I attended Bob Jones University for undergraduate school. While the rules of the school are copious and strict, I have fond memories of my time as a student. Much has been said recently about the tendency of some BJU counselors to recommend that survivors of abuse ask their abusers for forgiveness. I was physically and emotionally abused as a child and, as a BJU student, sought counsel from a member of the Bible faculty. He advised me to write a letter to my abuser, asking him to forgive me for the anger and bitterness that I had toward him. While I would not necessarily advise others to do so, I wrote that letter, and I would do it again. Here is why:
- I needed to be free from the anger and bitterness I felt toward my abuser. I was not looking for protection or help to escape from him. As a competent adult, living hundreds of miles from my abuser, I knew there was no risk of ever being abused by him again. I wanted to do something that would help me feel more like a survivor than a victim.
- I wanted to cooperate with God in the sanctification process. I did not go to counseling simply to complain or make excuses for my own bad decisions. I wanted to change in highly visible, significant ways. Yes, my abuser treated me horribly, but it was completely my choice to react with anger and retaliation. I wanted to take responsibility for that.
- I hoped to set an example. I know so many people who use past hurts as an excuse for not accomplishing their goals or realizing their potential. They might believe the hurtful lies that the abuser told them or use perceived failures of the past as a reason to quit trying. I never wanted to let my abuser have that kind of power over me.
I would love to tell you that sending that letter completely changed my life and ushered in all kinds of huge blessings. It didn’t. Today, I have no relationship with my abuser, nor do I want one. However, I know that I have taken responsibility for my sinful feelings and behaviors. I’m not weighed down by bitterness or a desire to repay my abuser for the harm he caused. I am free to love my fantastic husband and two beautiful daughters with my whole heart. I am not constantly trying to protect myself from being hurt again.
Writing and sending that letter also made me a much better forgiver. Realizing how much I wanted to be forgiven for my sin continues to make me want to extend that forgiveness to others. I am definitely not perfect at it, but I am undeniably better than I was. The experience also helped me get better at humbling myself and asking for forgiveness, a skill that I need on a VERY regular basis!
Asking my abuser for forgiveness was a good idea for me. It is not a good idea for everyone. If you are in a situation where you are currently being abused, seeking protection should be your highest priority. Choosing to ask for my abuser’s forgiveness yielded far more benefits for me than losses, and I’m glad that I did it, but I am reluctant to recommend it. Every situation is different. I have deliberately avoided sharing my abuser’s reaction and response to the letter because this process was never really about him. God used the experience to make me more like Him, and that alone made it worthwhile.