God strategically designs times in each of our lives to allow us to be more like Him—times when we will be betrayed by those we love; moments when we have been abandoned; moments when we experience the silence that often follows. During quiet periods, when it’s dark and lonely, this silence will scream in our ears, calling us to make some hard choices between holding on to our anger or surrendering to God. In my dark period of pain, I chose to surrender, and I’m so thankful I did.
Following my father’s last year in seminary, my mother gave birth to me. I was not an easy pregnancy for her, and three months after my birth she became ill. For the next six weeks, I was cared for by my father and grandparents. Because of this physical disconnection between my mother and me, an emotional disconnection formed as well, and it has had a profound impact on my life. Nothing can replace the tender, loving arms of a mother, and as a result of our separation, a void formed in my heart. I was plagued by feelings of abandonment for many years.
Nothing magical happens just because your father is a well-known pastor and your mother is a loving, nurturing parent. Hurts still occur—many beyond your control. For example, as a young girl I was violated at the hands of a neighbor boy, which distorted my views on love and connection.
I was the type of teenager who always had and needed a boyfriend. Somehow I felt that when I was able to connect with them on an emotional level, I mattered. Growing up in a Christian home, you’d think I’d know that the only significant person I needed to connect with was Christ, but I chose my own way instead of His.
Still trying to fill the void in my heart, I married at age 19. And when marriage didn’t really satisfy this void, I then thought, Once I have children, my life will be better. It will bring all the happiness I could ever hope for. Well, happiness doesn’t necessarily happen when one has children.
Thirteen years into my marriage, I gave up. I made decisions that will leave scars for the rest of my life and for my children’s lives as well. In every way, I lived the ways of the world that Christ abhors.
Almost two years into this experience, I reconnected with a couple with whom my ex-husband and I had been friends. They had experienced challenges in their own marriage but had chosen an appropriate path for their healing. They invited me and the man I was living with to church, and they told me, “We don’t agree with the choices you have made, but we love you. We’ve made mistakes ourselves, so we are not here to judge but to love you through this time.” I had neither heard of nor known this kind of love, nor had I ever sought it out.
Reconnecting with this couple was the significant turning point for me. They, guided by Christ, led me to the conviction that I needed to turn my heart back to Him. This conviction came not from anything they preached to me, but from the unconditional love I experienced from them.
I had lost everything . . . absolutely everything. My children wanted very little to do with me (I wanted very little to do with me); I hadn’t spoken to my family for almost two years; most of my possessions were gone.
Everything was lost . . . and that was the best thing that could have happened.
The distractions that had allowed me to overlook the truly important things in life were finally gone. Deep in my soul I knew I had to take responsibility for the wrongs I had committed and refuse to be the victim of what life handed me. It was a complete surrender of my will and acceptance of God’s will for my life. I allowed Christ to have control the way He had always wanted and the way I should have let Him from the very beginning.
Surrender is the hardest thing to do when you have been violated—it becomes your greatest fear. But what I find in Christ’s Word makes surrender less frightening:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-7, emphasis added)
Suffering unfairly is exactly what Christ went through for us, and, like Him, we have a choice in how we handle what we’ve been given. What I am writing of is this: once your shelter is in place and you are out of the storm, you must surrender your will and forgive those who have caused you sadness and burden.
I have learned to forgive by letting go of things I have no control over and by surrendering my will to Christ alone. Only then can the peaceable fruit of forgiveness truly be experienced.
Adapted from Charissa Swindoll Gaither, “The Fruit of Forgiveness,” Insights (May 2004): 2. Copyright © 2004 by Insight for Living Ministries. All rights reserved worldwide.