Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Black Hole

People who have been abused as kids develop a whole lot of coping mechanisms to just keep going in our lives. Part of the reason we do this is because we have to. If we dealt with all our pain all of the time we might just explode! So we develop ways of getting a little respite, of getting a little peace, and of almost completely disengaging sometimes as a method of staying sane.

But for those of us who carry our abuse into our adult lives, without healing, we now carry the terror and abuse of our childhoods into our work lives, our marriages, our parenting, and our everyday worlds. If I could have my wish it would be for every person on the planet to have the healing I have had from my abuse. Because it has changed my life. But part of why I write this blog is the hope that some of my healing process will give you the courage to fight for your healing process. Because you matter. God wants to unshackle you from the bondage of what abuse has done to your heart and your psyche.

Perhaps if you victims or family members or therapists or physicians or anyone reading this can relate to what I am writing in this particular blog, it will allow you to help someone take steps into their own healing journey.

This is a short writing describing some of my feelings and thoughts during my healing work. It’s my attempt to describe the dark place I would go into, a place of despair, at the worst times in my suffering from what abuse had done to me. The place I continued to fall into I called ‘The Black Hole.’ I seldom have any of these feelings in my present life but these feelings and thoughts permeated my heart before, during and for several years following the formal healing work I completed.

As you read this I invite you to imagine two things.

1.Imagine what it might have been like for my wife who lived with me all through the years I had these feelings and its impact on her.

2.Imagine the power at work, by my Creator and God that must have been at work to heal and restore the heart of the person I was, with these feelings being very real and dominant in my life.

Here is a little window into what it felt like to be in ‘The Black Hole’:

As a little tiny baby boy I was brutalized physically and psychologically by my father and abandoned emotionally and physically by my mother. This is the black hole.

I am broken on the inside. My heart is broken.

As an adult I have learned to function in the world but don’t ask me to trust you. DO NOT ASK ME TO TRUST YOU! Don’t ask me to depend on you. Don’t expect me to relax or rest peacefully . . . EVER! Don’t expect me to accept what you tell me as the truth. I know better.

What I know is you will lie to me. You will leave me. At the point when I most need you, you will be too weak or too busy or completely absent and I will be alone again with this monster, my father.

I don’t want to hear about your faith or your God. I know more than I ever wanted to know about your God . . . way more! I do not want to hear your words! If knowing your God makes you act the way you do toward me, why would I EVER want to know him?

I easily see your hypocrisy. I see your lies. I see your manipulation of circumstances to make them fit your blind prejudices. I see your deceit. I watch you and see where you don’t measure up. I know better than to ever believe what you tell me.

I know that things will never be different. You have made that clear to me. I have come to accept the fact that I will always be alone deep inside to face this frantic desperation all by myself.

Don’t ask me to have faith. I’m not that stupid. You hide all your hate and prejudice and evil and viciousness behind some belief in some invisible entity then you use this invisible entity to destroy me, your son. Are you kidding? Have faith in someone who gets people to hurt their children?

So now I want lots of facts that I can touch and verify on my own. So I can protect myself. So I am able to see and to know you are not lying to me, whoever you are. It doesn’t matter WHO you are. I’m too smart to fall for your blind faith. Show me the facts, sir. Show me the facts, ma’am. If I can’t see it, it’s not real. If I can’t control it I want nothing to do with it. If I can’t prove it with cold hard facts I will reject it. You will never be able to prove to me that there is a God who loves me so DON’T EVEN TRY! I have been terrified for years by your God . . . keep your God away from me!!

I may look like I am alive, but I’m really dead. You may see my body in the room, but you will never see my heart. That is still mine, however stomped on. I will appear to be kind to you and compassionate when I am able to because I know what it feels like to be treated with cold cruelty and I would never want you to feel what I have felt. But don’t expect me to show you my heart. Don’t expect me to give you my heart! Don’t expect me to be vulnerable with my feelings. Nobody will ever know how I really feel. And if you leave me it won’t hurt me because I won’t have really connected with you or attached to you from my heart. You will probably learn it would have been better if you had never met me!

I have become a master at living without living. I am a cynic. I am a doubter. I live in despair. My hope was taken from me within the first few days of my life. I will go through the motions of living but I am not truly alive.

