- Laurel Appel
CHAPTER 18 Radical Grace: Live Free and Unashamed
I think I was born with a “KICK ME” sign on my back. I’m kicked so often that it has become a running joke in my family.
“It’s the KICK ME sign again.”
It seems like all my life I have dealt with people treating me badly. Even electronics and household items blitz out on me for no apparent reason. Sometimes the problems are not just inconveniences but are actually very hurtful. But even if it’s something minor, like wait staff at restaurants serving everyone’s food but mine, I am often reminded that it seems I have a “KICK ME” sign permanently affixed on me for all to see.
Thankfully I laugh about this running joke now. I didn’t used to.
I can remember feeling like I was wearing a “KICK ME” sign even as a young child. When I was turning 7 my mom and I planned a wonderful birthday party for me. I sent out my Birthday Party and Sleep Over invitations to several of my girlfriends from school and waited eagerly for the day to arrive.
My mom splurged this time, which was a big deal because most years she couldn’t afford to make such a fuss. The day of the party, a card table held Raggedy Ann paper plates and cups along with oranges that had candy canes stuck in them as straws, and the family room was adorned with matching crepe paper decorations and red balloons. I was tickled with anticipation. Mom went all out, and I was ready to reap the benefits of her efforts. I was going to have a blast! That Friday evening, I waited…and waited.
No one showed up.
Not a one.
I felt kicked in the stomach. I reasoned, since it was the beginning of Christmas break (my birthday is just a few days before Christmas), that was why they didn’t show. Why they didn’t tell me they weren’t able to make it, I will never know. To feel better, the story I told myself was that they had to go with their families out of town for Christmas vacation. We have an instinct to soften blows with new narratives.
I know you have had your fair share of kicks in your life, and I want this chapter to speak to you about those times people have hurt you. I also want to share with you my journey of learning to deal with people who hurt me.
After being “kicked” by people, and life in general, a million times, I have learned about forgiveness. While the narrative helps soften the blow, forgiveness heals the wound. We all have someone to forgive, and if we have been forgiven by our gracious God, we can forgive others and be healed.
I can forgive the young girls who ghosted me for my birthday party, those who were mean to me in junior high, and wait-staff who are rude or neglectful. We can easily forgive people in these types of situations. But it is much harder to forgive people who hurt us deeply, especially if they are close friends or family.
When I started learning about God’s forgiveness and our sin, I began to see something that made me realize why we all have a “KICK ME” sign pinned to our backs. It’s because we all also have an “I’M GOING TO KICK YOU” sign hidden in our pockets. We don’t mean to hurt other people, but we often end up doing just that. That’s because we get into our flesh, and we make mistakes.
Some of us have hurt people more than others, but the point is that we have all sinned. We have all failed, in our flesh, to reach the standard of the glory of God.
This concept means we are all on the same sin playing field. Thankfully, though, Jesus has taken us to a new field. He has placed His followers on the forgiven playing field. No matter what you have done, or I have done, we are forgiven if we place our faith in His righteousness for our own. In our spiritual nature, no one is more, or less, righteous than anyone else.
This concept shook me when I learned it because I realized that from God’s perspective, the people who had hurt me the most in my life are just as forgiven as I am if they have given their lives to Jesus. I wasn’t sure I wanted that to be true, to be honest with you, because I felt like they didn’t “deserve” forgiveness because of how much they had hurt me. That was my flesh speaking, of course.
I realized I was being like Jonah. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh and preach repentance because he knew that God would forgive the people of Nineveh for their wickedness because He is a gracious God. Jonah became angry in his self-righteousness. After a trip out to sea and a short stint in the belly of a fish, he came to his senses. I did too, eventually; fortunately, without having to occupy the inside of Moby Dick first.
The Spirit reminded me that I had been forgiven much, so I decided that I could forgive as well. I chose to forgive. Forgiveness is the loving thing to do. It is what we do if we are a child of God. It did take a while for me to grapple with forgiving the two men who had hurt me so severely. But eventually, it wasn’t that I had to forgive, it was that I wanted to forgive.
God’s grace evens the playing field. Grace makes it possible for forgiveness to happen.
When I started down this process, and it is a process, to forgive my most guilty offenders, it was very difficult. I had been sexually abused by two men whom I should have been able to trust. The damage they did to me was catastrophic. It tore huge holes in me. It wrecked me. The consequences of their sin also affected my later relationships and the way I responded to the world around me. I was angry most of the time. The anger overwhelmed me and bound me in depression.
I am an artist and when I reflect on the artwork that I produced during that time I see my anger oozing out. One time I created a painting that was the view of my forehead with a tiger leaping out of my head, baring its fangs and claws. I felt as if I had a roaring monster in my mind. I knew the only way to rid myself of this destructive feeling was to forgive.
I reminded myself daily of the fact that those men are on the same field as me. I thought about the fact that God could forgive them like He forgave me. I knew they struggled. I knew their stories.
I would pray many times per day for God to help me forgive them and have compassion for them. I asked God to help me lay down the anger I had because it was getting in the way of forgiveness. Once I knew about my dual natures, I would recognize that my anger and bitter heart were in my flesh and that I could step into the Spirit and see them the way God saw them. It started with developing compassion for them. I even prayed they would give themselves to Jesus. That sounds strange, or radical, but God’s grace is radical, right?
This process took several years. Slowly, the thought of them and the damage they caused me came to my mind less often. As I healed through the help of the Holy Spirit, my husband, and learning about God’s grace, it became evident to me that forgiveness was a natural consequence of understanding His grace.
In fact, years later, I found out that one of the men who hurt me had given himself to Jesus. At first, I felt a little Jonah-ish.
But my awesome insidekick, the Holy Spirit, whispered to me, “That’s a good thing.”
Yeah, I know. It is.
And I had asked for it. It was another testimony of God’s radical grace.
Are your kickers saved? If so, they are forgiven. That is a good thing. Forgive them and pray for them. Are your kickers unsaved? If so, forgive them and pray for them. But please know that forgiveness of someone who has done as destructive things to you as the men in my life did to me doesn’t mean you have to go to dinner with them and give them a big hug. Forgiveness is different than relationship. Only you and God can define that relationship once you forgive.
Since going through the process of forgiving my worst offenders, it has become much easier to forgive people who hurt me. That “KICK ME” sign is still attached to me, so I must make forgiveness a regular occurrence. Of course, it’s easy to forgive the minor, petty wrongs. It is less easy to forgive the deeper and more hurtful transgressions, but I press on in the knowledge that forgiveness is necessary. I don’t ever want to go back to being that angry, fearful Jonah again.
What about you? Are there some people who have hurt you deeply? I pray you can see God’s gracious perspective of your wrongdoers. I pray you can begin that process of forgiveness and healing, not only because it is love in action, but also because it will free you from the tigers in your head. Forgiveness liberates us from some of the destructive consequences of our painful experiences so we can focus on allowing God to heal the rest.
Radical grace forgives.