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Forgiveness Is the Key

By Anonymous.

Editor’s note: This article is an intimate personal testimony of the wounds which are often unintentionally inflicted on ministers and their families by Christian congregations. It is also a powerful story of a long and painful search for healing. Even though no identifiable names or places are mentioned within, we publish it anonymously because of its highly personal content.

There I was, a Baptist minister’s son in my teens and sitting in a members’ meeting, with all sorts of accusations being thrown at my Dad, desperately wanting to escape and, if I am honest, to lash out. Within weeks, I experienced my Dad being forced into resigning from his pastorate and waiting for the long process of finding a new church, and the massive worry of where the next monies would be coming from to cover the rent on the Manse we were living in and the household bills.

We did eventually find a new church, this time in Kent, and this proved to be the starting process for my personal journey on the road to forgiveness. At the new church, I experienced the opposite of the previous church. Instead of accusations and bitterness, we received love and support as a family to grow in faith and, on our journey with God, to forgive others as Christ forgives us.

The church secretary, who had been a POW in Japan during the WWII, had a major impact on my journey to forgiveness. He shared with me on a number of occasions the true horrors of what he experienced and how he had forgiven those who inflicted those horrors. A number of years after the war, he returned to Japan on a reconciliation trip and helped found an organisation which seeks to reconcile POWs with their captors.

I found it difficult being a minister’s son, owing to the expectations and criticism that I received over the years. In Dad’s previous church, we found ourselves in a very difficult situation. As Dad was forced to resign from his job, we were forced out of our home. I believe our treatment as a family had a significant role in my health problems in later life.

In 2008, a few months into being married to my wife Caroline, I received a telephone call to say one of the children from the church, whom I taught in Sunday school, had been tragically killed by a bus. I had never felt such numbness in my entire life. During the funeral service at the crematorium, I experienced my first panic attack (although at the time I was unaware of what it was). I was standing in the aisle and felt a very strong sensation of wanting to pass out. My heart was racing and I was sweating heavily. I continued to experience this physical feeling on and off for many weeks after.

Caroline and I then went on holiday to a Greek island and I experienced several severe panic attacks during the flight and on the holiday during trips out exploring the area. I was also rushed into a hospital there with an infection (which did not help!).

The weeks went by after our return from Greece and I was still experiencing panic attacks, but they were much more frequent and I started to become agoraphobic due to the fact that all the panic attacks happened outside of the home. I was also experiencing flashbacks to our days in the church from which Dad was forced to resign. I could hear the voices of the people throwing accusations at my Dad. At the same time, I was experiencing flashbacks to the Sunday School child’s death. I found myself gradually withdrawing from church and social life to the extent that I did not leave the house. I found myself asking many questions and being very anxious about everything.

It was not until I started to attend a private Christian counselling centre that I realised that I had not dealt with past hurts. Although I could say, “Yes, I forgive the people who caused the grief”, I actually didn’t mean it! At the same time, while going through this counselling, I did feel a little bitterness as I found myself paying for private counselling and was questioning why I had to do this - after all it was the church people who had hurt me in the first place!

During this period, I started to read the book of Job and, in the suffering which Job experienced, I was able to see a similar conversation within the story of Job to the CBT therapy which I was receiving. Job was asking many questions in conversation and I could see that, by talking and asking questions, Job was actually growing and moving forward in his own life. I now found myself grappling with questions such as “If God is a God of love, why did he allow a child to die?” and “Why has he allowed me to suffer mentally?” I had no immediate answers to those questions, but as I was asking more and more questions to God, in a funny way I felt a real release, just as I’m sure Job experienced.

A couple of years later, I started to experience severe stomach pains. One night the pain got so severe that I was taken to A&E for assessment. While I was in hospital, I underwent many tests to establish what the problems were. The scans revealed that I had ulcerative colitis. I was in hospital for a few more days after this diagnosis and many questions again started to come into my mind from the past such as “Where is God in all of this? Why is he allowing this?”

One night our three-year-old son came to see me with my wife. As I was on a drip, I couldn’t really play with him, even though he was desperate for a father/son moment! Once they left, I broke down in tears and shouted to God.

I must add that I was also admitted to hospital a year later and had a two week stay in hospital which I experienced first hand the love of our church friends visiting us and that Love helped the forgiveness process from the past.

In January 2014, I decided to take up a new calling to serve as a voluntary chaplain for a dementia care home. When I initially sensed this calling, I laughed at the idea as I felt my physical health issues would stop me from serving in any kind of ministry. In fact, the opposite has happened! Within the chaplaincy work I have sat with staff members and relatives and understand their various issues, both mentally and physically, and am able to share briefly my own pains and this somehow brings together a connection.

The organisation I work under asks me to study as part of my role and for my own development. I came across a new book this year by Desmond and Mpho Tutu called The Book of Forgiving. This book has helped me grapple with the many questions I have on forgiveness and suffering. Desmond and Mpho share from their own experiences of suffering and the need to forgive. The book encourages the reader to create their own forgiveness journey and, at the end of each chapter, there are a number of exercises to complete. I have found this to be a great tool on forgiveness and dealing with the issues from my past.

Mark 11.25 says: “If you hold anything against anyone, forgive them”. I can truly say that, when you forgive, you begin to experience the healing process and many things come together for the good. For too many years, I wanted revenge on the people from the church who had hurt me and my family so much, but I can truly say with all of my heart that now I do forgive them and pray that their lives would be filled with the Spirit of God.

Forgiveness in itself is simple, but it’s not an easy journey. In the end, it does lead to more love, more joy and freedom in yourself.

Yes, I continue to suffer physically with Colitis and now also with Crohn’s disease, but I have learned to trust in God. I know that, within my suffering, others can be comforted. I now realise in practical terms in my life what Paul said when he said: “Rejoice in your sufferings”. I rejoice in my past experience and I rejoice in my present experiences as well as I know others will be comforted through my suffering.

I have a real sense that God at some stage is going to call me into full time chaplaincy ministry. The physical problems will actually be a ministry to other people. As well as chaplaincy work, I run my own computer support business and I am able to witness within both these roles to various other people in their suffering.

In conclusion, I want to say that the Lord's Prayer is such a powerful prayer in the fact that, not only do we ask forgiveness for ourselves, but forgiveness to others as well who may have wronged us. Praying the Lord's Prayer and taking the words seriously are another form of healing.

I am sorry

How many deaths have those words died?

They were stuck in my throat

They melted on my tongue

They suffocated before they met the air

I am sorry

The words crouch on my heart

And they weigh a ton

Could I not just get on with it, say I'm sorry and be done?

I am sorry and I am not done

I am sorry for the hurt I caused

For the doubts I inspired, for the sadness you held

For the anger, despair, suffering and grief you endured

I am sorry

There is no currency with which I can repay you for your tears

But I can make amends

And I do mean it when I say

I am sorry

(Desmond Tutu, The Book of Forgiving)

Ministry Today

You are reading Forgiveness Is the Key by Anonymous, part of Issue 65 of Ministry Today, published in November 2015.

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