The rage stored up in my heart from my abuse now gets used in destroying myself. It is too terrifying to show my rage to anyone because it feels like I might cease to exist. Can you normal people understand this? So I will try to keep my rage within but in doing that I am destroying my own body. I know my rage leaks out at times in little ways but there is nothing I can do about that. You will just have to live with it, sorry! I lived my father’s rage for years and now it is my default mode. So it will inevitably leak out on some of you.

Oh and don’t bother caring about me because it really won’t make any difference. There is nothing you can do. I learned in the first few days of my life not to trust you and I learned this lesson extremely well and have never forgotten it. Trust leads to others hurting you and then the inevitable betrayal and pain and I know I will always be alone in my pain. So I learned not to trust and I learned not to feel any hope.

Please don’t tell me God loves me because I know you are lying to me. If my father and mother don’t love me why would you expect me to believe that your invisible entity loves me! Can’t you see how ugly and worthless I am? What’s wrong with you!?

Once upon a time a little hope stirred somewhere deep inside me, and I think I may have seen just a little glimpse of light. But it was gone before I knew it. Darkness returned and darkness and anger and anguish remain deep in my soul. I will never trust what I can’t prove and what I can’t control. The pain is too overwhelming. The pain burns in my body and I do everything I can to avoid more pain and I stuff this pain down as far into my subconscious as possible because I can barely live with the pain I feel now.

Now let’s fast forward to the next phase of my life, after I left my family’s cult.

After I left my father and the sick things he taught me about how worthless and unlovable I was I still had to figure out the human race. I had no choice but to figure out how to get along with people. What a difficult world to figure out! I remember what an odd feeling it was when I first met a few kind hearted people who actually did not try to hurt me or destroy. How on earth was I to navigate that mine field?

It is an odd feeling to have the walls of my heart 10 feet tall and 10 feet thick and yet meet the occasional person who stirred something in my heart. In spite of those well-constructed walls I was allowed to see into some of the goodness of mankind. And what did I see in this process? Well, little glimmers. Of kindness. Of thoughtfulness. Of reasonableness. Of the spirit of an occasional person who seemed not to want anything from me but to say hello and ask what I wanted on my burger…Oh, how very strange to begin to realize there are some people who really are loving and caring people. How could I have been prepared for these folks with what I was taught in my hate-filled home!

When you are making a massive paradigm shift in your life it feels like you are in free fall. I was moving forward very slowly in my life from a world that had been defined by hate. What I was given a daily fare of in my home was God’s hatred toward his helpless creatures, my parent’s hatred of society and yes, even hated of their own children, and that society was evil at its core. But we in my family’s church were all the “good” folks, the only “okay” people regardless of how we behaved. So, yes, I began to gain some new data points from interacting with the world and learning there were some seemingly nice people, but my little kid core self kept arguing back and saying “Don’t trust this person! He could turn out to be like your father!”

Remember I asked you to imagine what my wife had to go through living with me during this process? Well sometimes she saw me taking a baby step forward in my trust of people, but she also got to witness me falling back into the black hole and believing that no one was trustworthy. And on some days it probably felt to her like I didn’t even trust her. One of the truly good people I had ever known. And whose love for me was profound and had been borne out in her daily patience and love that I still marvel to understand.

I also asked you to imagine the power of my Creator and God to help me heal and to restore my heart. Even when it was permeated by the poison of hate.

The Bible says “God is love.” And if true, that means God can only do what is loving. Ever! The chasm I had to cross was from a home filled with hate and the fruits of hate to trust the best, most trustworthy being in the universe. This was going to take a God who was a master at understanding the human heart and how to remove the poison of hate from it.

Our early childhood teaching is very hard to overcome. It comes in in the most formative years of our lives where the basis of all we are happens. And the core of what I was taught and understood was the core principle of life was hatred. How on earth was God going to help me extract that poison out of my system, my head and my heart? And how was I to maintain my relationship with my very tenderhearted wife and those who were around me in those years?

That journey is the journey this blog has tried to unfold. To say I marvel at the process of God’s mercy and help to me in this journey would be an understatement. But as I worked through to the other side of that process it has brought tremendous freedom . . . to love people, to love God, to love myself, my wife, and my girls . . . to love even the unloving. God has graciously modeled all of that for me and He has walked with me in each step.

