In his book, Everybody Needs To Forgive Somebody, Dr. Allen Hunt recounts one of the most powerful stories of forgiveness he had ever heard.
It is the story of Millie, a young woman who married at eighteen years old and had three children with her husband. After ten years of taking care of a home and three active children, she began to wonder what it would be like to be single and carefree again. Often, when the cares of married life became too much for her, she would wonder whether she had made a mistake getting married so young.
Believing she had fallen out of love with her husband and aching for adventure, Millie soon fell in love with another man. For four months they had a clandestine affair meeting in hotel rooms whenever they had free time. Millie became so enthralled with this relationship that she left her husband and children to move in with her lover.
Millie’s husband was desperate to have her back. Every day he would send her notes begging her to return home. He even drove by her lover’s house and asked her to go with him to talk to their pastor. He told her how the children cried for her at night but even that would not move her heart. She was determined to start a new life with her lover and leave her old life behind.
A year went by and still Millie was determined not to return to her marriage despite her husband’s earnest attempts to reconcile with her.
Then, one Wednesday morning, she woke up and the realization of what she had done to her family dawned on her. She began to sob as she thought about the heartache she caused her husband and children. There and then, she realized she had to end the dead end affair she was involved in and return to her home.
Of course, she worried how her husband would react to seeing her again. Would he scream at her and slam the door in her face? What would her children say? Would they turn their backs on her for having abandoned them when they needed her the most?
Despite her fears, she knew she had to go home and face what she had done.
And so, she pulled into the driveway, walked up to the door and knocked. As she waited for her husband to answer the door, her body was shaking uncontrollably. As soon as she saw him, she said, “I want to come home.” Her husband smiled and embraced her saying, “Welcome home.”
The days that followed seemed like a dream as Millie and her husband tried to put their life back together. It took a lot of honesty and prayer, but they were making progress putting the past behind them and starting fresh.
Then, Millie got what seemed to be the worst news possible. She was pregnant with her lover’s child. How could her husband forgive this? How could he not see it as another slap in the face? And what would their families say? How could they ever welcome this child who would be a constant reminder of her infidelity?
Looking at her face, Millie’s husband knew something was wrong and asked her what it was. As she said, “I’m pregnant,” she began to sob uncontrollably. Just as he had before, her husband took her in his arms and told her that everything would be alright. He reassured her that he would welcome the child as if it were his own and that he would always love and care for her.
Of course, not only was Millie amazed by her husband’s ability to forgive her but so were their family and friends. When people asked him how he could welcome her home after all the pain she caused him and their children, he said: “You know, with all that Christ did to forgive me, how could I look at my wife, the woman He gave me to love, and say, ‘You know, you’ve done something so horrible that I can’t forgive you.’”
If you are like me, you cannot help but be astounded by this husband’s almost boundless ability to forgive his wife. His secret, however, is not that he has a short memory or that he doesn’t have a lot of pride. Rather, his secret is that He understands how much God has forgiven him and he is willing to share that forgiveness even when he has had to suffer the worst of betrayals from his wife.
As the title of Dr. Hunt’s book suggests, all of us have someone we need to forgive. It could be that our parents did not give us everything we think we needed. Maybe we were picked on and bullied throughout our school years. Many of us have been betrayed by friends and family. The people we cared about the most often took advantage of us or showed little regard for our feelings. Though it may be many years later, those wounds are still fresh. They still sting when we touch them. We are finding it hard to move on. We are finding it hard to trust others again.
It is not easy for us to forgive. In fact, in some circumstances, it may seem absolutely impossible. However, we do not have to be doomed to bearing a burden of resentment for the rest of our days. We do not have to relive the wrongs done to us. It is possible to let it all go, to get over our hurt feelings and to finally let our wounds heal. And it all starts with reflecting on how much God loves and how much He has forgiven us.
If each of us would sit down every day and reflect on our loving God who never turns us away, who does not hold our sins against us and who loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, our hearts would begin to melt. As we come to understand how much mercy God has shown us, we will begin to show mercy to others. Our hearts will grow to understand that the people who hurt us in our past were themselves carrying a burden of pain. And, with God’s grace, we will begin to heal.
Forgiveness is possible and it can begin for us today. On this altar, along with the bread and wine, let us offer our hurts, disappointments and pain. Let us allow God to take them up into the heart of Jesus and return peace and calm to us. It will not happen overnight, but it will happen. We can be free from the shackles of our past and open our hearts to a future full of promise. It all begins with acknowledging that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and with our willingness to share that forgiveness with others.