I have read in some places online that many people who have a chronic illness were abused in their childhood. I know many were not, but I am one of the ones who was. I will never know for sure if the illness I have was “caused” by the stress of me trying to cope with my history, or the bitterness it caused in my heart eating away (literally!) at my body, but I know I need to figure out a way to let go of the bitterness. My father is no longer on this earth and my mom and I have a very weak relationship. I am not sure I want more. But where do I go from here?”
Belinda, who doesn’t want to be “Bitter Belinda”
It’s true that studies have shown that sometimes chronic illness can be more prevalent among adults who suffered abuse as a child. Yet, one does not need to have suffered this to have an illness. I am so sorry for the experiences you have had, endures, and how it has followed you into your adulthood.
My friend, Linda Newton, wrote about forgiveness in her book, “12 Ways to Turn Your Pain Into Praise: Biblical Steps to Wholeness in Christ” and I asked her if I could share her recent excerpt on “The Healing Power of Forgiveness.”
LINDA NEWTON Answers– Have you ever had to forgive someone who you felt didn’t deserve to be forgiven? As a pastoral counselor for the past twenty years, I have encountered many damaged people who struggle to forgive because they don’t feel like their offender deserves to be let off the hook? After experiencing chronic abuse at the hands my own mother, I can understand those feelings. I am grateful that Lord has strategically led me on a path to forgive. If you are struggling to let go of damaging offenses, perhaps these insights will help you as they have helped me.
Not long after I identified the bitterness that was holding me hostage, a gentle-hearted lady named Iris came to share with our small group at church. Iris opened up about the sexual abuse she sustained from her natural father and declared, “Forgiveness doesn’t make your offender right; it just makes you free.” While that profound statement started me on my path out of bitterness, forgiving my mother for all of her unfair abuse seemed like too much for God to ask of me. When it came to whole-hearted forgiveness, I was skeptical but seeking, so I opened up the Bible to see what God’s Word had to say.
In Matthew, I read the words of Jesus, “For if you forgive others their trespasses your Heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). How harsh, I thought, until I read what Richard Foster had to say about this verse. In his book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home Foster asks, “Why is this? It is not that God begrudges His forgiveness, nor is it so hard to get God to forgive that we must demonstrate good faith by showing how well we can first forgive others. No, not at all.”
“It is simply that by the very nature of the created order we must give in order to receive. I cannot, for instance, receive love if I do not give love. People may try to offer me love, but if resentment and vindictiveness fill my heart, their offers will roll off of me like water of a duck’s back. It my fists are clenched and my arms folded tightly around myself, I cannot hold anything.”
“But once I give love, I am a candidate for receiving love. Once I open my hands, I can receive. As Saint Augustine says, ‘God gives where He finds empty hands.’”
In their book, Mood Swings, the authors Arterburn, and Minierth offered even further understanding.
“Choosing not to forgive allows others to continue to abuse as we endlessly relive their offenses.” They were right. I was continuing the abuse as I ruminated about the resentment over and over again. I learned in recovery that “Resentment is me drinking poison and hoping you die.”
When I stopped drinking from the toxic well of bitterness and self-pity, I had room in my life for healing and peace.
On my journey to forgive, I recognized that I had to clear the air with God and forgive Him too. When I was honest, I recognized I was angry at Him for not giving me an easier life. My resentment with God was subtle. After all, He’s God. But it kept me from moving forward in my Christian walk. When I let Him off the hook, I stopped distancing from the only One who could truly help me. Only then was I ready to realize all my pain had taught me.
Learning to forgive taught me to recognize God’s restoration. That was illustrated for me as I sat in my office listening to a lady from church share her story. Sarah Ann’s life of abuse and neglect made my story sound like a picnic in the park by comparison. As we cried and prayed together, she looked up from her Kleenex(R) and made a remark that stabbed me awake. Sarah Ann said, “I’m so glad you’ve had pain in your life, Linda, because I know that you can understand what I’ve been through. I’ve never been able to share any of this with another Christian before, much less a pastor’s wife. But I can tell you all of this crazy stuff because I knew you’d get it.”
After she left, for the first time in my life, I got on my knees and thanked God for my pain. I thanked Him for the empathy I had for Sarah Ann and so many others because I did get it. And the blessing of helping people access the abundant life God has for them, fills my tank to overflowing. I wouldn’t trade my pain for easy street because of all it has taught me. Iris was right; finding forgiveness has set me free.
Adapted from 12 Ways to Turn Your Pain Into Praise: Biblical Steps to Wholeness in Christ, Linda Newton,
Linda Newton’s contagious enthusiasm and engaging storytelling brings God’s Word to life. With authentic transparency and down-home humor she shares how God transformed heartbreak in her life into hope from her book 12 Ways to Turn Your Pain Into Praise published by Warner Press. She has currently written 2 new devotional books, Better Than Jewels: 31 Days of Biblical Insight for a Woman Seeking God based on the book of Proverbs, and Sapphires From Psalms currently on sale now. For more encouragement read Linda’s blog, “Savvy Choices.”