The single thing that stunned me the most, and took my breath away, was when I realized that God desires for me to love Him from my heart, on my own, without Him forcing me to love Him. God desires a relationship with me. With me! He gave the life of His precious Son for me because He loves me. And He wants me to love Him from my heart. He wants me to love Him! This is the amazing truth that broke into my darkness, took away my fear and changed my life forever.

Thank you, God. Thank you, amazing therapists. Thank you, my darling wife. Thank you my brother Nathan. You all are the best. Without you I would not be the man I am today. Thank you!

Mark Phelps

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Evidence For Faith

There is only one person in history whose life was accurately written about in explicit detail before he was ever born. The details of this man’s life included information about the circumstances in which he would be born, things that would be accomplished in his life, the type of death he would die and the fact that he would be brought back to life after he died. In fact he is the only person who has ever been raised from the dead and remained alive, leaving an empty tomb which remains empty to this day. This same person also had much detail written about his life after he was born in the form of biographies written by those who knew him.

The details about this man’s singular life that were written before he was born are included in the prophecies of the Old Testament, the sacred book that was given by God to the Jews. The details about his life starting with his birth and following are documented in the New Testament. The Old Testament was written between 400 and 1500 years before his birth by multiple writers, many of whom were not contemporaries of each other, and these writings were widely distributed centuries BEFORE his birth. The details about this person’s life in the New Testament fit the details that were written ahead of time with astonishing precision. We know of nothing that has ever rivaled this level of precise prophecy that was later fulfilled in the details of one man’s life in the history of the world.

By now you may have concluded that I am speaking about Jesus Christ of Nazareth, unique among men. Can you imagine, just for a moment, how absurd you would think it was if I talked this way about any other well-known historical figure? Who could have accurately written the precise details of the life of Einstein, Aristotle, Napoleon, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander the Great, Thomas Jefferson, Henry VIII, Joseph Stalin, Mozart, Plato, you, your neighbor or any other character 500 or 800 or 1000 or 1500 years ahead of their lives? Nowhere in any of the literature on earth, secular or religious, is this duplicated. Not even close. The fact that Christ would be accurately written about in the Old Testament and the subsequent biography of Christ in the New Testament is nothing short of astounding!

We have historical evidence that the Old Testament was written well in advance of the New Testament. And because of this reality we can begin to think clearly about what it means that events were written about in a history book BEFORE they ever happened. Your mind might try to come up with feasible ways to explain how writings of this level of specificity could be written in advance of someone’s life, but one valid explanation is that this happened in a supernatural way. By supernatural I am meaning that God himself stepped into history and worked through the lives of writers to make sure that the details of Jesus Christ’s life would be in books written centuries before he was born.

The last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, was written about 443 B.C. The first book of the New Testament, Matthew, was written about 40 A.D. leaving approximately a 500-year gap between the Old and New Testament books. We know with certainty the Old Testament existed hundreds of years before the beginning of the New Testament because of the existence of the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament into Greek about 200 B.C. This translation was begun during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus about 280 B.C. and was completed not long after. This confirms the fact that the Old Testament is much older than the New Testament.

God has chosen to show that the Bible is His communication to every man and every woman in a very unique way but he has backed his writings up in an amazing way by making sure we would know they are true. That way is through the giving of specific, detailed prophecy and the fulfillment, hundreds of years later, of this specific detailed prophecy. Prophecy is God’s own method of proving His truth.

If God wanted people to know he was a trustworthy person to listen to, what better way than to do something no one else in history could do? And that was to predict things hundreds of years in advance that he knew were all going to come true. The teachings of the Bible are so unique and different from all other religions, and so very important to the human beings God created. Events predicted centuries in advance confirm the Bible to be a heavenly decree, the absolute and final Word of God and that its message is fully authorized by the Almighty. It has His divine seal, letting all people know He has spoken.

This type of authentication for the truth of God’s writings can never be counterfeited by other writers because only God has foreknowledge of the actions of free and intelligent agents, men and women. It is the unique ability of the Almighty, the all-knowing God, to be aware of new things, new people and new events before they ever even exist or take place. The true God alone foreknows and foretells the future. And He has chosen to confine his foretelling to the pages of Scripture. Sensing the tremendous force of this fact, the philosopher and apologist Justin Martyr said, “To declare a thing shall come to pass long before it is in being, and to bring it to pass, this or nothing is the work of God.”

