Wrestling with a Broken Heart
By Renee Coates Scheidt
It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Every fiber of my natural being resists it, and my thirst for justice and righteousness here and now rejects the very idea. Yet I know the issue is not open for debate. If I am to walk in obedience to God, I must forgive those who have sinned against me.
Forgiveness is wonderful when we’re the ones in need of it. Our hearts are filled with gratitude when we receive this precious gift. But when the tables are turned, and the stakes are high, granting forgiveness can be very difficult. That’s a whole new ball game. How do I know? I wish this were something I just read, or heard from someone else. But this time I speak from personal experience, firsthand knowledge. Kicking and screaming, “No, I don’t want to,” I’ve been forced to play in this game. “Choose, Renee, which way are you gonna go?” Thankfully I made the right choice.
In 1987, the world I had known for ten years collapsed. After eight weeks in a psychiatric hospital, and a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, my minister-husband was released over my objections. When told Chuck would be coming home the next day, I protested, “No, he’s not ready.” This was not good news from my perspective. Somehow I knew instinctively it was not in Chuck’s best interest to leave the hospital setting. The doctor replied, “Everything that can be done on an in-patient basis has been accomplished. We will now work on an outpatient basis.” One of my last words to him was, “You know I’m opposed to this.” All my resistance did nothing to change the situation. The decision was made. The non-verbal message clearly communicated to me was received loud and clear, “Don’t interfere. We’re the professionals. Stay out of the way, and let us do our job. You’re just the wife.”
It took only one week for my gut instincts to be proven correct. Seven days after his release, in the early morning hours, my husband slipped out of the house, walked across our front yard to an empty field, and ended his life with a shotgun wound to the head.
A flood of emotions raged through my body as I faced the horrid reality of his death. Where were “the professionals” now that my husband was dead? “I tried to tell you,” I screamed, “but you wouldn’t listen! What do I know? I’m just the stupid wife! Your life will go on normally, but my life is destroyed! What about our two baby girls? They have no daddy! Why wouldn’t you listen to me? I tried to tell you!” Over and over again the hurt and anger spewed from my broken heart.
To make matters worse, five out of seven days a week I had to drive right past the hospital where Chuck spent the last weeks of his life. I never wanted to see that place again, yet it was shoved in my face day after day. In my vain imaginations, I pictured myself picketing the entrance of the complex, warning others to “stay away from this place.” Though I soon realized that bitterness, vengeance, and unforgiveness were quickly filling my heart, my flesh wanted to let them stay. Had I not known the teaching of the Bible, I would have allowed them to set up permanent residence.
The battle between the flesh and the Spirit raged within me. As much as my flesh wanted to rise up and give place to these negative emotions, I knew I could not allow it. “You must forgive them, Renee,” the Lord whispered. “But God, I don’t want to! Look what they’ve done to me!” “I understand, My child. Have you forgotten My words on the cross of Calvary?” “But You’re God, and I’m just human!” I fought back. “How can You expect me to react to such a tragedy the way You did?” Yet slowly the words of Scripture began to ease their way into my heart. “Don’t you know, Renee, that your times are in My hand? Don’t you know that nothing can enter your life unless I allow it?” God gently reminded me. “Do you want to die in this wilderness? Or will you trust My Word, even in the midst of this pain and injustice? You can let the root of bitterness and unforgiveness grow in your heart if you want, but you’ll regret it. Its fruit isn’t what you want. Will you let Me handle this instead of you trying to get even your own way? You do have a choice.”
I hate to admit it, but it was with reluctance that I made my decision. Though my flesh fought hard, the final answer was not in doubt. Because I knew God’s Word is truth, I knew I must obey. “OK, God, I know what I’ve got to do. I still don’t like it, and I most certainly can’t do it on my own. You have to give me the grace and strength to do what is required. I’m willing to forgive the doctor and staff, but You’ve got to work it in me. Otherwise, it won’t happen.” Letting go of my right to hold on to the hurt was the first step in the process of forgiving those who had ignored my pleas.
Please notice that I said “process.” I wish I could have said the right words, prayed the right prayer, and received a holy zap from God that instantly changed my feelings. It hasn’t worked that way for me. The initial decision set me on the path of choosing to cooperate with God, to allow Him to do what only He can do. But day-by-day I had to reaffirm my choice to forgive. Every time I drove past the hospital was another opportunity to restate my commitment, “Lord, I choose to forgive the medical staff for not listening to my objections.” Often the anger rose up; but by an act of my will, I kept on, and on, and on. Gradually, the feelings began to align with the decision I chose. It was work. It was hard. I’ve had to deny the flesh. But I knew I’d pay a much higher price if I didn’t forgive. Too high. Not only would I have lost Chuck, I would have been destroyed as well. Unforgiveness is a poison that eats up the very container that holds it. By forgiving others, I freed myself.
It reminds me of peeling an onion. Layer by layer, the unforgiveness was slowly removed. It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the struggle lasted many years. But today I praise God that unforgiveness does not have a hold on my heart! I am free of this imprisoning, life-sucking emotion.
I’ve found there is power in forgiveness. Though I initially thought I was releasing those who wronged me, I discovered I was the one who found freedom. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever given, not only to others, but to myself as well.