I can vividly remember hearing his voice as if he just said it. It was the Sunday before Memorial Day, and I stood at the altar with tears streaming down my face. It had been a hell of a week leading to this moment, I was emotionally and mentally exhausted, and my pastor had just preached a sermon that touched an obscure, sore spot within my heart. Then he spoke. As clear as the voices around me, I heard God say, “You aren’t finished. There are more people for you to forgive…two more. You have to forgive.” Standing there at the altar with my back to the audience and my head in my hands, I sobbed.
Forgiveness. *heavy sigh* Imagine going to your doctor to complain about a pain that is impeding upon your quality of life and being told that you need surgery. This is metaphorical for what the last year and a half of my life has been. I simply told God that I was discontent with a few relationships and the affect they had on other areas of my life: daddy issues that spilled into romantic relationships, failed romantic relationships that caused mistrust, and betrayal within friendships that resulted in an ice cold heart. I merely wanted to stop the bleeding in one area of my life, and God’s remedy was to find the root and fix that. On this journey to forgiveness and healing, I have sent some candid and emotional emails, apologized, retracted statements, cried until my eyes were swollen, prayed and begged God, pried open my closed mind and heart, and eventually felt the freedom that came with finally letting it all go. I found closure and relief for three major broken places in my heart. I thought I was done.
“You aren’t finished. There are more people for you to forgive…two more. You have to forgive.”
I had a close friendship that seemed to go south because of two Facebook posts and a few exchanges in Facebook messenger. This woman had become a sister to me, and I had shared some spaces and secrets with her that I couldn’t share with others. She told me she covered me in prayer, and I extended my love not only to her but her children. I thought our bond was unbreakable, that is until one faithful day in the spring when we could not see eye-to-eye. I disagreed with the actions of her and another one of her close friends, and that I day I discovered where her loyalty lied; I found that our roots weren’t as unyielding as the others. I’ll never forget sharing my thoughts in love, trying my hardest to not be misinterpreted. Wisdom and common sense should have told me to stop typing and pick up the phone; maybe they did. Maybe I ignored the nagging in my gut because I desperately wanted her to hear me and feel my heart. In the end, she shut me down. She said she wouldn’t even bother to read my responses so there was no need to for me to send a message. It was as if the door slammed shut, and I stood befuddled. Our friendship was over.
There was this guy. We had created a world for ourselves in secret spaces and quiet corners. We were in love, and the world was oblivious. For months we hypothetically spoke of a life where we had all that we wanted: a home, a family, and most importantly, we had each other. This poetic love song was nothing more than a ballad of “what ifs” and “maybe so.” I had once again been bamboozled by my love for love and my proclivity to fall for potential. Months of devoid promises left me disappointed and embarrassed. I had done it again…given my heart to someone who wouldn’t choose me. I endured the private pain as I detached little by little. All the while, as my heart ached, I maintained a smile, though flawed, so that no one would notice what was unseen for so long. It was hard to accept, but we were over.
I sent one final message that day though my sister/friend had already professed that she would not read it under any circumstances. It was my faint hope that one day she wouldn’t be able to ignore my notification, and she would read my message. The peace maker in me had apologized for our disagreement. I valued our friendship more than proving my point. She never read that message. The truth is I was crushed. Beyond that, I was fearful. If you’ll recall, I shared spaces and secrets with her that I couldn’t share with others. The irony: our fall out was over character, integrity, and gossip. I instantly feared that a blow up like the one I had seen that day would be result in my secrets becoming public knowledge in back conversations and private meetings. I was hurt and afraid. I couldn’t fathom why my sister would cut me off like that and leave me so uneasy. To cope, I took on a “f*ck her” attitude. I wrote her off as shady, petty, and immature, and I began the process of forgetting not just what happened between us but us altogether. I was good. I couldn’t care less what happened in her life, and I didn’t want her to care about mine. She unfriended and unfollowed me on social media, which was her typical modus operandi when she was “done” with someone. Fine by me. Again, I was good. I was good until we would end up in the same room. I was perfectly fine until our fall out affected the relationship I had with her children. In those moments I was ANGRY that she wasn’t a sister to me. Sisters disagree, talk it out, and choose let love rule over everything else. She was NOT my sister. She, her opinions of me, her power over me, and what she did to me was completely dead to me.
I didn’t miss a beat. Though I grieved the death of our potential, I channeled my love for him into what friendship we had. I kept up appearances whenever they had to happen, I was a available when I needed to be, and I rode the emotional waves when they came. Each day, I suppressed more and more of what I felt in hopes that eventually I wouldn’t feel it. The truth is I was heart broken. Beyond that, I was resentful. I resented him for making me feel comfortable enough to open up and put all of me on the line just for him to not choose me. I felt so rejected, inadequate, and abashed but I buried those feelings beneath my smile and laughter. “You are used to this, Chris,” is what I told myself so that I could be okay. This wasn’t the first time that I silently mourned the loss of something that I never fully had, but I indignantly vowed that it would be the last. As far as I was concerned, what happened didn’t happen, and what I felt, I know longer felt.
“You aren’t finished. There are more people for you to forgive…two more. You have to forgive.”
God spoke to me.
