Life as I’d known it for almost 30 years was destroyed in a single day. My husband’s choices had forced me to forfeit a job I loved, abandon our close-knit church community, and leave a life in a location I adored. My world now looked nothing like it had before.
Due to the nature of the circumstances surrounding my husband’s revelation – a mental and emotional break – I went immediately into “emergency response mode.” This meant securing medical help, figuring out finances, and preparing to spend a month completely alone while he left for treatment. This in-charge mentality delayed my acknowledgement of betrayal trauma until the moment I drove away from the residential mental health facility with my husband in the rear view mirror.
My heart was shattered; my mind a vortex of chaos and fear. Being angry with such a broken and fragile person seemed cruel, yet my heart had been annihilated. He was the one who made the decisions prior to this mental health crisis. There was no one else to blame for our current marital situation. I vacillated between “How am I supposed to forgive this?” to “How can I not?”
Over the course of the next year, we had many difficult conversations, weathered severe triggers, and sat through many counseling sessions together and separately. All throu
gh that time, I kept asking God to help me forgive, to help me move forward – some days I made strides, others I dug in my heels.
Speaking My Yes
In October of 2022, I attended the Redeemed Hope retreat. It’s often hard to find words to describe all the healing that took place during those four days. It was truly life-changing. Of course, we dealt with the subject of forgiveness in one of the sessions. The teaching, prayer, and hands-on activity gave words to my longing to forgive, and I made a choice to let those words be true. My mind believed it, but my h
eart hadn’t yet felt it. I didn’t even know if forgiveness could be a feeling.
I returned home from the retreat with such sweet secrets between God and I. He had been so tender toward me in those retreat days, speaking words of acceptance, hope, and healing that I hadn’t heard in a while. I felt truly seen, fully known, and completely loved. Even though the idea of forgiveness wasn’t at the forefront of my mind when I returned, I had settled in my heart that I’d done some hard work in that area. God would have to do the rest.
A Sleepy Holy Moment
A few days after returning, I awoke in the middle of the night and sleepily reached out for my husband and laid my hand on his back. Immediately, I felt a deep tenderne
ss and compassion for this man who had hurt me so deeply. He was broken just like me, only in different ways. Yes, his choices had created our situation, but his brokenness needed healing as well.
The warmth of God’s presence in this sleepy yet holy moment was punctuated with God’s whisper: “This is what forgiveness feels like.” I had been given a new eyes with which to view my husband – ones that saw him like God saw him. The reality of forgiveness was tangible in that moment. I felt its warmth travel from my hand to my heart. God had once again shared a secret with me, and I drifted off to sleep content and at peace.
Since that moment, my husband and I have traveled a few more miles down this recovery road, and all routes have not been smooth. In fact, we still have a long journey ahead to complete our healing, but I have learned something about forgiveness.
The Hard Work
Forgiveness is not a check mark you make when you say the words “I forgive you.” It’s not a thorn that you snatch out to get immediate relief. In fact, it’s not something you do alone at all. Forgiveness is a partnership with God, not between you and the one who hurt you. It happens, mostly imperceptibly, while I walk with God, leaning into His strength, allowing him to heal me, that he does the hard work of forgiveness. He simply needs my yes, even if I can only whisper it.
A fellow hope wrangler,