I have been invited to pray for a woman who I have never met before. Let’s call her Ella*.
Ella is a beautiful, slim, dark-haired woman, in her mid-30s, who comes across as self-assured. She tells me that she’s seeking prayer because she’s been badly hurt by the leaders of her church. She doesn’t name the church, but I would rather not know which one it is, given what follows.
When I gently ask her what has happened, a sad and sorry story comes tumbling out …
A story of how she used to be on the staff team of the church. How she felt forced to stand down over an issue of integrity. How it’s been impossibly painful to watch what has unfolded since. How she and her husband keep trying to leave. How the leadership are making life difficult for them.
She has clearly been deeply wounded.
When she pauses to lift her head and look up at me, I can see that her eyes are filled with tears, and I feel a surge of compassion rising up within me.
“Why don’t we invite the Holy Spirit to come?” I suggest. “Let’s take a moment to listen to God together; to try and discern what he might want to say about this situation.”
She nods her agreement and I pray a simple prayer, “Holy Spirit, come.”
In the stillness that follows, tears are starting to slowly trickle down Ella’s cheeks and, as I pray for her, using heavenly language, the Holy Spirit forms an image in my mind’s eye.
What I’m seeing are her feet encased in slabs of concrete, rendering her immobile. She is trying to lift each foot, but she can’t even take a single step. The concrete is too huge, too heavy, too solid.
“What does this represent?” I ask the Lord in silent prayer, and immediately he responds: “She needs to forgive the leaders of her church.”
Breaking the silence, I ask Ella how she is feeling, and whether she’s sensing anything. “I feel paralysed and stuck,” she says. “It’s as if I just can’t move.”
Taking a deep breath, I feel led to posit a simple question: “Have you forgiven the leaders of your church?” I ask her. “They have clearly badly hurt you, but can you forgive them?”
Before the question is barely out of my mouth, Ella’s tears start to freefall and her shoulders heave. Between the sobs, I hear her whisper, “I want to forgive them. I choose to forgive them. I do forgive them. Lord, help me know that I have forgiven them.”
I wait a moment and then, “I hear you and God hears you,” I reassure her.
And then I pray, asking God to forgive her, even as she has forgiven those who have hurt her. I ask him to release her from any invisible spiritual chains caused by inadvertent unforgiveness. I invite him to bind up and heal her wounds. I call on him to free her to walk away from what is clearly a toxic situation.
Even as she does so, I become aware that she is lifting her feet, one at a time, and shaking them. It’s as if she is kicking off the concrete blocks that I saw in my mind’s eye, smashing them to smithereens.
“My feet!” she announces. “They feel so light!”
To my utter amazement, she starts jumping up and down on the spot. “I’m free, I’m free, I’m free,” she declares, smiling at me with the broadest of grins.
It’s at this point that I share the mental image that I sensed God give me, and her eyes open wide.
“Wow!” she says. “God is so good!”
I nod my head in agreement and then I suggest that both of us pray aloud, Ella first and me second, thanking God for giving her freedom and release, and asking him to give her and her husband the courage now needed to act on what has happened.
There is a lightness in her feet as she turns and walks away, and a lightness in my spirit at what I have just witnessed.
Ella’s story serves as a stark reminder of how important it is for us to forgive those who hurt us , and how unforgiveness can – and often does – act as a blockage to finding the freedom and release from painful emotional and spiritual wounds.
Sometimes, forgiveness is easy. Other times, as for Ella, it is a choice, a decision, an act of our will rather than a passive agreement.
As you reflect on this story, is there anyone who comes to mind, who has hurt you and who you need to forgive? If this is you, what is holding you back from forgiving them? Why don’t you take a moment now, out loud, to forgive that person, or those people, by name, giving them over to God?
Imagine how free you could feel if those concrete blocks of unforgiveness are broken off your feet, in the same way as happened for Ella.
As ever, constructive comments are welcome below.
*Ella is not her real name
Photo by Jan Romero on Unsplash