Forgiving Is the Hardest Thing You Will Ever Do

There was a time in my life when I was in a dark, dark place.

You can call it: Depression. Despair. The Black Dog. A valley. A dark night of the soul. Choose your term—it doesn't really matter. What matters is that it hurt to live. My chest was crushed. I could not cease from crying. Day after day, I would lie there, not moving, incapable of distraction . . . my thoughts spiraling down and down.

Thankfully, I have real friendships in my life and a few people knew me well enough to rally and intervene. To care.

They asked hard questions and made hard statements like:

  • What aspects of this are spiritual?
  • Do we need to get you to medical assistance?
  • I am going to call you this afternoon, and you MUST pick up. You must. If you do not, I will leave work and come to your home. You do not have the option of not picking up.

As I reflect on that time, I remember telling one friend who asked me a specific, wise, question that I didn't really think my depression (or whatever you choose to call it) was chemical. I am undoubtedly genetically predisposed to chemical imbalances in the brain—I have relatives up both sides of the family tree who have been greatly helped by medicines related to mental illnesses. But my body did not respond well to psychiatric medicines when I tried them.

And I could clearly point to a situational cause: hurt. Hurt tied to a relational breach. Temptation to bitterness. An internal screaming of anger and rage in response to betrayal. Shock. Fear. Frustration. Not seeing a way out. Not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel—or if there is a light, it's a train coming down the tracks to run over you again.

Choosing to risk and love means that sometimes we will be hurt.

Initially, when I thought about all of this darkness and despair, I was tempted toward self-condemnation. I would think, What kind of Christian are YOU that you get SO hurt and SO upset and go to SUCH a dark place?!? But as I have reflected more on my response (and with the blessed gift of time to grieve and think and pray and mourn—and submit and trust, by the way), I am not kicking myself as much. Okay, sure, I still have a LOT of growing up to do in the Lord. And yes, absolutely, I think it would be really cool to be one of those emotionally-stable, prone to readily overlook and cover over with grace, super-duper loving and godly people.

But I am being a little more gentle and gracious with myself because I also think that my response revealed something good. Right. Appropriate. And it is this: forgiveness is a death. Bearing with is hard. Choosing to risk and love (which are one in the same) means that sometimes we will be hurt. Friends will love us, but they will love us imperfectly. And then we have to choose:

  1. Pull back from all relationships? Stop loving? Stop risking? Keep an emotional barricade around our hearts so we are never hurt again?
  2. Give in to judgment and bitterness. Stand above the people around us and rejoice that "we are not like them!" Act all godly on the outside, but inside, consider ourselves to be gods. Living in our little kingdoms. Attempting to ascend to the throne of God, while all the while, descending into the bowels of hell itself.
  3. Or forgive.

Those are all the choices I see. That's the realm of our response. And in view of God's mercy (Rom. 12:1), it seems to me that actually, our only choice is choice #3. This death to self, remembering of God, right view of others, and this blink-of-an-eye we call "life"—forgiveness.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Pleasant? No way. Necessary? Undoubtedly, 100%, with all my heart, yes. We cannot claim to love God and hate our brother (1 John 4:20). It is dishonoring to God and destroys our testimony to stand back and say, "Okay, sure, I don't have a problem with her . . . I mean, if she has a problem with me, then she can come and talk to me. But from my perspective? We're good. I've done everything I need to do. Yeah. Right. It's all good." While everyone who knows the real us knows that we are not truly, deeply, actually reconciled in the "unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Eph. 4).

Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do.

And so, we forgive. To quote Andree Seu: "Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do." And to paraphrase her brilliant essay that I urge you to read: If we think it's easy to forgive, if we can piously claim to have forgiven while knowing our hearts are cold and distant and judgmental to the person (or persons) who hurt us, then we have absolutely NO idea what we are talking about. And there is no way that we have ever forgiven anyone of anything.

Today, I pray that we will forgive one another. And if we are stuck and can't forgive, if we are caught in bitterness, if our anger towards others has turned inward in depression and we've gone past the point of caring anymore, that especially then, we will get help.

Know that you are not alone in the battle! The Lord is with you. And if you're struggling with some big ol' sin, then I can probably relate too (as can many people in your real, non-virtual, life).

With love from the trenches,

Tara B.

PS: Two of the books that have helped me the most related to this topic: Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom and Ed Welch, Depression.

*This post originally appeared here.

Tara Barthel, a former director at Peacemaker Ministries and "recovering lawyer," currently serves her family as a homemaker while regularly mediating and speaking at conferences and retreats. Tara has produced one video series (Living the Gospel in Relationships), and published two books (Peacemaking Women and Redeeming Church Conflicts). Tara is currently enrolled at Reformed Theological Seminary where she is pursuing a Master's Degree in Religion. Tara and her family are members of Rocky Mountain Community Church (PCA) in Billings, Montana.

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