is able to judge our actions and he also says that he is the greatest of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), despite being considered one of the world’s most influential leaders in history.
The mistake I had made was to sit as judge over my dad and C’s choice to break off his marriage to my mum, despite the immense damage and upset my family and I had endured as a consequence. I let pride get in the way of humility until I was able to admit my own sins and allow God to forgive me for my pride, anger, bitterness and resentment towards Dad and his girlfriend. Rather than finding my identity in those negative feelings and hurts and letting the depression and pain define me, I had to surrender to God’s love and mercy for Dad and C, and in that be better able to receive God’s unconditional love, acceptance and new identity as His beloved.
In choosing forgiveness I’ve had to be courageous enough to revisit my feelings and thoughts about my dad’s leaving has affected me; I’ve had to tell him of the impact of his actions and release these to God to at the foot of the cross, firmly believing that “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12, NLT). Rather than beating myself up further about my mistakes, which I make from time to time, I have to choose to trust that “there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, NIV) and remember that “He does not punish us for all our sins; He does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For His unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth” (Psalm 103:10-11).
I find comfort in this photo of the High Cross at Ffald-y-Brenin, for it’s a visual reminder to us all of what Jesus did for us at the cross, taking our sins and wounds on his shoulders, and casting them as far as possible away from us.
Even as I write this blog, I am wrestling with these issues of forgiveness for others who have deeply hurt me. God continues to show me where my anger is getting in the way of forgiveness, healing and a deeper sense of His love for those who have grieved me and myself. Thankfully, God’s grace is a constant source of comfort, despite my personal weaknesses and I know I’ll work through it with God’s help.
*C Dad’s girlfriend, named to maintain her anonymity.
Anita Kelly grew up in the home counties of the UK, becoming a Christian aged 12 in her home church, before studying for a BSc (Hons) Environmental Sciences degree at UEA, Norwich. After graduating, she moved to London, where she has worked in Environmental administration, for non-government and public sector organisations and the financial sector, before moving into education.
Her home church is St. Peter’s Church, Harrow, where she has worshipped for nearly 20 years. She met her husband through the local church and also has a MA from Kings College London, in environmental politics. She is now writes a blog, Hope in the Wilderness, sharing insight from her Christian faith and practical advice for overcoming mental-health issues, reflecting on God’s view of us and our true identity in Him. She is also writing her first book, an autobiography about God’s healing in her life whilst battling anxiety and depression. Being creative, she has recently rediscovered watercolour painting alongside her writing as an expressive outlet.