In my last post, I wrote how I have witnessed that a kept secret has the power to keep a person locked in a prison of isolation, guilt, shame, loneliness and fear. But a secret confessed and surrendered into the loving hands of God can set a person free to heal, to grow and to reach out to others. I shared one of my favorite stories of God's amazing power to forgive, heal and restore a young woman's life and turn her dark secret into a life giving ministry.
Since then, I have been thinking about another story. The story of a dark secret kept locked inside a woman for more than seventy years. I was entrusted with the confession of this secret years ago while seated on a living room sofa, prepared to interview a precious friend about the lessons she learned over her eighty plus years of life---lessons I planned to pass on to younger women. Pen poised and recorder on, I jotted down her answers to my questions as quickly as I could (pre-laptop). Soon, her answers triggered memories that transported her back in time and I was surprised to realize my "interview" had become a therapy-type session more for her benefit than my own. Quietly, I turned off my recorder, put down my pen and set aside "my agenda".
Our first "interview" turned into many long visits with deep sharing and, one day, a heartbreaking confession. It began the way most secrets do, "I've never told anyone this." I held my breath and prayed as she shared in vivid detail the decades old memory of being abused repeatedly at the hands of older children while her mother sat sipping tea, talking and laughing with the children's mother in a safe and cozy living room just a flight of stairs away. After she told me everything, we cried and prayed together asking Jesus to touch and heal the wounds left unattended upon the little girl within.
My friend, who was dying of cancer, seemed thankful to finally share her dark and painful secret. But as we continued to talk, I discovered there was an even more painful and ugly secret that continued to haunt and torment her. She confided in me that she had never been able to forgive her mother for allowing her to be in a place where she was not safe. I tenderly asked my friend questions and learned she had never told her mother what was happening to her. Instead, before every visit, she cried and begged her mommy not to go. We discussed the reality that her mother likely didn't know what was happening and that perhaps, in her own need for adult friendship, her mom had misread or overlooked her young daughter's tears and pleas. We discussed God's amazing gift of forgiveness towards us, but sadly my friend still would not forgive her mother.
With each visit my friend grew weaker and our conversations were shorter. I prayed for God to touch her, to heal her and to help her forgive. Toward the end, I asked her if she had found it in her heart to forgive her mother (now dead for many years). She answered me honestly, "no." My friend died and I wonder sometimes if she died from the cancer ravaging her body or from the "cancer" of unforgiveness that ravaged her soul. It was my fervent prayer and sincere hope that in her last days and hours Jesus was able to help her to let go of her bitterness and find forgiveness for her mom.
This post is intense. It has been exhausting even to recall and write the very sad story of my friend. However, after writing my last post about the freedom God offers us when we confess our secrets and our sins, I also needed to write about the deliverance, freedom and peace that God promises when we give and receive forgiveness! Of course, the bible is full of verses about forgiveness, but I will close with one of my favorites. Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.