“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.”
-Corrie ten Boom
If anyone does not know, I have been given the privilege to be part of (act in) a theater drama, which is loosely based on the the book, THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie ten Boom. If you do not know the story, it takes place during WWII in Holland. A Dutch family (the ten Booms) join an underground ring of people who hide Jews from being captured or killed by Nazi Germany in the Holocaust era. They are later discovered as Jew sympathizers and most of the family is imprisoned and/or taken to concentration camps. Much of the family died. The story then turns into a faith based lesson that two of the ten Boom sisters had to learn while being in a concentration camp. The lesson was a lesson of forgiveness upon which Corrie ten Boom survived to talk about. In this drama, I play the character of Willem, who is one of the brothers.
When the local community theater here in my town announced they were going to do this play in 2015, I, for some reason, was drawn to be part of this production. Being raised in a Christian home, this story was still very fresh as I was born just less than 40 years after the Holocaust had ended. Even today, if you really think about this: the Holocaust is not even 100 years old! Our grandparents were born or alive during this time and surely our parents were born a decade later. A decade after millions of Jews, Handicapped, Old, Gay, Women, Retarded people were slaughtered! I just can’t fathom this, how life has just, gone on. So when the show was announced last year in the summer/fall, I knew I had to be in it.
Skip to now.
From the time the announcement of the show was made until today, many things have come up in my life. Of course, I am not going to get into the details of it all but, coincidentally, there have things that have occurred where forgiveness is the only solution. It hasn’t just been one or two hard hits. It’s been many, myriads. As I continue to hone my relationship with Jesus, I have become more intuitive of the situations that happen around me. But also, looking back at missed opportunities and waiting for them to present themselves again.
I will give one quick personal example:
There is a person in my family; this person has played a major role in ruining my family. Fully tearing it apart. Broken into a million pieces. This happened when I was a getting right out of high school. The entire family has been in disarray since. When this had all happened, I tried so hard to get family members to reconcile. It never happened. Instead I was manipulated and used – it was just terrible and it messed me up pretty bad. Every time I tried to bring things together (because no one else cared to), things would fall apart more and I went down with the pieces also. Over time, things began to unravel; stories from the past. Stories of hurt and betrayal. My family is huge. They also all claim to be Christians. Anyone that knows me personally knows I have many pastors in my family. So, there are pastors and Christians and people who claim to know and love Jesus, yet some of them are not willing to truly forgive OR some are not willing to accept forgiveness.
Back to this person. The end of my high school days was 20 years ago and things are still a bit in disarray. There has been some reconciliation but not with the “ring leader.” Then one day, something happens; I get a letter, a poison letter from the “ring leader”. This letter was venomous and the intentions were to hurt me, and my family. Not my parents, my marriage, my family. I was angry. I was hurt. I write. I wrote at least 10 drafts of a letter that would have put this person in the grave after the word lashing they would have received from me. I still have the final draft. It is nine pages of hurt. NINE PAGES. I am sure you can imagine the pain I deal with and how the selfish choices people have made, have severely affected me. I know I am not the only one.
This letter I wrote, it hit me hard as I was writing it; really hard. I know now that God was using the situation to prepare me for other situations, but also to show me His will for my life. More-so, not just my life but the life of any person who claims to be a follower of Christ. The biggest talking point of that letter was how I had called them out on their faith, not their sin, but their lack of desire to reconcile. In 2 Corintians 5:17-21 (ESV) it says this:
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The way I see it and interpret this, and what I told this person in the letter is: if we are not part of any ministry, or if we are not pastors, or soup kitchen helpers, or parking lot duty at church, or small group leaders or missionaries; our first and maybe only ministry is the ministry of reconciliation. We have to be reconciled to people if we want to reconciled to God. What does the Lord’s Prayer say? It says, “…forgive us of our trespasses as we have forgiven those who trespassed against us…” The only way to be reconciled to God is if we are in a constant place of reconciliation with others. If we are not, we cannot even say the simple “coffee mug” prayer that Jesus Himself said to, “Pray in this way.”
In writing that letter and re-reading it over and over, I realized how hurt I was and realized I had to forgive them. Part of being human is being selfish. I could make every excuse and rationalized reason in the world why I couldn’t forgive someone. We all can, which is why we don’t. But my friends, I can tell you a burden unloaded from my shoulders as God used this situation to once again, teach me how to truly forgive. The damage has been done in my life, but I do not have to carry it around anymore like a carcass chained to my legs. I am free. Shortly after, another situation came up and again, it called for forgiveness. Then another, where this time I was asking for forgiveness which, brings a whole other player in the game: yourself. When you are being beat down by the person you hurt, whether they forgive you or not, you still have to forgive yourself. The shame will consume you otherwise. I realize now that here God was, preparing me for all of these things and all for character building, breaking and remaking. This last year, 2016, has been a year of transformation for me; and through the most despicable circumstances. But, that’s how God works, right?
It’s been an honor to be part of this drama knowing that I can truly minister to people in that audience who have never experienced what true forgiveness is. We are all human and sometimes it takes us days, months, years, decades to finally forgive someone. In that time, it is God continually chiseling at your heart. He is breaking you down and you will eventually feel the freedom He wants you to know. Just like Corrie ten Boom in that concentration camp. He broke her so she could experience a freedom like no other and share it with the entire world!
Corrie ten Boom was right when she said we are prisoners when we don’t forgive. We are. I was. I will be again because I am human like everyone else. We are prisoners of ourselves when we are hurt and refuse to forgive. Until then, God is there, waiting to set us free; and sometimes again and again.