Forgiveness is a topic I often wish I could scrub out of the bible when in women’s prison. The amount of terrible things most of these women have experienced means I could cringe at the idea of asking them to forgive. Jesus was very bold about it though, He spoke a lot about the importance of forgiveness and re-iterated it after the famous ‘Lord’s Prayer’
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins….” Matt6.14
Ouch! This can feel painful, except when we know what it means to forgive. Our society makes it seems like to forgive means saying what they did was ok. One of the women said for example that if she forgave her abusive husband she would be scared to be back with him. This is SO NOT what Jesus was saying! He was asking us to not hold the burden of unforgiveness, not to go back there!
I am sure most of us have felt the bitterness of holding onto a grudge, or deeper than that the sleeplessness or just off feeling in your stomach when you have been hurt by a person or situation. It can feel like a weight on us, sometimes we forget it but really it is always there.
One of the women explained that she was good at that, holding a memory in her head. She explained about a girl at school who had humiliated her, she told her to watch out because one day she would be paid back for it. Years later she was going down the street, saw this girl and battered her. She could hold a grudge and prided herself on her ability to remember and never let things go. (Scary, I know!)
As we continued chatting I said it is like collecting rocks. Each time someone hurts you or offends you, you may not react straight away but you collect it in your backpack. Then when someone else hurts you, you collect another and the backpack soon becomes very heavy. Sometimes we might get used to the feeling of the backpack and it becomes normal, for this girl when she then sees someone she remembers she gets a rock out and throws it back at them!
Really though, all we are doing is hurting ourselves. There are people who will never know the pain we carry, or never care about the effect they have had on us. Yet in ourselves we are in torment. A lot of these women cannot sleep for the amount of stuff on them is so great. So I explained how the answer is to give the backpack to Jesus.
We learnt about the woman at the well the previous week and saw how Jesus was with her. His Kindness, we can trust Him will all these rocks and in return gain freedom and rest
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest..” Matt11.28
One of the women asked if she could forgive her sister, as her sister was now dead from suicide and she has held a lot against her for years. Then one by one the women gave examples of who they wanted to forgive. I let a couple speak as I could see the healing even in just releasing it. Then I stopped it to explain how it wasn’t me that would take it and help with forgiveness it was Jesus. He is big enough to take it all.
We then prayed and the women forgave those who had hurt them. You could tell it was an emotional time and I gave them the prayer to take with them as often we have to continually forgive, it’s not a quick thing! I do believe that these women will receive healing and freedom, it may take saying the prayer over and over-or it may be immediate.
We also discussed them forgiving themselves and asking for forgiveness for their own wrongs. We looked at the story of the unforgiving servant Matt18-21. We discussed how to forgive doesn’t mean we just forget, we are wiser and trust may still be broken. We do not have to be best friends with those who have hurt us, we don’t even need them to know we have forgiven them. It is between God and ourselves. For personal freedom and to walk into the purposes he has for us.
The prayer we prayed and a lot of the content of the session was helped by leaflets I have from Bob Ekblads amazing work; http://www.bobekblad.com/tierra-nueva-new-earth/
Jesus, I know you want healing for me. So I choose to forgive …… for …….
I release them from any debt they owe me. I let go of all my judgements against them and punishments I’ve wanted them to have. I leave them in your hands. Be my protector in this situation and bring healing to my heart. I also forgive you God, for anything I’ve held against you because bad things happened. Show me who you really are. Please cover me with the forgiveness you offer me through Jesus’ death on the cross.
Because you’ve forgiven me, I choose to forgive myself for all the wrongs I’ve done and the ways I’ve messed things up. I receive your forgiveness as a free gift. Help me to love myself the way you love me-without any conditions. I ask all this in Jesus’ name. Amen
Please continue to pray for these women. The one from the first week who started the ‘I just want to know Jesus’ stood up in the chapel service on Sunday to share that she feels completely different. I wasn’t there but was told. She’s a woman known in the prison and a big influence on others, but in front of everyone she said “Me mates say I’m different now, but I don’t care. I don’t know it all but I know how I feel and that God is helping me. I’ve never felt good before and I know I can feel something when I am with God, it feels like family-and I’ve never had that”
God is doing big stuff and its is so beautiful. She said after this session that she’ll be up all night praying this prayer as she has a list of people to ‘get back at’ but she wants to choose to forgive rather than throw rocks back. That is HUGE. Please pray for them all and I know we will continue to see such positive transformation.
*Please note that it is hard to write a blog explaining everything we do in a session. There is far more and explanation in a session but I can’t go into everything and also have to be sensitive to the women’s personal stories as protecting them*