Glancing at my phone, my heart sank. It had been a long day at work, so I decided to do a little shopping at my favorite store. But as soon as I parked my car, my phone dinged with an email notification. When I saw the name on the email, I began to fight back tears. Angered, I knew what I had to do, but I simply did not want to do it. The email was from a woman who, in my mind, had destroyed my family.
Calling In Support
I was a pastor’s wife for over 15 years and had three beautiful children. And on what would have been our 18th wedding anniversary, we signed our divorce papers.
We were high school sweethearts and married after our sophomore year of college. During his seminary training, my husband and I pastored churches. After receiving his PhD, we ended up planting a church in Las Vegas, which began with seven families in our living room and grew to over 1,000 people in less than five years.
But on the church’s fifth year anniversary, my husband resigned due to his affair with a female staff member.
Everything I knew — my life, ministry and family — came crashing the day my husband said, “I want a life with her. I never really loved you. The kids will adjust. Our families will come around. We will be great friends.”
Before I even opened the email in the parking lot that day, I knew what it was going to say and the decision I had to make. I had to choose whether or not to forgive her. Instead of reading it, I immediately called my pastors — a trusted husband and wife team who have nurtured me through this process. They arrived within minutes. I climbed into the backseat of their truck, and because I did not know if I had the emotional strength to do so, could only ask one of them to read the email out loud to me.
The tears began to flow.
I will never forget how much my heart hurt that day. I had been bandaging this wound for the past eight months, and it had been ripped open once again. It was a pain of rejection, loneliness, betrayal, fear, confusion and uncertainty. Only God knew how deep those wounds were for me.
Plea For Forgiveness
The email was exactly what I had expected. She started telling me how sorry she was for everything, how she cared for my children, how she had asked God to forgive her, and now, how she would like for me to forgive her.
I did not desire to forgive her. If I did, I felt like she would have won the battle, taking everything away from me — my husband, my children and now my forgiveness. There was nothing fair about it.
But then my pastors spoke truth to me and said, “You have a choice, Starla. You can forgive her or you can stay stuck right where you are in bitterness and anger.”
In response I asked, “What does this kind of forgiveness look like?” But deep down, what I really wanted to know was how I was supposed to feel if I said I forgave her. He explained to me that forgiveness is an act of obedience through faith.
“Forgiveness is a choice,” they said. “First, you must choose to forgive, and then you must pray out loud, list the things one by one that you are forgiving her and him for, and most importantly, you must ask God to help you forgive them.”
Filled with an overflow of emotion, they walked me through the steps of forgiveness as I prayed out loud to God:
“God, I choose in this moment to forgive her for betraying me at the deepest level possible.”
“God, I choose in this moment to forgive him because of all people in this world, I should have been able to trust him.”
“God, I choose in this moment to forgive her for the fact that I do not get to see my children every day anymore.”
“God, I forgive him for choosing her over our family.”
After an extended period of time, we finished with a prayer of thanksgiving in the car. We thanked God that He forgives us when we don’t deserve it and that our sin is no different than any other person’s sin. I was still struggling a bit with how I should feel toward her, because even after praying, I did not feel much different.
They helped me understand that if I wanted to live a peaceful and blessed life, then I must trust in the truth, and that truth is Jesus.
In John, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” He is the one that tells us that we must forgive in order to be forgiven. I was reminded in this verse that by obeying the truth, Jesus sets me free.
My pastors continued to teach me about living not by how I feel but only by the truth. Jesus has taught me to control my mind and to not allow Satan to whisper in my ear that I have an unforgiving heart. I could always take my mind back to that parking lot on that fall day as a reminder to myself.
I forgave them that day for all the things I knew of at the time for which I needed to forgive them. However, as I have been on this journey of healing, I realized that there was a lot more that would surface which needed the same attention. Forgiveness is not a one-time event. We have to choose to walk in a constant state of forgiveness. Over time, that forgiveness will become part of who we are, but other issues may arise for which we once again have to make a choice to forgive. It has become easier to forgive and move on than it was in the early days of my healing.
Restoration Comes Slowly
God has restored to me so much of what was taken from me. I thought my ministry was over and that I would never serve again on a church staff. My ministry has only just begun.
I never would have dreamed the plans that God had for my future. My children are happy and thriving in their new life. I am blessed every day to be their mom, but I still miss seeing them each day as God continues to soothe my heart.
God even orchestrated the arrival of an amazing man into my life who strengthens me daily in my faith. Only God could bring an ex- cocaine addict together with an ex-pastor’s wife. It is truly a God- ordained love story. And to top it all off, both our families now attend the same church.
Instead of taking a shopping trip that day, God taught me truth and healing from that email while sitting in a parking lot. That day led to months of uncovering the love God has to offer me through His grace and mercy in the fullness of forgiveness.