In the entire history of man’s existence, except for the prophecies of Scripture, there is not a single instance of a prediction, being expressed in unequivocal language, which included objective measurable detail, which boasts the slightest claim to fulfillment.

Suppose there were only 50 prophecies in the Old Testament (instead of the known 333) concerning the first coming of Christ, giving details of the coming Messiah and which all come together in the life of Jesus. The probability of chance fulfillment as calculated by mathematicians according to the theory of probabilities is less than one in 1,125,000,000,000,000. Now add only two more elements to these 50 prophecies, and precisely pre-state the TIME and the PLACE at which they would happen and the immense improbability that they will take place by chance exceeds all the power of numbers to express or the human mind of man to grasp.

The divine perfections of foreknowledge and fulfillment can best be seen in the realm of prophecies concerning Messiah, more than any other sphere. The Messiah was the person the Jews were waiting for who was coming to save their people from their sins. It is easy to see, if enough characteristic details are given, identification can be clear and precise when it comes to prophecy. So many details of Messiah are given in prophecy hundreds of years ahead of time and each one is exactly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, so identification is positive.

Christ’s coming is the central theme of the Bible. The coming of Christ promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament; His birth, character, work, teachings, sufferings, death and resurrection; are the overarching and central themes of the Bible. Christ is the bond that ties the two Testaments together. The Old Testament is in the New Testament revealed, the New Testament is in the Old Testament concealed.

Here is a brief summary of the prophecies concerning Messiah, assuring His identity:

- The work of the redeeming of mankind was to be accomplished by one person, the promised Messiah

- As the “Seed of the woman” He was to bruise Satan’s head

- As the “Seed of Abraham” and the ‘Seed of David” He was to come from the tribe of Judah

- This Messiah must come at a specified time

- He was to be born of a virgin

- He was to be born at Bethlehem of Judea

- Great persons were to visit and adore Him

- He was to be called out of Egypt

- He was to be raised in Nazareth

- He was to be preceded by a person who was a forerunner/foreteller of him before beginning His public ministry

- He was to be a prophet like Moses

- He was to have a special anointing of the Holy Spirit

- He was to be a priest after the order of Melchizedeck

- As the “Servant of the Lord” He was to be a faithful and patient Redeemer for the Gentiles

- As the “Servant of the Lord” He was to be a faithful and patient Redeemer for the Jews

- His ministry was to begin in Galilee

- Later He was to enter Jerusalem to bring salvation (the saving of people from the penalty of their sins)

- He was to enter the temple

- His manner of teaching was to be by parables

- His ministry was to be characterized by miracles

- He was to be a ‘Stone of stumbling” to the Jews, and a ‘Rock of offense’ (he was going to offend people by what he said!)

- He was to be hated without a cause

- He was to be rejected by the rulers

- He was to be betrayed by a friend

- He was to be forsaken by His disciples

- He was to be sold for 30 pieces of silver

- His price was to be given for the potter’s field

- He was to be hit on the cheek

- He was to be mocked

- He was to be beaten

- His garments were to be parted four ways and lots were to be cast for his clothing

- He was to die by crucifixion

- His death was to pay for the sins of all people who ever would commit sin

- His hands and His feet were to be pierced

- Not a bone of His body was to be broken

- He was to suffer thirst

- He was to be given vinegar to drink

- He was to be “numbered with the transgressors”

- His body was to be buried with the rich in His death

- His body was not to see decay

- He was to be raised from the dead on the third day after he was buried

- He was to ascend to the right hand of God

- He was to make intercession before God on behalf of all who trust Him for the rescuing of them from the penalty of their sins.

Remember, there are actually 333 specific predictions concerning the coming Messiah in the Old Testament! These I’ve listed are just highlights. Here indeed is Jesus, God’s Rock of Ages, faith’s unshakable standing place!

You are invited, you individually, you the reader, to research these facts on your own regarding their prediction in writing in the Old Testament by multiple writers who lived at least 400 years before their occurrence; up to 1500 years before their occurrence; and the detailed writing of their fulfilment in the New Testament, especially the four gospel writings. For example, take the opportunity to read Isaiah 53 and compare it to the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion in the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It is mathematically impossible for even a fraction of these clearly stated prophecies to be fulfilled by chance by any single person. Instead of chance happenings, what you have before you is an explosive, mathematical impossibility. And evidence for your faith.

