CHAPTER 7: HOW CAN YOU FORGIVE ME AFTER WHAT I HAVE DONE?

CHAPTER 7: HOW CAN YOU FORGIVE ME AFTER WHAT I HAVE DONE?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Presents Teens Talkin' Faith

Chapter Seven

HOW CAN YOU

FORGIVE ME AFTER

WHAT I HAVE

DONE?

FORGIVENESS IS AN INCREDIBLE GIFT . . .

The need to forgive and to be forgiven dwells within each of our hearts. Throughout this chapter, teens share experiences in which they looked for the Lord’s forgiveness in their own lives or they sought God’s strength to forgive someone else. If you identify with a particular story, I hope that it touches you with insight and direction. Forgiveness is an incredible gift from God, but it is also important to make choices every day that honor God in every way.

Mrs. T

GOD TELLS US TO HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER . . .

I fight with my mom all the time. If it’s not about this, it’s about that, and if it’s not about that, it’s about the other. People say we fight because we’re alike and hearing that scares me. I had such a hard time growing up as battles between my mom and me escalated into World War III almost daily, especially when I was in high school. I knew there was no way I’d survive if someone didn’t change, and in my heart I doubted it would be my mom. The saying goes that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and I was a younger dog, so I figured I’d have to be the one to change. But me change—ha! I’m perfect, or so I thought. So to do this and to really do it right, I had to dig deep— waaaaaaaaaay deep.

God tells us to honor thy father and thy mother, and through all of those tumultuous years, I wasn’t honoring my mom. I even thought she was a bit crazy. I began to pray, mostly because I didn’t know what else to do, but also because a part of me knew that the only answer to the problem was in God. So I decided, or rather God helped me see, that I had to honor my mother. With honor, love is not automatic by any means; in fact, it isn’t even required. But as I began to honor my mom, my love for her felt renewed. Also, honoring my mom brought me a great deal of peace, not only in the sense of “no war,” but also in the sense of tranquility. I think this feeling comes from God’s forgiveness. When I finally looked to Him for guidance, I realized that I needed to ask His forgiveness for disrespecting my mom. For so long I thought it would always be a war with my mom, but God taught me otherwise. Believe me, there are still days when honoring my mother is the last thing on my mind. But even then, I remember the peace that God granted me through His forgiveness, and I am able to try just a little bit harder to be the daughter He wants me to be.

TAWNIE, 19

I WAS SO BLINDED BY THE ATTENTION PEOPLE WERE FINALLY PAYING TO ME . . .

I was sixteen and a half. I had just finished my sophomore year of high school. It had been both a great academic year and a year of new experiences. I had passed my road test and received my driver’s license. This was the greatest thing that had happened to me yet, but I never knew that having a car and gaining my independence would change my life. I had a very busy summer. I worked many hours and spent much time with my friends. At the beginning of junior year, however, my life changed. I believe that people knew me as a good kid who never got into trouble. Well, I was sick of being the angel of my class, so I made many poor decisions that year. One of these poor decisions was drinking.

I remember the first time that I drank. It was before a school dance, and at the party everyone was shocked to see me with a beer in my hand. I was so blinded by the attention people were finally paying to me that I didn’t realize I was making a terrible mistake. This one incident was the catalyst to a chain reaction. People now started to notice me, and I became more popular with every beer I drank. This problem got so bad that all I could think about was drinking on the weekend. I didn’t realize that I was getting into more trouble each weekend. I had become a whole other person, someone I would have hated just a few months back.

As the year progressed, my problems worsened. I decided to try marijuana. I remember how terrible it was the first time, but that didn’t stop me one bit! Just like drinking got out of control, so did drugs. Time passed, and now it was senior year. I was still drinking and smoking without a clue in the world. This drastically changed, however, when my parents found pot in my room. They were devastated to say the least. I sat through countless hours of discipline, and my heart shattered when my mom said, “We will never forgive you.” When I heard this, I wanted to die. At this point, the only person I could really talk to was God. He was the only one who would listen to me. I was so depressed that I didn’t know what else to do but pray and ask God to help me through this most difficult time in my life. God forgave me when no one else would. I feel that I have matured now. I occasionally look back on my experiences last year and just a few months ago, and I realize I made a terrible mistake. I also think back on how God was there for me when I needed Him the most. He gives me the courage to live life the right way now and to make good decisions.

PATRICK, 17

. . . I FELT SO GUILTY . . .

