Joseph’s forgiveness not only changed the course of his family; it changed the course of the whole world. If Joseph had not been in Egypt, the Egyptians would have all perished along with Jacob’s family.
Had Joseph not been willing to surrender his hurt, his bitterness, and anger, there would have been no nation of Israel and no Savior born in Bethlehem. As Paul Boese has said, “Forgiveness does not change the past; but it does enlarge the future.” Several years ago, my mother’s decision to forgive also changed the course of my family’s life.
In 1979, when I was 27 years old, my mother phoned her four children and asked us to meet with her. That Friday evening we gathered at my parents’ home to learn that our father had fallen in love with a woman, one year my senior, at his workplace, and that he had left Mom to live with her. We were as shocked as were Joseph’s brothers when he identified himself.
We had been raised in the church. Daddy had even been a Sunday School teacher. When I learned that “the woman” had left a husband and three young children to be with our dad, my astonishment turned to judgment and hatred. Mom, on the other hand, was deeply wounded, but never held a grudge. And, after a period of time, she made the decision that family gatherings must include all of the family. She invited my father and his wife to come to holiday and birthday events, most of which were held at my home. Although I tolerated Nancy, I still nursed hatred in my heart toward her for the pain that she had caused our family.
But, one day, somebody handed me a book. I don’t recall the title or the author; but, if memory serves me correctly, it was a thin red book that could easily be read in one sitting. The author proposed that if a difficult situation or person were placed in one’s life, one could treat the person or circumstances as if it were a tailor-made gift, and thereby receive power over the hurt and frustration. I do not recall it being written at all in a religious context; but, it certainly contained the principles of being grateful for all things and offering complete forgiveness.
My first reaction was to throw the book across the room!
I could not imagine under what circumstances I could ever be grateful for Daddy’s wife. However, the book would not let me go and eventually wrestled me to the ground. To make a long story short, eventually I chose to treat Nancy with respect even though I still harbored resentment. I chose to send her birthday cards and little gifts. I chose to develop a relationship with her. And, over time, the truth is that I came to love her.
Over the years I have searched for the book that led me to forgive my father and his wife; but to no avail. I have come to the conclusion that the same angel that wrestled with Jacob brought me the book and wrestled with me.
The end result of the matter was that near the end of Daddy’s life, for two-and-a-half years, upon their request, I lived with Daddy and Nancy. It happened that he was about to start dialysis three days a week and Nancy’s place of employment was one hour away. We all thought it would be only for a few weeks, until Daddy adjusted to the process and was able to drive himself. That never happened. From the beginning, he left the dialysis center absolutely exhausted. I would drive him home, give him lunch, and help him to bed for a nap that lasted most of the afternoon.
By the grace of God I was free at the time to answer Nancy’s call for assistance–and I knew deep in my heart it was a divine appointment. During those years Nancy and I were knit together closely and she told me more than once that she could not have made it without my help. We laughed a lot as people tried to figure out which one of us was the daughter and which the wife—being so close in age.
Nancy was the perfect wife for Daddy and they had nearly thirty years together. Their kindness and tenderness toward one another was constant, even under some very difficult situations. The great bonus was that God blessed Nancy with training as a physical therapist and gave her a great job working with seniors. As Daddy aged, she took it all in stride, and used her education and experience to manage his deterioration with great grace, much patience, and even humor, until his death. She became–and still is– a very valued member of our family, especially to Daddy’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including my own.
We would have missed all of this had not my mother chosen to forgive. Eventually, Mom recognized her fault in the breakup of the marriage and went so far as to write a letter to Daddy and Nancy, as well as to all of her children, to ask forgiveness for not being the wife that the Bible prescribes. Afterwards, I noted a freedom in her that had not been present before and I realized I had come into that freedom myself as I also chose to forgive.
Mom is today in her mid 80’s, in remarkable health and living with zeal and purpose. She has the privilege of being able to relate many miracles of God’s provision and intervention on her behalf. I have often wondered how different that might be if she had chosen not to forgive.
A couple of years ago a family member misunderstood a situation and said some very hurtful things to me. I left without defending myself and came home and wept bitterly due to the sting of his words. On my knees, I remembered Jesus’ example and made up my mind to forgive. Then and there I began to pray blessing upon every area of his life and I did that daily for several weeks. Every time the memory of the hurtful words came back to me, I fought the bitterness and anger that threatened to overcome me by praying blessings out loud upon his health, his home, his workplace, and everything he set his hand to accomplish. I also asked two prayer warriors to pray for me and for the person who hurt me. On his birthday I sent a humorous card and wrote a note to let him know that I did not hold any hard feelings towards him. Within a few months his stance toward me was softened. With a year the relationship was completely restored. In the interim he made a statement that, in effect, echoed Judah’s statement to Tamar, “She is more righteous than I.”
I can also share the testimony of a close friend who chose drastic forgiveness. Upon the tragic death of her daughter and son-in-law, the daughter’s mother-in-law proceeded to make all of the funeral arrangements and all of the arrangements concerning the future of the two grandchildren. My already wounded friend was not consulted in any of these matters; she was merely informed. It was extremely painful and she fell on her face and cried out to God. She felt that He instructed her to take her hands off and trust Him. After a short time of wrestling, she surrendered.
Now, you have to understand, my friend has never been a particularly strong person; but, a great miracle occurred at the funeral home. She absolutely radiated the love of God. She held her head high and was poised and confident. She did not shed a single tear; further, she was so anointed with grace that she ministered to the brokenhearted people who came. I will never forget that night!
As the years went on, she rarely saw her grandchildren. At times she had to battle bitterness and we would pray together. We prayed blessings upon the other grandmother, and not only for her; but for all of her children and grandchildren.
As my friend’s grandchildren became adults, they sought her out. Now, it is obvious that she holds a special place in their hearts, as well as in the hearts of her great grandchildren. I think that people who choose drastic forgiveness hold a very special place in Abba’s heart. Like my mother, my friend has amazing testimonies of God’s protection, intervention, and favor in her life. “Forgiveness does not change the past; but, it enlarges the future.” I can say amen to that!
We are created in the image of God. I think we are most like Him when we can say, even when not asked, “Paid in full! Debt cancelled!” I have another precious friend who knows all about drastic forgiveness. She has a piece of artwork in her home which says, “People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.” Who knows but what God hasn’t specifically arranged for us to be an injured party so that we will plead with Him to restore the person who so desperately needs healing?
So, I ask you today, is there anyone you have not completely forgiven? Is bitterness hiding in your heart? Start to treat them “as if” they are the most precious gift from your Heavenly Father and quietly watch Him transform your world and theirs. Persistently, pray blessings upon their health, their marriage, their marriage bed, their finances, their children, their grandchildren, their future grandchildren, their relationships, their workplace, all of their relationships…etc. It won’t happen overnight; but it will happen. One day you will have a freedom that you cannot imagine. And, one day, you will see the relationship restored.