My Story: How My Life Changed

I Thought I Knew How To Forgive

Chelsea Arnold


“What if you worked on building a relationship with your father?” my mentor prompted.  

She may as well have stood me in front of the Grand Canyon and casually asked me to cross to the other side.

Facing Old Wounds

I was on a mission trip in South Lake Tahoe, and my life group leader suggested that I pursue forgiving my dad.

I had shared my story with her and told her about how my dad had left my mom, my sister and me. He had an ugly affair and ended up moving away. The time we spent together throughout my childhood is mostly an angry blur of yelling and crying. His words and deeds became imprinted on my heart as, “You are unworthy. You are a failure. No one likes you.”  

On that mission trip, Jesus began to give me a new identity. “Chosen. Loved. Saved by grace,” He called me. 

My life group leader helped me to see that forgiving my dad was the next step I needed to take.

Forgiving Things That Can’t Be Minimized or Excused

At that point, I thought I knew how to forgive. I regularly pardoned minor offenses: My friend canceling our coffee date at the last minute, my roommate leaving her dirty socks on the floor, a stranger cutting me off in traffic. I could sing “Amazing Grace” with the best of them. 

My go-to techniques were to excuse, explain, and minimize to make the sin easier to forgive. The track in my head went something like, “Oh, they didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. It was an accident. It wasn’t really that bad.”  However, forgiving my dad felt too big, too personal, and those strategies wouldn’t work for me anymore.    

Relying on God’s Strength When Forgiveness Seems Impossible

Clearly, I couldn’t forgive in my own strength. Enter Jesus to rock my mindset, as usual. Jesus gently reminded me of all that I’d been forgiven for. I could see that my dad and I were alike: Neither of us had any hope apart from Christ’s mercy. 

Instead of logically explaining away my dad’s sin, Jesus asked me to lay it at the foot of the Cross. I stopped trying to make it less. I let the sin be big and God’s mercy be bigger.

What my dad had done hurt. It was not how God designed his kingdom to operate. However, Jesus had taken care of it, along with my mistakes, when He died on the cross.  

Moving From Forgiveness to Reconciliation

This freed me up to take practical steps toward reconciliation with my dad. First, I prayed for him: simple things like, “God, bless my dad today.” I called him regularly. I shared meals with him. I brought him coffee at work. Soon, I started to actually enjoy our time together. 

On his birthday, I gave him a gift that even a college student could afford: a letter. In it, I explained how his actions had hurt me but how Jesus had healed me. Ultimately, I told my dad that I forgave him. I told him that I loved him. 

Forgiveness Can Overcome Seemingly Impossible Obstacles

Today, we have a positive relationship. I sincerely cherish the days that we get to spend in each other’s company. What I thought was impossible Jesus made possible with his mysterious, scandalous grace.  

Next Steps:

  • Reflect.
    • What person or people in your life do you find hardest to forgive? 
    • What makes forgiveness difficult?
    • Do you think it’s possible to forgive even when you are still experiencing the pain and consequences of the way someone hurt you? 
    • How can you rely on God’s strength when forgiveness is the most difficult? 
    • How can you let the sin be big but God’s mercy be bigger? 
  • Spend time studying what the Bible says about forgiveness.
    • Read Matthew 18:21-35. Are you like the unforgiving debtor? 
    • Do you truly believe that God has granted you more forgiveness than the forgiveness you need to extend to others? 
    • How can you remind yourself of God’s forgiveness for you when you are tempted to withhold forgiveness from others? 
  • Read more about forgiveness.

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