Forgiving Miss White

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by Rose McCormick Brandon

Forgiving Miss White

After graduation from Bible college, adventure brewing in my bones, I flew to Canada’s east coast to assist a female pastor. The moment I laid eyes on the matronly Miss White* I doubted my ability to adapt to her way of life. Her demeanor seemed to say that if you think freedom from Bible college means freedom from rules, you have another thought coming. We settled into three cramped rooms tacked onto the rear of an ocean-front, clapboard church.

On my arrival, an Atlantic fog drifted into the bay and smothered the fishing village. Continuous drizzle kinked my hair. Miss White, pumping an ancient accordian, sang with gusto hymns I didn’t recognize. The congregation used expressions I’d never heard before and referred to me as “the girl from the mainland.”

Miss White ruled not only in the church but also in the mist-covered parsonage. She allowed no first names between us, even in private conversation. No jeans or pants of any kind. No make-up. No visiting parishioners alone. Not even a solitary stroll to escape suffocation. The appearance of unity was top priority. We ate her cooking, cleaned, studied, prayed and went to bed on her schedule. She had many reasons why it wouldn’t work any other way.

My homesick tears mingled with the depressing fog that refused to lift. I berated myself for naively believing the east coast of Canada couldn’t be as foreign to me as Mongolia.

A friend I’d known since high school was teaching in one of the province’s larger cities. One weekend she drove 100 miles to cheer me up, an act of kindness I’ve never forgotten. Miss White complained when we went for a drive in my friend’s car without her. My eagerness to be in the presence of someone who called me by my first name, someone who knew where I came from, showed. My friend and I talked for hours. I even laughed a few times. Then I cried again when she left.

Four months later, disgusted with fog, dampness, loneliness and Miss White, I packed up and returned to the mainland. I returned to familiar territory with an extra piece of luggage – a load of resentment. In the months that followed, Miss White wrote several letters of apology and even sent gifts. I threw out the gifts and destroyed the letters, despising even the sight of her handwriting.

For a while, my commitment to Christ remained strong, but after a year or so my faith floundered and eventually drowned in a mixture of disappointment, discouragement and rebellion. It seemed to me everyone was enjoying life far more than I was and most of them weren’t Christians.

Five years after I left Miss White I rarely attended church, read my Bible or did anything else Christians do. But then three key people crossed my path—my future husband and two co-workers. Their arrival awakened my slumbering faith and made me aware that God was reaching out to me. I read John 10 and saw myself as the straying lamb, the one that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, rescued and brought back to the flock. One day during this coming-back-to-God phase, I realized that all the bitter feelings I had toward Miss White were gone.

I thought of Miss White with love and warmth, whereas previously every time she came to mind I felt repulsed and shooed the thought of her away. I had become the one who hated, detested and despised a sister in Christ, and because of it I had wandered into spiritual darkness (I John 2:11).

That day my eyes were opened and I saw how the sin of unforgiveness had filled my heart and separated me from God. I wrote Miss White, asking forgiveness for the hatred I’d held toward her. When I dropped the letter into the mailbox at the corner of our street, I sensed an invisible burden fall from my shoulders.

She wrote back – “I had enquired about you and knew that you had drifted away from God. I felt so responsible and many times cried out to God about it. I’m overjoyed to hear that all is well between us.”

Miss White and I continue to correspond. Her letters, no longer torn up but treasured, remind me not only of God’s holy inward work of forgiveness but how refusing to forgive leads to darkness in the soul.

In Renewing your Spiritual Passion, Gordon MacDonald writes, “Spiritual passion cannot coexist with resentments. We can do our best to claim that we are in the right but the scriptures are clear. The unforgiving spirit is no home to the energy that causes Christian growth and effectiveness.”

Since Miss White, I’ve struggled many times with resentment. Forgiving hasn’t come to me as a sudden work of grace again. I’ve learned that it’s a choice I make, a choice to obey God rather than my own feelings. Catherine Marshall wrote, “The how of forgiveness is knowing how to use our will, the rudder of life.”

Reaching the point of being able to forgive certain grievous offences often takes time, maybe even a long time. But if we are willing to (Ephesians 4:31-32)“get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger and forgive others as Christ forgave us,”  we will experience the spiritual freedom that comes from having a clean heart.


*not her real name

 

Forgiveness: Making it Personal

Perhaps you are struggling to forgive. It could be the result of mistreatment by a parent, boss or other authority figure, an unpaid debt, an unfaithful mate, being maligned by a trusted friend, estrangement from a family member or some other hurt that has lodged itself in your soul. Although there is no formula for forgiveness, the following steps are helpful.

Tell God the truth. Admit the resentment, grudge, bitterness and pain to Him. He already knows when these are hidden in our hearts, but acknowledging them brings them to the forefront.

Admit that forgiveness is beyond your ability. Some offences wound so deeply that it’s impossible to even consider forgiving without special help from the Lord.

Ask Jesus to help you follow His example of forgiveness. When Stephen was being stoned, “he fell to his knees and cried out, Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) He was following Christ’s example when He cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34).

Surrender the whole matter to Jesus. He may prompt you to speak or write to the offender. He may simply take the sting out the offence, heal your wounds and send you on your way with a clean heart.

Trust God to change your feelings about the person who caused the injury. Often we want desperately to forgive, but when bitter feelings don’t disappear immediately we conclude that we haven’t really forgiven. The sting of some hurts is so deep that God in His mercy allows time for the completion of forgiveness, in the same way that he brings recovery from an illness rather than an instant healing.

Ask God to remove the sting. The sting is the soul-pain that accompanies offences. It’s a shattered heart, a broken spirit, a wounded personality. God’s in the business of soul surgery, and He will remove the pain.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, because it’s your will for me, I forgive those who have injured me in spirit, soul or body. Forgive me for hating and resenting them. The strength to forgive comes from you. I trust you to give me your gentle spirit of forgiveness. I want to be able to say honestly that I have nothing against anyone. Lord, heal the pain in my heart.

A cautionary word . . . Relate wisely to the person you forgive, particularly in an abusive or controlling relationship. Forgiveness is always possible because it’s between you and God, but reconciliation is not always possible because it depends on the co-operation of a third party whose heart may not be tender before God. Forgiving an offence doesn’t mean we set ourselves up for more abuse.

 

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Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of four books including, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children and One Good Word Makes all the Difference. An award-winning personal experience writer, her articles, devotionals and stories are published in Canada, U.S. and Australia. Rose speaks at schools, libraries and genealogical societies on the subject of Canada’s Home Children, teaches Bible studies and speaks at events for Christian women. Visit her at her blog, Listening to my Hair Grow, and contact her at rosebrandon1@yahoo.ca. This article and sidebar appeared in the May 2005 issue of testimony, a monthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2005 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.

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