Stacie Johnson is my guest today, and I’m thankful she was willing to let me reprint her work to share with you. I met her in Knoxville, TN when she came to start her PhD in the same program as my husband. She was most recently a transplant from the same part of Southern California that we were, and we were delighted to be able to help her with her transition. This included introducing her to our church, a place where she met her husband and is now on staff. I’m so glad we crossed paths. Her wisdom has benefited me in many ways as I’ve heard her teach. It was she who started me thinking about what expression God might have on His face as He looks at me (that I posted about here). Now you get to hear her wisdom, too. Enjoy!
by Stacie Johnson
“Why should I be sacrificed on the altar of his growth?!” I remember the day I said these words out loud to God. I was angry. Angry and hurt. I didn’t think I could get that angry. Now it seemed like God was taking his side.
For an entire year a young man in my Christian community had publicly insulted my weight and femininity. His sideways, passive comments were lobbed in front of our friends and although we tried to ignore the jabs, we all knew what he thought of me. I was fat and unattractive. In private, friends tried to assure me, “He’s wrong.” “Stacie, you are pretty.” But these comments went to the heart of my insecurities.
At the end of the day I was left to struggle with his words. The worst part was that deep down I believed he was right. I knew enough theology to know that God saw me as precious and beautiful, but the rest of the world? This man was just voicing what everyone thought and no one was willing to say. I was undesirable. So, there I was, hurt and angry.
Months passed. I sank into sadness and isolation, functional on the outside and withering on the inside. Prayer became a plea for God to rid me of this person and help me feel better about living in a world where I was less than everyone else. Wasn’t God angry too? Then came a pivotal conversation. A trusted friend stepped into my world and offered his help, with one condition. I needed to confront the person hurting me, share my injury and forgive. Nothing could have seemed more unwise to me.
Although I had read the passages in the Bible about forgiveness and confrontation (Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 18:15), this had to be an exception. Isn’t is unwise to confess hurt to someone who has only shown that they can and will hurt you? I was pretty certain he had no idea of his effect on me, and I was determined to make sure he would never know.
But then the Scripture became inescapable.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. —Ephesians 4:29-32
I was not allowed to attack back, scream and rant in anger. I had to go to him for HIS good. I read and re-read and screamed through Ephesians. Someone else’s behavior never lets me off the hook for acting for their good. I am never off the hook of love and forgiveness.
My choice seemed terribly simple. I could either die the slow death of withering from the inside, wallowing in anger, hurt, and bitterness, or I could obey God and move toward my enemy’s good. Two paths that felt like death lay before me, and God would only walk with me down one of them. God would sacrifice me on the altar of his good. I wish I could say I had spiritual strength, faith and foresight. What I would do next was merely obedience and little else.
I knew pride, resentment and ugliness were rooting deep in my heart, and I was desperate for their death. I was desperate enough to submit to God and confess in deep repentance the ugly truth: I didn’t care about his good. I didn’t want to love this person. I didn’t want to forgive. I wanted him to pay.
In order to share with this man how he injured me, I would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but this didn’t feel strong. It felt open, vulnerable and weak. I didn’t even think I could talk without crying. I prayed through Ephesians 4 over and over again, unsure of whether I could even be kind or civil. I prayed for the heart I wanted but didn’t have. I prayed for strength and compassion. I prayed to expect nothing. It could not be about getting an apology or seeing repentance.
At this point you may be tempted to think, “But he is wrong. He doesn’t deserve kindness.” That’s true. But neither do we. Why is it that when I wrong someone I want mercy, but when someone wrongs me I want justice? The cross of Jesus shows how equally in need of forgiveness we all are and how graciously it has been offered by the One who has never been in need of it.
So, we talked. I cried. Then, something miraculous happened. He didn’t understand. He did not apologize. His words were stoic and formal. He was caught off guard and at a loss for how to respond. I didn’t get deep sensitivity or caring. But it didn’t crush me. I climbed on an altar, expecting to be sacrificed but found myself freed. Like a tiny seed in my heart, something began to bloom. I wanted this man’s good. I wanted God to be kind to him. I was able to forgive.
I have rarely in my life felt so protected, loved and cared for as I did the day I walked away from that conversation. I had done as God asked, not just for his good but for mine. My heart could break without breaking me. God’s rebuke of me could be kind. God saw my pride, self protection and rebellion. I had dared to ask God to choose my good over another one of His other children, as if I were faultless. Something in me was ugly, prideful and demanding. Here in the ugly bits of myself, there is forgiveness, mercy and grace.
Since that time Paul’s words on forgiveness live in me like light in darkness.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:6-8
Forgiveness is a miracle. It is one of the most amazing ways we as Christians can experience the miraculous nature of the cross in our relationships. His forgiveness of us births in us the humility to forgive, even those who hurt us. Forgiveness is still hard, but necessary.
Do you know what it is to be forgiven? Do you need to forgive?
Stacie Johnson was born in New Orleans and raised in a military family and has always been a bit of a gypsy. As a college student she planted herself at Louisiana State University for 4 years, where she started a forever changing relationship with the God of the Bible. She since went on to receive a seminary degree in the philosophy of religion and ethics at Talbot School of Theology, followed by a PhD in philosophy at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is now on staff at Fellowship Church in Knoxville. You can find her at her blog, Thriving.