My failure to forgive my stepfather for all the abuse and humiliation he inflicted upon me acted as a barrier to greater healing within me. For years I was consumed with anger, hatred and bitterness toward him.
The years of beatings with belts, electrical cords, wooden spoons and whatever he could get his hands on left me deeply fractured. The onslaught of words such as “sissy,” “stupid,” “never good enough,” and “worthless piece of shit” imprinted upon me that I was defective.
The man that I hoped would invite me into his world and teach me what it meant to be a man crushed whatever masculine strength I had. He left me shattered in my capacity to try and figure out life on my own. I hated him with every fiber of my being.
The result of his abuse left me empty, and fools rushed in. Along with addictions to pornography, drugs and sex, I was bound to emotionally dependent relationships with men that became sexualized. Underneath it all lay deep feelings of shame, rejection and abandonment. I believe that abandonment was at the root of my addictions and inordinate desire for others.
At the age of nineteen, I accepted Jesus into my heart and had a three-year honeymoon of enjoying my newfound faith. Then a conversation with another Christian about forgiveness shook me to the core. She showed me through the Scriptures how Jesus commands us to forgive. The Holy Spirit convicted me to forgive my stepfather, but I resisted the conviction because I wanted my revenge. I refused to do what I was supposed to do.
My feelings of being robbed, deprived and dispossessed by my stepfather rose up during that forgiveness “challenge” and somehow allowed me to justify the choice I had made to resist. Something precious was being been torn away from me. I was not going to let go of the painful memories. The abyss of pain strangely consoled me; it reminded me of his failures, which justified my hatred.
Yet the Holy Spirit was not going to let me off so easily. Three months later I got in touch with that pain at a seminar I attended. There was this woman seated behind a potter’s wheel, and she took a lump of clay and began to form a vase out of that lump. She talked about how we are created to bear God’s image. While the wheel was spinning she talked about how His gentle hands form and shape us. I was sitting near the front watching this beautiful vase take shape. I was engaged; she had pulled me in with this visual, and I want to see the finished product.
Then out of nowhere she took a left turn and talked about how abuse of all kinds, including neglect, damages that process. Her voice rising, she pounded the vase with her fists to destroy the beautiful image. I was a mess! Tears, pain, rage and anger began to rise within me and I wanted to run out of the room. I am not sure how but I remained present.
At the ministry time, I practically crawled forward for prayer. I sobbed for an hour and a half. At first I was clueless about what was happening. Then I realized that I was releasing all the submerged pain, grief and anger that I had never expressed toward my stepfather and his abuse of me.
This was the work of the Holy Spirit; I would never publicly grieve in such a manner. Somehow, in the midst of my purging, I felt cradled by a roomful of safe people.
That night, three skilled prayer ministers led me to the feet of Jesus so that my experience would be redemptive. They invited me to ask Jesus to bear the sin that had been done against me, to bear the years of pain and grief for not having a loving father, and to bear the hatred I still held toward him. Up and out came years of pain, hate, anger, bitterness and other vengeful feelings.
I arose that night feeling like a weight had been lifted. This is what is referred to as a death unto resurrection. Although painful, this death brought forth a greater life, joy and hope. But it was only the beginning of processing my pain and grief, and forgiving my stepfather from my heart.
I began to understand that my healing wasn’t going to be as neat and clean as I had planned. So I had to fight through the shame that wanted to keep me paralyzed and unresponsive to the Holy Spirit. I still had a ways to go before all of the sludge of my hate, bitterness and resentment toward my stepfather was resolved. But I understood the power of the cross to bear my wounds. I no longer had to remain infected by the pain of my past.
My once hardened heart had become much more tender as I received the comfort of God’s powerful presence that night. I had many similar encounters in my Living Waters group and other gatherings. God the Holy Spirit was healing my angry, bitter heart and making it new.
It took years, but there came a day when I felt clear toward my stepfather. No longer wanting revenge, no longer hating him when he came to mind, I began to experience mercy and grace toward him. God has freed me from the pain and abuse that he had inflicted upon me years before.
People ask me how I could forgive a man that abused me for so long. I tell them about a quiet moment with the Lord where He revealed how merciful he had been to me in forgiving me many appalling sins. My enormous debt had been cancelled by God’s mercy; how could I refuse to give that same mercy to my stepfather? Because of His tender mercy, I have become tender with mercy toward my stepfather.