There is scarcely a little girl who hasn’t dreamt of her knight in shining armor coming to rescue her or her prince charming begging her hand in marriage. The fairy tale romances of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty conclude with “happily-ever-after” endings that romance our hearts but are hardly the epitome of today’s dating culture. More realistic is heartbreak, healing, and learning to forgive and trust again. My own “happily-ever-after” heartbreak certainly took me on a journey of forgiveness I never imagined I would experience.
All through my twenties and thirties I watched friends and colleagues date and marry. While sincerely happy that they had found love, my lonely heart grieved the absence of the love and companionship of another. I faithfully prayed for a godly mate and companion, and hoped that one day I would know love as God intended it to be shared between a man and a woman.
While attending seminary I met a man who was everything for which I had hoped and prayed. At last, my prayers were being answered. I was experiencing for the first time love at its deepest and most intimate level – the love shared between a man and a woman. Having never shared this kind of love with another man, I was amazed by the joy and ecstasy of this newfound experience. In the depths of my being I was experiencing something completely foreign to me. What I had only known by intellect was now profoundly real and tangible, and I was blown away by the intensity with which I found myself so bound to the soul of another. We voiced often our love for one another and marriage was spoken of in our future. Questions which so often plagued my spirit were now in the forefront. Could this finally be happening to me? Were my dreams of marriage and family at last coming to fruition? Were my days and nights of loneliness coming to an end? The love this man and I shared and expressed so tenderly toward each other certainly affirmed these questions.
And then, the unthinkable happened. This man to whom I had given my heart so fully and completely, and in whom I had trusted entirely forsook his love for me. Without warning, I instantly found myself bereaved of my beloved. How could the love I had known so deeply and passionately be forsaken so ruthlessly? The utter shock of it left me speechless. The anguish of my broken heart was a pain acute and unbearable. Tears were a daily companion. I wept with an intensity that left me drained of all physical resources. Never before had I known such pain and heartache, and no words could express the severe betrayal I felt. I was certain my heart was irreparable. The trust I had given now broken, I cried out to the only One I could trust: “God, take away the pain! Please, God, take it away!”
The prophet Hosea spoke the Word of God out of such a broken heart. Hosea’s prophecy opens with the heartbreaking words, “Go, take for yourself a wife of harlotry…” (Hosea 1:2). And later, “Then the LORD said to me, ‘Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress…’” (Hosea 3:1).
While I was confident God heard my cries, I wondered if He really knew the depth of my pain. Did He truly know how very much it hurts to be betrayed by one’s beloved? Could He identify with my pain? At the time of my brokenness, Hosea’s story was just vaguely familiar to me. I knew it had something to do with God calling Hosea to marry a prostitute, and that this was symbolic of God, the betrayed husband, restoring His beloved Israel to Himself. It has only been in reading Hosea’s story with greater depth and insight that I have come to understand the immense pain and heartache God felt when Israel betrayed Him for other loves and what it took for Him to forgive her. But it’s not just Hosea’s story that speaks of God’s love and forgiveness with such poignant imagery. All of Scripture is a vivid picture of God’s relentless love in restoring unfaithful Israel to Himself. While the pain of my own brokenness was intense and devastating, it pales in comparison to the grief God experienced from the continual betrayal of His beloved Israel.
God does, indeed, know the depth of our pain to a degree with which no human can identify. God is intimately acquainted with our brokenness as no other person is and present with us in our moments of deepest hurt. No matter how intense the pain, no matter how devastating the loss, no matter how deep the scars we are never outside the realm of God’s mercy or the grip of His grace. We belong to Him, we are His beloved and He will never let us go!
This new understanding of God and His unconditional forgiveness helped me as I wrestled with the inevitable questions: How could I forgive this man who betrayed me? Could I ever trust another man again? Would I ever find the love and companionship I so deeply desired?
Initially, I was so overcome with grief it didn’t occur to me that forgiveness was even possible. Eventually, I realized that if I was to move forward and heal, I would have to forgive. But where do I begin? Forgiveness does not come naturally to anyone who has been hurt. It is a choice we all must make, and I needed to make this choice. So I began doing what I knew best to do when confronted with trials and crises: pray. I prayed that God would help me to forgive and give me the strength to move beyond the hurt and pain. Through these times of prayer God led me to do the unthinkable: pray for this man who hurt me so deeply. This was when the real breakthrough began. To pray for myself took strength; to pray for him who hurt me required selflessness and courage I didn’t know I possessed. Remarkably, as I prayed for him, the layers of hurt began to peel away, and forgiveness was inevitable. I haven’t forgotten the pain and hurt. But I have forgiven and experienced freedom to move forward.
Because I chose to forgive, I am free to love and be loved. In time, my affections turned elsewhere. I have trusted my heart to another man, and my dreams of marriage at last have come to fruition. I am happily married to my beloved husband, and I couldn’t be more blessed. Yet I know this blessing wouldn’t be a reality if I hadn’t made the choice to forgive years before.