I was molested by a trusted family member. I was in third grade and completely innocent. From that time until I was 31, in big ways that I resented and tiny ways that I didn’t even realize, that afternoon dominated my life, my choices, my internal freedom.

For years, I put on a good act—nobody knew. And then I couldn’t deal with it any longer. I found I couldn’t stand being touched. At all. Not accidentally in a crowd, not a friendly hug. Worse, not by my husband, not by my two-year-old daughter—and these were people I loved with every fiber of my being. 

At the same time, I kept hearing about forgiveness. Not spoken directly to me, just…around me. Church, TV commercials, books, random conversations. Everywhere I turned, someone was touting forgiveness. It infuriated me. They couldn’t possibly know what they were talking about.

It got to the point that I couldn’t handle it anymore and—under protest—I went for counseling to my pastor. Oh, I was angry! I yelled at him; I yelled at God. I screamed alone in my car. I cried every day and every night.

I didn’t want to forgive the man who had stolen my innocence, my sense of safety. He definitely didn’t deserve to be forgiven. He didn’t. He still doesn’t. But neither did I deserve to stay tied to him, and my anger and hatred and death wishes—all those things kept me tied to him. Why would I want to forgive him? Why on earth would I forgive him? Don’t be stupid, right? 

But my counselor challenged me to tell every bit of that to God, and then tell Him there was no way I was going to forgive this man. I knew that’s what I was supposed to do—it’s what Christianity teaches and it’s what God expects of me—but I could not envision it happening.

I kept hearing other people tell how forgiving someone had set them free. Oh, how I wanted to be free. So, what the heck? I tried it. Screamed it alone in my car. Told God it would have to be Him, because I wasn’t feeling it and I didn’t want to feel it. And I didn’t use nice words.

You know what? God listened. He understood. And it happened. It wasn’t overnight, but it happened. I decided I would forgive him, and eventually, as I realized what that really meant, I wanted to forgive him. No one who has been violated expects you to freely forgive without forethought, without inner turmoil, without feeling consumed by hatred first. Humanly speaking, the person who harmed you deserves every evil you’ve become consumed with imagining. In fact, at times, it’s all you think about…until once again, they have control of you.

But that’s where the beauty of forgiveness comes in. Anyone who has finally forgiven their monster will tell you the same thing. Ultimately, it’s not about the monster.

Forgiveness is for you. It sets you free. For me, like I said, it was a decision first. I didn’t want to forgive him, but I couldn’t live any longer with him first and foremost in my mind. When I finally chose to take that step, to say I forgave him, I could breathe again. I could live again. It gave me back the power I needed to move forward. I regained the power he had taken from me—the power to believe in myself, to see myself as worthy, as valuable, as capable. As someone who deserved the love that I had in my life.

Forgiveness isn’t about what the offender deserves. Forgiveness doesn’t release that person from responsibility. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you let that person back into your life with no boundaries or consequences. No. Forgiveness is about giving yourself permission to move forward; it’s about releasing yourself from the prison your offender created but that, ultimately, you discover had no doors, no locks.

Forgiveness is for you.

I pray you find the path to that moment in your life. †