I had one intent purpose for going to a service at 5:00 on a Sunday evening: to support my friends who were speaking. I was beyond tired, hungry, and I had forced my feet into a pair of heels that had betrayed me hours before. As far as I was concerned, I would show my face, enjoy my friends, leave an offering, and tip out the back door. Then I saw her. Of all people who would be acting as an usher at the doors of the sanctuary, it was her. Ugh. Immediately a put up a guard around my heart and put on my mask. I cordially spoke and thanked her when she told me where I could find a seat. When I got hot, I walked past her to grab a fan without making eye contact. Though there was unrest within me, I was determined to remain resolved: She was NOT my sister. She, her opinions of me, her power over me, and what she did to me was completely dead to me. I enjoyed the my friends and the service, but I couldn’t stop replaying the sermon that my pastor preached earlier, “All Things New.” He preached from the scripture that said you can’t put new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:22) In a nutshell, he showed us that you have to fully change in order to embrace the new things God wants to do with and through you. Who you were and how you were as you were won’t be able to contain the “new wine.” As I sat in that hot church that Sunday afternoon, I heard my pastor’s voice saying “Transformation is not patchwork.” All day I had been seeking the relevance in that statement. I had healed! I was a new woman, I was free, and I had peace. I had forgiven, and I didn’t have anything for or against anyone…I thought. Then I remembered God’s words: “You aren’t finished. There are more people for you to forgive…two more. You have to forgive.”
The service ended. I reckoned that I’d at least hug the necks of the friends I came to see and a few others, then I’d make a beeline for the door. I then walked to the back of the church to return my fan once again passing her with no eye contact. In that moment there was a nagging in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t shake. I placed my fan down, and I called out to her, almost instinctively. I asked her if we could talk and within a matter of minutes, I found myself standing in the foyer of the church sharing my heart with her. If I am honest, I felt as if she owed it to me to make the first move, but God had given me the instruction to forgive. I sincerely apologized that a difference of opinion may have caused some form of offense. I was open about how her cold shoulder hurt me and how I felt about the severed friendship. My emotions betrayed me, and tears cascaded down my cheeks onto my chest before I could catch them. I was vulnerable. I was uncomfortable. I revealed that God told me to forgive her, and I was doing so in that moment. She too apologized not only for the incident but for not coming to me sooner; stubbornness seemed to be our common denominator. There was no promise of reconciliation, but there was no longer a grudge. I immediately felt free.
So much had happened. Our friendship had changed in ways that were beyond my control. At some point, I had to face my pain for what it was. It hurt, and I didn’t want it to anymore. The only way to stop hurting was to find the root…my resentment towards him. I started with prayer, begging God to allow me to get over him. If I didn’t let him and that pain go, I’d continue the cycle of one relationship hurting the next. So I let it go…not just the grief of what never was but the pain of what he couldn’t give me. I also relinquished the unrealistic expectations that I had of myself. The more I felt resolved, the more our relationship took a hit. I found myself becoming frustrated because as much as I sought to move forward and genuinely be a friend, I seemed to be hitting a brick wall. Why did I have to feel bad for choosing me? It seemed I had let go of one resentment and was trading it for another. Then I remembered what God told me to do…forgive. Legit, this was my response, “God, I did that already. This one isn’t on me!” As per my relationship with God, he responded in clap back form as he often does with me. It was an “I said what I said” moment. After a series of conversations this week, I have found forgiveness and relinquished resentment…again. There isn’t a guarantee of what our friendship will look like, but there is no longer resentment. I feel free.
“But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”
Luke 11:28 [New Living Translation]
After a year and half on this journey to forgiveness and healing coupled with the peace and freedom that I received for my 30th birthday, I thought I had learned all that I needed to learn and done all that I needed to do. I thought the peace I felt was my allowance to keep these situations neatly compartmentalized in the section of my heart that is beyond reach…numb. The peace that I found in my [self-endowed] resolve caused me to assume that I was walking not only in obedience but God’s favor. I missed the point.
I hated cleaning my room when I was a kid. My biggest issue was the fact that I had too much stuff! (By the way, I still have this problem.) When my mom would tell me to clean my room, I would make sure the surfaces were spotless. Everything would seemingly be in its place, nothing would be on the floors, and I would even wipe the dust off of my 13 inch television. If you opened my closet, it looked well organized at first glance. But if you looked in the dark corners of my closet, you’d find the items that didn’t make it to its designated place. Those were the things that I didn’t want to deal with at the time so I just put them out of sight and reach. Here’s the problem: when my mother checked for my clean room, she looked beyond the surface. Christina Diane Williams Rouson wasn’t impressed with a made bed, a dusted dresser, or a vacuumed floor. If everything wasn’t clean, the room wasn’t clean.
Partial obedience is still disobedience.
It wasn’t enough that I had an emotional response to God’s command to forgive two more people on that fifth Sunday in May. Just because time had elapsed, I wasn’t any less responsible for the word that God gave me that day at the altar. It didn’t matter if I had forgiven key people and let go of grudges last year. It wasn’t even enough that I am walking in obedience as it relates to fulfilling my purpose. So what if I have a single out, if I’m gaining new blog followers each week, or if I’m a few steps away from establishing a new career? None of those things will being able to fully blossom if I don’t deal with the parts of me that reflect who I used to be. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22). The period and point blank of the situation was hearing what he told me and crying over what he said would be insufficient until I did what he told me to do. Partial obedience is still disobedience.
My loves, today I challenge you to reexamine the things that you may have “tucked away” in your proverbial closet, and recall what God really told you to do with those things. It doesn’t matter how straight, good, or even blessed the rest of your life may be. There is a portion of blessing that you can’t even attain until you hear the word and put it into practice.
Dang. I can’t do anything but laugh at myself. I really thought I was off the hook. I really thought that I was walking up right and my heart was pure. *shaking my head*
So as I always do when I have these heart checks, I simply pray this prayer:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
Psalm 51:10 [English Standard Version]
I hope this helps.