But wait? Evidence for my faith? Why does any of my faith get exercised when God tells the truth about something hundreds of years in advance just by predicting it? I may even think it’s amazing that God has this power and knowledge but what does that have to do with me? Today?

Try to step for just a minute into God’s shoes. He knew He needed to communicate who he was to the people he made. But he had more to communicate than that. He had to communicate how to avoid some very serious land mines that would come up in every single human being’s life. And in the writing of this book that had such a critical message to life on the planet he had to do it in a form people could understand and relate to. People across all of history! And he had to write it in such a way that it would speak across language barriers and across all cultures. Tall order, right? And from God’s perspective this was the most important book in the world to the most important people in the world. We his amazing creation!

It was a book about him but it was also a book about us. God looked into our existence and knew there was something that was going to damage and hurt us and something that was bad enough that the only answer was something his own son would have to do for us. So while the Bible, Old and New Testaments combined, was written for people who would live in any age, God had to write it in such a way that people would actually pick it up! I have wondered if one of the reasons he put such extensive prophecy in his book is because he knew it would be a draw. To the mathematician and scholar who would KNOW that his prophecies could not be coincidence . . . and had to be orchestrated by a phenomenal mind . . . but more . . . by a God with a phenomenal purpose.

So while God used irrefutable factual evidence of the kind he intended you to have so you might have a faith based on information . . . and based on the facts that God Himself tells ahead of time, he also had a deeper work he was doing. He needed all of us to understand that a disease entered the human system that was going to take us down. All of us! And that disease was sin and the impact sin would have on us. Not just sin we would commit that would harm us who share this planet, but even bring harm to our relationship and ability to communicate with God. He also needed all of us to understand things he would describe in great detail that would show exactly what He had planned in the way of salvation for us; a Messiah; because of His indescribable and immeasurable love for each of us!

If only you could know His love for you, you would run to Him and never leave His side!

This is my hope for you, that you would know this love of Christ and by knowing His love be changed for good, forever!

What if you were to go do some digging and find out this truth for yourself? Or what if maybe you wrote to me and allowed me to connect you with resources and books that have these prophecies and their fulfillment laid out for you. This couldn’t be more important! This could not be more important for you . . . today, and for you for all of your tomorrows.

God spent a lot of time getting these prophecies written just to reach out to you, reader, in 2015 in the circumstances you find yourself in. Let His love pour over you through all this amazing truth!

Mark Phelps

Thursday, October 8, 2015


What happens if you forgive someone? A whole lot of wonderful things happen. In your spirit, in your soul, in your body. And in your future.

But before we talk about what happens if you forgive, maybe we should talk about what happens when you don’t forgive. Because there are big consequences in our lives for not forgiving people.

Many of us are being hindered from our destiny because we are being held hostage by a leash around our souls called unforgiveness. And that leash keeps jerking us back. The tricky thing about unforgiveness is it has a kind of logic to our hearts. We think it makes sense to hold on to our pain and agony because of what happened to us. All the way from a simple, but undeniable slight by a coworker at a meeting to the most profound abuse, there are a multitude of things that keep us tethered to that leash.

Whatever it is though unforgiveness is holding you hostage! Are you still seeking revenge? Do this person’s actions against you occupy far too much of your daily thoughts? Even though unforgiveness may “feel” right to your psyche, your heart will be destroyed without forgiveness. Today I would love to see you set free from this pain and anguish.

Nothing will hinder you arriving at God’s destiny for you like unforgiveness will. You may be ready to say “Great, I don’t want my destiny trashed by my holding onto the things that are already torturing me anyway. What is forgiveness exactly?”

Well, first of all forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling. You can forgive someone and not “feel” like it. It is an act of the will. And since we are the ones doing the forgiving it doesn’t require any action on the offender’s part. When we forgive we can be released from our painful bitterness, resentment and all-consuming thoughts by releasing the offender through our forgiveness. We do not need to wait for them to apologize.

