I lay in bed praying one night and my prayer turned to the topic of forgiveness. "Help me, Lord, to forgive. I can't do this in my own power. I can't let go of this hurt on my own. I need your help."

My need for forgiveness was not just a selfish need to not be eaten up by bitterness, nor was it an altruistic need to heal a broken relationship. It was a spiritual need.

I had been through this once before. When I was seventeen, inexplicably, my father decided to break off all contact with me. My parents had divorced when I was very young, but Dad and I had maintained a relationship through the years. Suddenly, without warning and seemingly without cause, that relationship was gone. For eight years, I never heard from him at all.

The hurt from that broken relationship was very deep. It took me nearly all of those eight years of silence to work through the emotions of abandonment and distrust. And I remember vividly standing in my mom's kitchen one afternoon and crying as I said, "As a Christian, I don't have an option. I have to forgive him. To not forgive him of this one thing, when I have been forgiven of everything I have ever done or ever will do, would be a slap in God's face. And it breaks my heart, because I'm just not ready to forgive him yet."

Eventually, that forgiveness came and eventually the silence was even broken. I thought I would never experience pain like that again and felt that I had triumphed over an area of difficulty in life. As so often happens in life however, it turns out that Dad was just a practice run. Only three years later, I was plunged into deeper emotion than I had ever thought possible by the end of a romantic relationship. And, just like before, I was struggling between the sure knowledge that forgiveness was required and the overwhelming feeling that it simply wasn't possible.

As I lay there talking to God, I realized that my problem was more in understanding forgiveness than in granting it. I imagined forgiveness as the absence of pain and the restoration of trust. I pictured myself running into my former sweetheart. I pictured myself talking to him and smiling and feeling no sadness or apprehension. In short, I thought that forgiveness meant going back to the way I was before the hurt had occurred.

When a relationship has been broken, even though things may be patched up they will never be the same again. Under the best circumstances, a new relationship may take shape that is better and stronger because of adversity; but it is still different from the original. Expecting things to be the same as they used to be is unrealistic. As a child of divorce, I knew this was true of pain. A wound that deep will never stop hurting, and there's nothing to be ashamed of in that. The problem comes when we let that pain paralyze us. Realizing that it's OK to hurt takes away some of the power that pain has over us.

Trust is another matter. Trust can be regained, but that usually happens by degrees. In any situation where trust has been broken, the one who has broken the trust is generally given very small areas where they can begin to prove again their trustworthiness. But my point is that the onus for getting that trust back is on the one who broke the trust, not the injured party. While we don't want to become suspicious of everyone we meet, there is a time and place for caution in relationships with people who have questionable motives. There's certainly nothing unholy about prudence.

It was now God's turn to speak. "Forgiveness is a decision of the will and not the emotion," He said to me in the quiet of my spirit. Simply saying, with meaning, that the injuring party was forgiven was enough. It wouldn't take away the hurt or restore the trust, but those things would be taken care of in their own time. Those were God's projects within me. All I had to do was be obedient in forgiveness and trust Him to take care of the rest.

Copyright 2001 Kristine Steakley. All rights reserved.

Kristine works in fundraising for Prison Fellowship Ministries and lives in Sterling, Virginia. She enjoys spending time with friends and family, being creative, and learning new things.