I cannot tell a lie. That doesn’t mean that I have never cheated or lied. I mean, I’m not perfect; I just can’t live with myself after I do it. One time in sixth grade, we were taking a geography test. I didn’t know the answer to a question, so I decided to look on my partner’s paper. I didn’t really feel like I consciously chose to do this, but it was like something took over my brain, and I cheated without even thinking about it. I wanted to get 100 percent so badly that I forced myself to do the wrong thing. In the moment, I couldn’t really see the harm in it. But slowly, it started to bother me. It was just a simple little test, I kept telling myself to try to clear my conscience. By the time the bell rang at the end of the day, I felt so guilty I could barely function. I finally cracked and told my mom all that happened and how I felt about it. My mom was pretty disappointed in me, but she told me to do whatever I needed to do to make it right. The next day, I decided to go to my teacher and tell her the truth about what I did and how I wanted to make it better. She appreciated that I told the truth, and all the pieces just fell into place. Now it’s not just this one past experience that caused my conscience to fall all over me; it happens whenever I do anything even remotely wrong, like when I really want to keep something a secret, but I can’t. It’s like a whole bunch of butterflies are released into my stomach right after I do a bad deed, and I can’t do anything else until I tell the truth. After the whole “cheating on the test” dilemma, though, I realized that God made me who I am for a reason. It’s like He’s showing me which path to take in life. Sometimes I think my conscience is God’s way of assisting me when I do something wrong. God wants me to always be truthful, and I really am because of the conscience He gave me.

CARLOTTA, 14

. . . WHY DID I FEEL SO ALONE?

I was raised in the church, I had a Christian family, and my mother grounded God’s Word into my heart. I was so in love with Jesus . . . but sometimes you fall down, and you fall hard. Sometimes you make new friends; mine was the bottle. Sometimes you happen to change. I changed everything, and not for the better. I forgot who I was. As a Christian, yes, I knew right from wrong. But as a teenager, I didn’t even care. At fourteen, I thought I was having the best year of my life. Experiencing everything for the first time was the best feeling I’d ever had, or so I thought at the time. Sneaking out gave me an adrenaline boost. Speeding through the midnight streets made my heart pound, and getting wasted at parties made my mind race. The booze kept me calm, the pills were my back-up, and my older friends were always there for me, but why did I still feel so alone?

Fighting, swearing, yelling, and loneliness became normal in my family. I wanted to escape. I tried cutting, but that didn’t make me any more satisfied with life. I tried sex. I knew I wasn’t ready, but I let it happen anyway. There isn’t a day that goes by without my brain getting wrapped around every painful decision I made. Drowning in the reality of pain and heartache had finally begun to break me down. I knew that nothing the world could say to me would help, and I knew no one could save me. It had been six months since I had last spoken with God, but now I screamed at Him. Over and over, I walked the lonely roads in the late-night hours, asking Him where He’d been. Why was I so confused, hurt, scared, depressed, and alone? I was acting as if He was the enemy, but as I walked and screamed, I figured out that I was my own worst enemy. I was feeding on chaos and living in sin. Right then, an overwhelming feeling of peace washed over me. I didn’t feel alone anymore. It was as if something or someone was guiding me home. I’d like to believe I had angels by my side, and maybe I did. Changing my life and asking for forgiveness are truly the hardest things I’ve ever done in my short life. I’m still in the process, but if that means an eternity in heaven someday, where I will feel peace and never be lonely, then it’s worth it!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you or someone you know has tried to escape life’s pressures and problems through the use of drugs, sex, or cutting, please know that these options are not solutions. They only lead to more anguish and heartbreak. Please seek help. Talk to someone you trust or refer to the resources in the Appendix at the back of this book.

. . . GOD IS VERY PATIENT . . .

Most people want God to forgive them for things they regret they’ve done or for things they did wrong against His will or in His eyes. In my case, I want God to forgive me for the times when I’ve doubted Him and His choices for my life . . . for the times I thought I was right and He was wrong. God has a plan for all of us. He knows what is best for us. He’s in control, and He loves us. So, I think to myself, How could I ever doubt such a loving and forgiving God?

If one of my friends were to doubt me, it would hurt my feelings. For example, if my best friend doubted that I could keep a secret, I would be crushed. I wonder if it hurts God’s feelings when I doubt Him, too. Yet, He forgives me so easily. How does He do that? I think the answer is that God is very patient, and He wants me to believe in Him, which I definitely do!

Sometimes, though, people who believe in God have their doubts as well. I am so happy that God will still love us and forgive us when we doubt Him!

CARRA, 14

THIS IS WHEN GUILT COMES IN . . .

I’ve always wondered: What exactly is that little wave that goes over you when you’ve done something wrong? It starts in your brain and runs through your body, but mostly it dwells in your chest, near the middle, but slightly to the left. Guilt—the pain you must live with or confess. It can stay with you for a second or last a lifetime, depending on what action you choose to take in response to it.

When I was about ten, I went to a store with my brother. He was about fourteen then. I was fascinated with all the various charms they had to put on necklaces. Having this child’s curiosity and no money, somehow the pretty trinkets found their way into my pocket. We left the store and went home, and I looked over my new treasures. This is when guilt comes in. You know it is wrong, but either way you go, you lose because you’ve already made a poor choice in the first place. I think that the feeling of guilt may be God’s way of helping you to do what is right. So the story ends by my parents finding out and making me take them back and apologize. Through my parents and my conscience, God showed me the right way, and I will never steal anything again.

VALERI, 13

I’VE FOUND THE ANSWER TO ALL THEIR PROBLEMS AND TO MINE . . .

When I was a young teen, I made some poor choices. I started out smoking pot, but that led to me using other drugs. Soon, things got out of control, and it seemed that I was ruining my life. Then, something incredible happened. I quit everything—all of the drugs and other bad choices I had made. I decided to pursue a relationship— a relationship like one I have never had. It was a relationship filled with unconditional love. I’m talking about a relationship with God. Everywhere I go and everything I hear from people these days is usually about all the problems they have or things that aren’t going right for them. I’ve found the answer to all their problems and to mine: God! That’s why I realized I was going nowhere. God had bigger and better plans for me. I can’t tell you how nice it is just to know that I’ve always got somewhere to turn. Everything isn’t perfect now, but it’s a hundred times better than it was before. Through God’s grace, I quit doing drugs. I quit drinking. I quit smoking. One thing I am not going to quit is this race. I’m going to stay in the battle, and I am fighting on the right side—God’s.

ZACHARIA, 18

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you or someone you know is using alcohol or other drugs and would like to stop, you can call the National Referral Organization at 1-800-454-8966 for information on a treatment program near you.

I FINALLY REALIZED THAT FORGIVENESS IS SOMETHING TO CHERISH . . .

I started going to church when my mom married my stepdad, and at the beginning I was unsure and felt out of place. But soon I became a Christian, and church and all that it entailed became a way of life. But not long after I was baptized, I began to feel like I was taking advantage of my religion. After I was told that God forgives you no matter what, I found myself doing things that I wouldn’t normally do, only because I knew at the time that I would be forgiven for it afterward.

Someone once told me that you have a jar inside your soul for all of your sins. If that is true, then the jar in my soul was overflowing. Something in my heart just clicked, and I knew that I was doing the wrong thing. Now, I think hard before I do anything because I know that there will be consequences for my actions, even if I sincerely ask God to forgive me. I finally realized that forgiveness is something to cherish and not to take for granted.

CHERISE, 14

I KNOW THAT GOD FORGIVES ME . . .

God blessed me with a learning disability. Now, most people would say that a learning disability isn’t a blessing, but I think it is. It is what makes me special. I didn’t always feel that way, though. For a long time, I was mad at God because of my disability. It was hardest for me when I was in class, and the teacher would ask me to read out loud. I would just ask God why He had to give it to me. Eventually, I learned that I shouldn’t be mad at God because I have become such a stronger person because of my learning struggles. I know that God forgives me for being angry at Him. I also know that He gave this to me for a reason, and I accept it now, just like God accepts me!

REBECCA, 14

. . . I ENDED UP BEING ALMOST A SHADOW OF HER . . .

For many teenagers, the thought of high school is both exhilarating and nervewracking. The first weeks are filled with new classes and teachers, new friends and experiences. The excitement of a fresh year is often quickly replaced by the struggle to fit in and be accepted. In the beginning of my freshman year, my innocence to the ways of high school showed through in all of my thoughts and actions. I had never experienced the typical “girl drama,” and up until that year, boys had always been more my friends than anything else. I had grown up in a Christian home and had a fairly strong relationship with God. My friends and family were the core of my life, and I never expected that to change. However, it did when I met Amanda.

Amanda was the type of girl almost everybody liked. She was bouncy, cute, and funny, and she knew how to get people to want to be around her. Yet, underneath Amanda’s seemingly attractive personality, there was a whole other side that most people didn’t see. From the beginning of the school year, I was drawn to Amanda. I appreciated her friendship and did everything I could to keep us in agreement. But after about a month, I began to question some of the things she did and said. I often heard her make rude comments about people in our classes or in the halls. She even said things about kids she didn’t even know, including some upperclassmen. After hearing some of the things she said about others, I realized that I would do whatever it took to keep her from viewing me like that. Consequently, I ended up being almost a shadow of her. I abandoned my childhood friends for her, simply because in her eyes they “weren’t good enough.” I lost all contact with God because my focus was always on my friendship with Amanda. My true friends never wanted to be around me anymore, and I was constantly in conflict with my family. Gone was my little-girl innocence. I had become someone I couldn’t even relate to. Letting Amanda have so much of an influence over me slowly began to wear away at who I really was, creating a person I never wanted to know or be.

Eventually, even Amanda abandoned me. We had a single argument, and the foundation that our friendship was on crumbled. I became the target of her slurs and quickly found myself alone and without a single friend to depend on. I expected that everyone had given up on me, even God. But God has a way of drawing a broken soul back to Him. It took me a while to figure out that the person I had become was not who God intended me to be. I realized that in all of my confusion, God had always been there, patiently waiting for me to come back to Him. I remember going to bed one night and just praying for mercy and forgiveness. I apologized for turning away from Him, along with my friends and family. I confessed how much I needed God’s guidance in my life to get me through the day.

A year later, I am still regretting some of my lost friendships. But mostly I regret losing my friendship with God during that time in my life. While I am on the mend, I know that I still have a way to go. But now, I am headed in the right direction, with real friends, real family, and a single, real God to guide me along the way. Never lose faith in the one God you can always count on, for He’s never lost faith in you.

BROOKE, 15

I PARTIED ALL THE TIME . . .

I was always searching for happiness but could never find it anywhere. Then I started to use drugs and drink. I thought, Hey, this is what it is all about. This is what I’ve been looking for. I really believed that happiness could be found with drinking and drugs. I partied all the time, and so did most of my friends. I got mixed up with the wrong group of people. I am a smart person and always did well in school, but all of a sudden all I could do was look at a blank page and know it was due the next day and I had five more to write after the first one. That’s what partying did to me. Nothing was more important. I began to think that there was always time for school, but partying was in the here and now. I barely got by.

Things just kept getting harder. People started to move on and get over the party scene, but I couldn’t seem to. Then somebody took me to a Bible study. I started to build a relationship with God, and I stopped using. Life started again! I could actually remember what I did two days previously and who I was calling on the telephone. God did something for me that the drinking and drugs didn’t do. He gave me that peace I was always looking for. I always thought I was happy before and had real friends, but once I stopped partying, I really found out who my friends were. I know now that I will always have somebody to turn to. Even though I can’t see God, I know that He is listening to everything I say. I wasted five years of my life partying. Now, I feel like I can still be somebody and go somewhere, but I know I can’t do it alone.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you’d like to seek help for a drug or alcohol problem, I encourage you to call 1-800-454-8966 for a referral for treatment.

“T ” TALK

The story that I am about to share with you is very serious and exceptionally sad. But I have chosen to share it because I believe that within this powerful story, a valuable lesson can be learned.

Courtney was only fourteen and extremely drunk on the summer night that she was raped. Her rapist was someone she considered a friend. She trusted him, and he betrayed that trust. Sadly, Courtney feels that she betrayed herself, as well. She knows that the rape was not her fault, but she blames herself for choosing to get drunk. In fact, Courtney was so drunk that when this guy, who was nineteen, asked her to come back to his room so he could show her something, she went with him, trailing her hands along the wall to maintain her balance. Once there, she began to feel sick. He told her to lie down on his bed and that he would stay with her and protect her. Apparently, Courtney passed out. The next thing she remembered, she felt like she was being shaken. It was only then that she realized she was being forced to have sex. Courtney struggled as she screamed, hoping that her friends down the hall would hear her. She pleaded and begged him to stop. Finally, he did, saying, “I was finished with you anyway.” When he walked away, he took Courtney’s virginity with him.

Courtney cried as she told me her story. She felt worthless, dirty, and guilty. “How could somebody do that?” she asked. But she also wondered how she could let herself get into that situation? Courtney kept the rape a secret for almost two months, as her dignity and self-confidence disintegrated. Finally, no longer able to hide from the truth, Courtney confessed the rape to her parents and the authorities so that it would not go unpunished.