What happens when we forgive is we give up our claim or rights over the person who has hurt us. Does it sound strange that you may be walking through life having a “claim” on someone who hurt you? Well yes. You may be living your life as if the offender’s wrongdoing allows you the freedom of certain thoughts and behaviors. And these thoughts may seem perfectly allowed and justified as far as your heart is concerned. So exactly what rights might you be giving up if you forgave someone who hurt you?

Well for starters the right to hate this person. Or the right to go after him and hurt him as much as he hurt you. You might be giving up your right to badmouth this person. Or giving up your right to nurse a grudge over her actions whenever you think about the offense.

But let’s be clear. Forgiveness is not forgetting. You still have a working memory after you choose to forgive and situations may come up that will naturally bring up the offense to your mind. But as we give the undeserved gift of forgiveness to our offender, we start to remember the offense differently. The offense no longer wounds us. We never forget, but the memories no longer damage us. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse the wrongdoing. And it doesn’t say you ignore it. It just deposits the offense in a different part of your psyche and your soul. And allows you to move on in a way you just can’t imagine possible if you haven’t forgiven.

But let’s talk a little bit about the idea that forgiveness is a decision. It is. It’s the first step. But forgiveness is not usually a one-time action. It is more of a process. Because a huge part about being human is having emotions and feelings that go along with the living of life. We have tremendous feelings of good during certain times of our life, but certain things like abuse often leave us in a mountain of pain. Forgiveness may indeed be an act of the will, but to work through the emotional aftermath of the pain from the hurt takes integrity. Forgiveness is the writing of the check, but choosing to do the work of healing and continuing to choose to forgive is like having the funds in the bank to cover the check. In my case the ongoing process of healing and forgiving in the midst of that healing took about 20 years. Lest I leave you with the feeling that forgiveness happens instantly.

I am reminded of the families in the Charleston shooting that occurred several months ago. These were amazing loving souls who dug deep and began the act of forgiveness in a courtroom setting by telling the killer face to face. These folks’ love and forgiveness could almost take your breath away. But not for one minute do I believe that initial decision to forgive isn’t going to be revisited in their hearts and minds and spirits over and over again in the next years. Because it will! We must do the emotional work of feeling the pain that comes from those who hurt us in order to let go. Yes, it starts with a decision, but it is a whole lot more.

My perspective as one who has been cruelly abused myself is that the ability to forgive is really a gift from God. Honestly we are hardwired to care about injustice and care about it deeply. It is no wonder that wrongs done to us and others we care about bothers us and makes us cry out in agony and despair. It seems SO wrong to see evildoers hurt people and yet seem to have no consequences for their actions.

You may be given the opportunity one day to seek reconciliation for certain offenses done to you. You may have the courage to go to your coworker who spoke poorly of you in a public meeting to challenge that action and to find out what is behind it. Perhaps you offended them and they are retaliating. That is certainly an important part of reconciliation. To learn that often we played a part in the conflict. And reconciliation between two people is a wonderful thing. Over events big or small. But in some instances the perpetrator of the wrong has no understanding he even did something that caused hurt, or worse, does not care and likely will never ask you for forgiveness. It is in those times that the forgiving will seem very one sided. And that is because it is! The power, the energy, the willingness to forgive may all have to come from you!

If that is the case, remember the ability to forgive is really a gift from God. Ask for the gift from Him. He is the great forgiver of all the wrong we have done (and others have done) and He is in the business of forgiving us. So He knows a whole lot about this. He created the human heart and He knows everything about healing it. There is a verse in the Bible that says “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Isn’t that fascinating that we get to see our own forgiveness of others in the greater context of God forgiving us?

God forgives us for everything we have EVER done wrong. He chooses to hold nothing against us, ever, for what we have done. No matter what it was! When He asks us to forgive, He is asking us to forgive a specific person for a specific thing done to us. Not for everything the person has ever done wrong, but THIS thing that has been done. It is not some blanket forgiveness. It is one person and one situation at a time.

God is not surprised by your anger at wrongdoing. He made you to care very deeply about wrongs. Just like He does. He has given all of us the command to right as many wrongs as we can in this life. We are to fight against injustice and to help people. Often we need to get clarity from God or wise compassionate people to even understand a wrong has been done to us and to even call it a wrong. (This can be especially true for people who were abused as children.) But when that clarity comes we are given the freedom to call that pain by its real name. And to not minimize abuse or pain caused by others. Acknowledging pain is an important first step in healing. So while God honors our need to see our pain named and acknowledged He does ask us to forgive as He forgave us. And He forgives us completely and totally.

