This Sunday we were called to a pretty hefty challenge in Matthew 18. To take a look at our lives and the people in them, and to forgive those people we have been harboring bitterness, hatred, and maybe even indifference against. This isn’t the easy or Minnesota nice thing to do, especially when we’ve survived without doing anything for years. So, while you’re thinking through those people I want to share a story about a girl with a few of those people in her life. Because there’s so much more to her life than this story I won’t share her real name. We’ll call her… Kayla. If you ever run into Kayla, you can grab a cup of coffee and you both can share your stories. I don’t want to share Kayla’s story to guilt anyone into forgiving someone else. I want Kayla’s story to prevent anyone, even those who’ve faced some of the most painful abuse and hurt a human being can experience, from becoming the unforgiving servant (Reread Matthew 18 or listen to the podcast if you’re not sure what that means). I want Kayla’s story to motivate us to mirror what our Master has done for us in taking on our insurmountable debt. Her story has not been exaggerated, but is an honest testimony of forgiveness in her life.
Kayla’s story begins when she was nine years old. After her Mom was caught in adultery, her Dad packed up and left, leaving Kayla and her two younger sisters behind with her mom and mom’s new boyfriend Rob. While her Dad’s reaction proved him unfit as a loving and protective father, Kayla’s mom and mom’s boyfriend Rob’s actions proved them unfit as human beings. Kayla would often wake up to her drunken Mom and Rob screaming at each other, and at times hear her mom being physically beaten by Rob. Out of fear for her sisters and mom Kayla stepped in to protect her mom. Not only did this lead to Rob taking out his drunken rage on nine year old Kayla, but her own mother would turn against her own daughter. Kayla then became the target of Rob’s and her mother’s rage, often being told she was the reason for the divorce, the drinking, and the abuse. Kayla felt betrayed, confused, hurt, angry, unprotected, abandoned and alone. Kayla’s mom’s and Rob’s behavior continued through high school. One of Kayla’s most vivid memories is being thrown around in the kitchen one night by Rob, and him finding his rifle and pressing the barrel against her forehead and telling her “I’m sick of you getting in the way all the time.“ At this point in Kayla’s story she thought she wouldn’t be alive to tell it. At this point in Kayla’s testimony, she had no feeling of forgiveness for her mom, and reasonably so. Her mom and Rob had taken her most innocent years as a child and turned them into a continual hell of abuse, fear, and abandonment. Kayla remembers thinking “I want my mom to feel exactly what she’s done to me.” This anger turned Kayla into a bitter and rebellious teenager. She turned to other boys to fulfill her longing for affection and for a protector and partying to numb the pain. In the end, she was only left even more hurt and emotionally destroyed.
When it came time for Kayla to finally graduate, she couldn’t wait and yet be more terrified for the real world. Her hellish childhood memories caused night terrors making her fearful to even fall asleep at night. In her first few weeks at college Kayla meet two friends who began to engage her with the gospel. But, the scars she wore seemed too deep for anyone to heal. Despite the depth of her scars, the great physician was still at work. Through the community in her church she began exposing the wound of her past, and like any wound left unattended for years Kayla began to see how deep they really cut.
It was through the gospel that Kayla found a person who cared enough about her to bear the scars of her own sin, so that she could find healing. And what true healing meant in her life wasn’t undoing what had already been done to her by her mom or Rob, but is found in forgiveness and reconciliation to her heavenly father. At this point in Kayla’s life, she began to let the great physician work. While it would be real Christianese and cliché to say after Kayla prayed the sinners prayer she was suddenly healed of all fears, insecurities, and dysfunction between her and her mom. The reality is, before she could’ve said the prayer some 2000 years ago her savior, Jesus, had already bore the weight of her own rebellion, purchasing her as His own before anyone could lay their drunken hands on her. Similar to the rejection Kayla felt by her mom who abused her in Kayla effort to protect her, Jesus also felt the rejection of the very people he came to save. The difference, in this picture is Jesus wasn’t left defeated, but resurrected to bring us the gospel of His life. God was healing Kayla. And in His healing Kayla couldn’t help but desire the same life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to cover other peoples broken lives. And the most broken person in Kayla’s life was… her mom.
At this point in Kayla’s testimony I asked her why she suddenly felt that way. After all of the abuse and abandonment, why would she want the source of that to be freed from the consequences of it? What reason is there behind forgiveness? She quoted Matthew 6:1 Jesus speaking after the Lord’s Prayer. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” “I can forgive her, because I’ve already been forgiven.”
In the parable of the unforgiving servant is there any reason for the master to forgive the servant who owed 10,000 talents, aka 200,000 years of work, aka 6 billion dollars? I may not be an investment banker but I’m going to say the master did not get a great deal. In this parable there is no worldly reason behind the masters choice to forgive. In this reality, there is no reason other than God’s incredible love for His people. Kayla says it’s unexplainable… that God is not only freeing her from the weight of the abuse, but moving her to desire the same work in her mom’s life.
To prevent her heart from turning bitter, forgiveness is a continual choice… seven times seventy. Kayla is still in the healing process, and dealing with the repercussions of abuse is a struggle. In this way, forgiveness is a continual choice not to harbor bitterness, hatred, or apathy against her mom. Despite Kayla’s forgiveness, her mom recently sent a box of all of her belongings and anything else that reminded her mom of her. That being said, Kayla’s mom isn’t ready to repent. This makes it hard to reconcile. So until then, Kayla has had to release her mom over to her dysfunctional saviors and to pray for her to come to the only savior that can bear the weight of her sin.
Here are a few questions to personally meditate on and discuss in your MC’s:
Are there people in my life that I need to forgive?
What does it mean for forgiveness to be a choice?
What does it mean for forgiveness to be a process?
How does forgiveness reflect the forgiveness we have through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection?
How do we reflect this as a church body at Rock Hill? Missional communities?
What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation?