Bethany Boynton is the blogger behind Choosing Jesus a blog dedicated to helping other choose “time in the madness to sit at his feet.” I’m beyond excited to be sharing her testimony with all of you on Still Waters! Bethany has become a friend of mine through the blessing of social media and I love watching her share life honestly and vulnerably, usually with a book and cup of coffee in hand. Thank you Bethany for your sharing your remarkable story with us!
Can we talk about forgiveness?
I’m glad you’re on board. Because, honestly, forgiveness isn’t always an easy topic to discuss. Sometimes people don’t want to talk about it because it isn’t easy to hear how much God values forgiveness and how much He urges us to forgive one another. Talking about forgiveness is convicting and often terrifying. But I can tell you from personal experience that it is so worth the discomfort, the pain, and the fear to find and experience the overwhelming sense of freedom and Love of God that comes with forgiveness.
Forgiveness requires swallowing our pride. It requires pure honesty about how we’re feeling and likely a little conflict which, for those of us who really love to please people, is the most difficult part of all. Forgiveness requires courage to say what needs to be said, having no way to predict how the other person will react. And forgiveness requires trust in God, believing that forgiveness is His perfect plan for us, that it is one of the many ways that He offers us freedom. Forgiveness requires faith that God knows what is best.
I used to question the reason for forgiveness and what it actually means. I struggled with the idea that I should really forgive everyone, even those who have never asked for it and really don’t deserve it. I struggled with those feelings every time a need to forgive someone arose until God used forgiveness to alter the course of my Spiritual life and, in turn, the course of someone else’s life whose story is intertwined with mine in a personal but unfortunate way.
There is really no way to ease into my story so I’m just going to lay it out for you:
Eight years ago, when I was sixteen, my parents were killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver. As you can imagine, my world was flipped upside down. In a moment all of the dreams and plans that I had for my life seemed impossible. Life as I knew it was altered and scarred forever, all because of the reckless decision that led a man to drink too much, get into his truck, and kill my parents just a few miles down the road.
Now, I know you’re probably expecting a story about my blinding anger and deep-seated bitterness toward this man who ruined my life. It’s to be expected, right? If anyone had an excuse to be angry, it was me. Right?
Thankfully, that isn’t my story. From the very beginning God gave me an indescribable, supernatural forgiveness toward that man that was easy for me to choose. On this side of things God has helped me to see that He gave me that gift because He didn’t want me to fill my parent’s absence with anger. He knew I could not live with the pain of losing my parents and anger toward the man who took their lives and only one of those things could be avoided. So God helped me to forgive the man almost instantly in order for me to bear my grief.
This honestly never seemed strange to me at the time or during the first years following the accident. I never thought about how incredible it was that my life wasn’t controlled and marred by fury and a desire for revenge. It just felt natural to me in an indescribable way and, six years after my parent’s passing, God began to show me why.
Two years ago, I woke up one morning and the first thought that came into my mind was, “To the man who killed my parents.” I didn’t think much of it and went on about my day. It happened again the next morning and the next. I started trying figure out what it meant but it wasn’t really clear to me. This continued for almost two weeks until I finally committed some intentional prayer to it and began to realize that God was prompting me to write a blog post entitled, “To the man who killed my parents” in the form of a letter, expressing my forgiveness. I quickly responded, “No God, that’s too much. I can’t do that.” And went on about my business. But He would not let me off the hook.
I continued to wake up with those seven words for another couple of weeks and it became almost all I could think about throughout the day as well. Finally, after days and days of fighting, I said, “Okay, God. I’ll do it. I’ll write it.” He then said, “And then I want you to print it and send it to him.” Again, I replied, “No, God. That’s too much.” But after another two weeks of struggling with God and discussing it with my husband, I finally said, “Okay, God. I’ll do it.”
Finally on July 9th, 2016, the six year anniversary of the accident to the day, I sat down and wrote “A Letter to the Man Who Killed my Parents.” I expressed my forgiveness for Him and I offered Him the hope of Jesus. I printed it, attached a letter telling this exact story, and I sent it.
I cannot describe to you the fear that I felt. I didn’t know what his response would be or if he would respond at all. All I knew was that God urged me to do this and I couldn’t resist saying yes any longer.
A month later I received a letter back from him and the first line read,
“Dear Bethany Boynton, On July 12th I received your letter/blog and after reading your words my life is forever changed!” He went on to share with me how he couldn’t ever fathom forgiving himself, let alone ever deserving or receiving any kind of forgiveness from God or my family. He shared how he was raised in a Christian home but spent His life perpetually committing to God and then running away from Him. And he told me about giving his life to God in prison but feeling like he would never be free from the guilt of this awful thing that happened in our lives. He ended the letter with these words, “So Bethany, your family, and your followers, I want all of you to know that I’ve always accepted full responsibility for my actions and carried tons of guilt and grief with me. I have run into His arms. I have accepted forgiveness from God. I have accepted forgiveness from you. And now, with your help, I am working on being able to forgive myself. I truly want to THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for all of your words, for reaching out to me, for not hating me, for forgiving me, and for continuing living your life for God as your dear parents lived their lives.
Sincerely your Brother in Christ,
Brett — —”
Y’all. Only Jesus. I have read that letter too many times to count and I end up in tears every. single. time. Because this has nothing to do with me. I would have never thought or chosen to write to this man on my own. I wasn’t living in anger and needing to speak honestly to the man who hurt me in hopes of finding forgiveness. I had no idea what Brett was feeling, if anything at all. But God knew.
God knew eight years ago that He would ask me to write this letter and that He wanted me to be able to do it with a heart free of anger and full of Love, so He pushed me toward that choice. He knew that Brett was sitting in prison, agonizing in guilt, in desperate need of the hope of Jesus. And He knew that the message of forgiveness needed to come from me, the very person that Brett hurt the most.
There is such freedom to be found in forgiveness. Because I chose to forgive Brett through the grace of Jesus, I have been able to live without a deep-rooted bitterness controlling my life. Because Jesus helped me to make that choice, I was free to write that letter, even though I was terrified. Because I wrote that letter, Brett was freed from the fear of my hatred and eternal condemnation of guilt and was able to see what only the Love of Jesus can do. And because of that freedom, He is on a lifelong journey to know and Love Jesus more Himself and to show that Love and freedom to others.
This was the most powerful lesson in forgiveness for me. It showed me so clearly how undeserving I am of the forgiveness that Jesus died for, but He gives it anyway. And I sincerely hope that the Love and forgiveness of Jesus will be made fresh to you as well.
If you haven’t accepted Jesus’ forgiveness, you can do it now. If you need forgiveness from someone else, ask Jesus for the courage to apologize and work out the situation. If you need to forgive someone who has hurt you, it is not too late. And if Jesus suggests that you express forgiveness outloud, don’t be afraid to obey.
One of the biggest lessons that this experience taught me and is still teaching me today is that my obedience to God isn’t always for me, more often than not there is someone out there desperately waiting for me to say yes to God.
The more you know God, the more you trust Him. The more you trust Him, the easier it is to obey. The more you obey, the more freedom you find. And the more freedom you obtain, the more freedom you have and want to give. Say yes to freedom, my friend. Whatever Jesus is asking, His goal for you is freedom.
“…Freely you received, freely give (Matt. 10:8, CSB).”
“For freedom, Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1, CSB).”
“Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses(Matt. 6:9-15, CSB, my emphasis added).”
Bethany Boynton is a lover of marriage, books, coffee, student ministry, and helping others find freedom in Christ. You can find more from her on the blog, Choosing Jesus (here) or connect with her on Instagram @bethany.boynton (here.)