It is a tall order. Honestly for some offenses it sounds plain impossible. Because in our brains forgiveness sounds like letting someone off the hook. So we are incredibly reluctant to do it. It seems to be a terrible betrayal to our own hearts. But forgiveness is never synonymous with forgetting what a perpetrator did. Or worse, not being allowed to care about the devastating consequences that may have come into your life. Forgiveness is neither of these things. There are often significant legal, societal, family or other relational consequences to a person’s actions against another. But forgiveness is not tasked with fixing or punishing the person for what they did wrong. That is someone else’s job actually!

What God was doing when He gave us forgiveness was giving us a gift. And this is a gift designed to free the human heart from the bondage of bitterness, despair, revenge, depression, and all the long list of things that happen to us when we hold on to the pain and the suffocating bondage of what others have done to it. I believe God invented forgiveness FOR us. God loves and cares about the victims’ heart. He knew how debilitating it would be to our hearts not to be able to forgive. So He gave us both a command to forgive but plenty of reassurances that He was in the forgiveness business and would step with us along the pathway through the pain. God is fully able to be with us on this journey, however long it takes, and be there on the other side when we are set free of what is dragging us down. God is the great Physician and Healer and longs to be able to give us these gifts.

One person described forgiveness as being symbolized by a rope that both you and the perpetrator hold. The rope ends up being able to tie you forever to him/her as long as you are unable to forgive the person’s actions. So to follow this word picture, to forgive is simply to let go of your end of the rope. Just let it go. The wrongdoer still has the other end of the rope. And perhaps this rope symbolizes that until the offender seeks forgiveness from you or from God the actions he did are going to destroy his soul too. But that is not necessarily your problem! (We might talk about restorative justice in a future blog.) One thing you do by letting go of your end of the rope is you cease to be judge and jury of the person. You give that job back to society and ultimately to God.

For me forgiving began with the knowledge that forgiving was what God wanted me to do. Because I experienced ongoing abuse over a long period of time the work of forgiving required working over a long period of time. And I needed others to help me. As I worked through main themes of abuse, over time I was able to reconnect to the experiences of abuse and the hurt. I was able to see the damage in my heart as a result of the abuse and was able to resolve the hurt emotions that had kept me so “stuck” and unable to go forward with my life.

First I had to work through the fear and terror my father had infused into my heart. Then I was able to work through the anger and resulting hurt and bitterness. At that point in the healing/forgiveness process I began to connect with little boy feelings of needing a father and not having his love and care. These emotions were softer with quiet crying and weeping. Eventually I had to mourn the losses of what never was and never would be. Feeling these losses brought on deep body crying with writhing because of the overwhelming anguish and grief and this often took all the physical strength my body could give.

As I slowly resolved all these many hurt feelings and was able to express them, many insights came to me I had not been able to see before. I began to realize the brokenness in my father, my abuser, and I began to get a sense of what his brokenness must have been like for him. With that understanding at last I was able to forgive my abuser deep within my heart. I had to be open to forgiving initially or I would never have been able to do the work required to deal with the emotional pain I had in my soul from my abuse. And dealing with my pain allowed me to understand my father. And it was at this point of understanding that I was able to fully forgive my father.

I remember the specific thoughts I had during this part of my healing work. I realized if my father were to ever have the willingness to face what he had done, honestly face it, he would very likely fall to the ground and never be able to get up again. When I experienced the wrenching agony in my body as I worked through the abuse I lived with at the hand of my father, it became clear to my heart that I had taken into my heart and my body what my father had been unwilling or unable to face within his own heart. He had buried his hurt and fear so deeply beneath his rage that it turned to rancid hatred. This hatred came out in his life and poisoned his soul and those in his life. When I began to understand this, I was able to have pity on my own father and was able to forgive him.

