Last month I shared about suffering from domestic violence in my past relationships. As I researched the statistics on domestic violence for the article, God moved my heart to respond. (Read more here: From Victim to Victor | Overcoming Domestic Abuse and Divorce) Today, I’m sharing the rest of the story about God asking me to forgive my abuser.
My first husband came into my life while I was nursing wounds from being abandoned after learning I was pregnant with my first child. I settled because I knew in my heart I had a SCARLET MONOGRAM on my lapel. When “Ski” came along and seemed interested in my ready-made family, I welcomed him with open arms.
A 20-something Marine reservist, he had suffered abuse by his father. He doted on my son and lavished me with gifts for every occasion, even though we barely scraped by after choosing to move in together. I remember the first time he punched holes in the walls, and later when it turned physical toward me.
By the time I was 21, I had become classically battered — skilled in excusing and covering my husband’s abuse. I divorced him six months after my 22nd birthday. I became a divorced woman with three children.
His manipulation and control continued after the divorce. He would use the court order to punish me. I’d have to go to the courts to enforce child support, and he would find a way to blame me for his failures.
After we had both remarried, he found a steady job. We had good years of co-parenting as things evened out with time. Then he went through a rough period where he lost his job, our oldest son died and another divorce was filed. He slipped into depression and alcoholism for a season.
During that season he barely visited our kids and stopped paying child support for a couple of years. When life picked up again he returned to a good job that allowed him to pay down the more-than $20,000 in child support arrears he owed.
In 2010, when our youngest child graduated from high school, he was still more than $10,000 in arrears on his payments. We went to the Texas Attorney General, who mediated an agreement that would get his debt paid off in a couple of years. It was what I wanted. I looked to the day I’d finally be done with him once and for all. But, not before making sure he paid every penny.
After two years, he lost his job again. I knew he wouldn’t be able to begin paying the child support until he found another job. I weighed the future and prayed over what needed to happen next. I heard God whisper to my heart, I want you to forgive the debt.
Everything in me railed against the idea. I asked my husband and our children if they had any reason why I shouldn’t forgive the support, hoping they would not agree. They said it was my decision.
As I wrestled over this prompting, I asked a friend to help me discern why I did not have peace about forgiving the debt. She led me through prayer to ask God that question, and I immediately heard what my conflicted heart had been raging against the entire time: Because you want him to pay for all the pain he has caused you.
I felt the release of repentance wash over me. I needed to forgive the debt so I could forgive him and finally be free of the abuse and of the years he had spent trying to hurt me after the divorce. That afternoon I called the attorney general to set the appointment to cancel his debt.
The next time I saw him, we sat feet apart in a cramped waiting area at the attorney general’s office in west Fort Worth. We would have to sit side-by-side with the lawyer assigned to our case so I could tell her the amount I wanted to forgive.
To my surprise, the words didn’t stick in my throat as I said with a smile, “All of it.”
We signed the papers, and as we walked through the door, I encouraged him to be more active toward his girls now that this was behind us. He confessed he was struggling to forgive a friend, and I was able to encourage him in that, too.
I said to him, “Aren’t you glad God didn’t give up on you that way? If He had, we would not be here today. I would have made you pay every penny, but God wouldn’t let me. Now it’s your turn to forgive others the debts you have against them.”
We have not spoken since that time. I pray often that God sets him free as He did me — even through a difficult act of obedience.
Freedom comes at a cost, but it’s worth more than gold.