God understands us completely and is continually and immediately ready and willing to forgive us. He took all our mistakes into His own body in the person of Jesus Christ. But we must open our hearts to Him. To forgive another person we must open our hearts to ourselves (and God), admit our anger, resentment and bitterness, perhaps even hate, for the person who hurt us. When we take this first step, God does the healing work we need and enables our willing hearts to forgive our abuser. It starts with a mental decision and can eventually become full heart forgiveness. The abuser may never know anything about the work we have done but the work frees us to love again. We are free to love ourselves, the abuser and others in our lives. If you have a wife and children this becomes of priceless value! Yes! Because with a freed up heart you are able to give more of yourself to the ones you love and be more present in their lives.

If you allow God into your life and into your world then when you let go of the rope you have a loving God who can overrule the effects and damage of whatever happened to you. This is hard to understand but in amazing ways that only God can, He will work good in your life in spite of what happened to you. And in fact God will use what happened to you to bring good from it in a way you may never even dream possible. And God does this kind of thing every day. It seems like a miracle when it happens to you, but it is part of God’s continuing work in our lives.

If you have read my blog you know the process of forgiveness is not an easy one for those of us who were abused over a long period of time and in a particularly cruel way. But it most assuredly can be done. With God’s help I have become a truly free person. I am free to no longer hate my perpetrator. That is an amazing place to get to. Because I am now free to live my life without the baggage of all that pain and hatred. I wish I could describe to you the difference between the person I was when I was still holding on to that rope and the person I am now.

When you have a view of God that allows you to understand that He can even use the mess that messed you over, you will step into new territory in your relationship with God. You’ll come to understand He can make you into someone new and in many ways stronger and more compassionate as a person than you ever imagined. What happens when you forgive others is it can amount to a paradigm shift in your life. Most of our lives when we are victimized by people we just feel like victims. When we realize God can give us a new sense of freedom and self-worth and dignity as we choose to forgive we realize it allows us to step into our destiny in a new way.

When you are set free from the burden of the pain connected with unforgiveness you are able to handle the person who hurt you very differently. When you let go of the rope from a spouse or a co-worker or a son or daughter or friend you might just free them up to move on and do what they need to do in their lives. Others you choose to forgive may not be safe people in your life and just because you forgive them does not mean you have to have face to face contact with them.

God has some amazing promises in the Bible. One of them says “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” That doesn’t say God sees the evil that happened to us as good. It doesn’t. It says God is able to bring good and work good out of any situation. Sometimes it takes faith to believe that initially but after you see God at work in hopeless situations in your life long enough you begin to trust Him. I believe this also happens to people all over the world who don’t know God but who God knows are going to come to know Him. Perhaps from God’s perspective this happens in nearly every person’s life. Who knows.

I forgive so that I can move on. That sounds a bit self-serving. Shouldn’t I want what is best for my daughter who I had a big fight with and not just “release” her by dropping the rope because I get to move on? Well, yes, by all means, be aware that your letting go of your judgments and anger and asking God to help you forgive may well bring her tremendous good, but sometimes do it just because you know God gave you this great gift of human relations. And He gave it to you for your good, so you could move on, And of course there are huge benefits for the doers of wrong down the road. Maybe! But honestly that is not ours to wrap our brains around. We have enough trouble living out a life of integrity and doing what is right. It just so happens that forgiveness is the right thing to do and the BEST thing to do for us . . . and for our futures.

Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the handcuffs of hatred and is the antidote to resentment. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness. What liberation when you can forgive! Love is an act of endless forgiveness. It is wiser to forgive than to hate. If you look closely you will find that each human heart is fragile and in need of understanding and forgiveness.

Forgiveness always means three things: It means, first, I will not say anything about this ever again to that person; he is forgiven. This is how God forgives us: "He casts our sins into the depths of the sea and remembers them against us no more," (Micah 7:19). Second, it means I will not talk to anybody else about it. I will not complain to anybody; I will not bring it up again and rehash it with anybody. Third, it means I will not talk to myself about it anymore. I will not play it over in secret all the time. I will not set up the motion picture projector in my mind and run it all over again until it arouses me and angers me and gets me all upset again. Now I will not be able to stop it coming back at times, but I will not entertain it; I will not listen to it; I will not play it again.

That is what forgiveness means. That is what God tells us to do: "Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you," (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus warned us, "If you do not forgive one another, neither will my Father in heaven forgive you your offenses," (Matthew 6:15). We cannot live in a forgiven spirit if we are not willing to extend forgiveness to others.

Let the forgiveness begin…

Mark Phelps