Still, Courtney carried a heavy burden on her shoulders. She felt an intense emptiness inside and began to shut out everyone. Even her mom, who was there for Courtney in every way, could not fill the void that was growing in her heart. Her mom told her, “It’s going to be okay, Court. I’m here for you.” But Courtney didn’t feel it would be okay. She didn’t understand how she could ever overcome her feelings of hopelessness. Many people, myself included, pleaded with Courtney not to blame herself. I specifically told Courtney that it is never the fault of the victim for being raped. If a person does not give consent, resists, or says “no” and is forced to have sex, it is rape, and only the assailant can take the blame. Yet, when she thought about the party scene that she had become involved in over the summer, she was afraid she had disappointed God.

Courtney remembers a particular night when she threw herself across her bed, sobbing and pleading with God. Tears streaked her face as she prayed, “God, please don’t let me wake up in the morning.” Immediately, she felt at peace—not because she thought God would grant her prayer, but because she knew the opposite was occurring. Courtney said that as she lay on her bed, she sensed God’s presence. She felt as if He physically wrapped His arms around her, and she began to feel whole again. Courtney experienced an unwavering conviction that she was still accepted by God, and that with His forgiveness and help she would get through her ordeal.

God’s grace is abundant. His mercy abounds. Teens often assume that God will turn His back on them if they make a poor choice or do something they regret. Maybe they think this way because they have experienced this type of reaction from their friends. It is not uncommon for friends to, at least temporarily, turn against each other if they have been hurt or disappointed. For example, if a close friend betrays your confidence, even after you make up, you may harbor hurt or anger toward that person. Although you love your friend, there may be a small part of you that can never forgive his or her disloyalty. Fortunately, God’s love is much bigger than our love. When God forgives you, He forgives forever. He never brings it back and throws it in your face. When He forgives, He is able to forget, too.

My friend Janell uses a fantastic analogy to demonstrate God’s grace and forgiveness. She tells the story of an experience she encountered at a Christian retreat. She awoke early one morning and decided she needed some quiet time. With a cup of tea in hand, she walked down to a river. As she stood by the river, she began to contemplate all of the wonderful Christians at this retreat. Compared to them, she felt unworthy. As she prayed, she pondered the mistakes she had made in her life, all of her failures and sins, and she found herself staring down at her cup of tea. Brown in color, the tea looked dirty and stagnant. Janell felt much the same way. Then she looked at the river. It was running gloriously clear, clean, and beautiful. In what she believes was an answer to prayer, Janell felt God encouraging her to throw her tea into the river. It was as if He was saying, “Give me your worries and your troubles. Give me your regrets and faults, and I will sweep them away in this river. Never will they come back. Your life can flow clear and clean now, no longer dirty or stagnant.” As Janell emptied the contents of her cup into the river, she noticed that her tea didn’t taint the beautiful rushing water and, in that moment, she felt refreshed, renewed, and worthy.

Like Janell, there may be times in your life when you feel undeserving of God’s love. Teenagers frequently make choices they later regret. Sometimes it is difficult for teens to think beyond the moment. When you’re at a party and everyone is drinking and seeming to have fun, it is easy to rationalize drinking yourself. But when I speak to youth groups, I always tell teens that drinking and God don’t mix. Not only does God use the Bible to tell us that drunkenness is a sin, but think about it: When you drink, you lose your ability to make sound decisions. Even if you set limits for your drinking, those boundaries are often broken. It is more common for one drink to turn into five than for a teen to stop at just one.

Many teens who choose to use drugs or have sex for the first time do so after they have been drinking. I have spoken with teenagers who regret having lost their virginity after a night of partying. They want to take it back, but they can’t. They are worried about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. But they hadn’t thought about it at the time because under the influence of alcohol, they had lost their sense of good judgment. Rape, too, is a risk. Courtney said that had she been thinking clearly, she wouldn’t have gone alone into a bedroom with a guy who was five years older than her. Nor would she have passed out, leaving him the opportunity to violate her.

Also, the use of drugs and alcohol among teens is not only illegal with consequences of arrest but teenagers who drink and use also risk their lives. Many studies indicate that the leading cause of teen death is accidents, and the majority of these are related to substance abuse. Remember Brandy’s story at the beginning of this book? Finally, teens who choose to use drugs or alcohol jeopardize their freedom. I’m not referring to jail time, although that can be a realistic result. I am talking about addiction.

If you use drugs or alcohol habitually, you risk addiction and can become a prisoner of your need. Scripture teaches that your physical body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. How can you serve God and addiction, too?

It is also important to understand that when considering your physical body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, in addition to abstaining from drugs and alcohol, it is spiritually right to be abstinent from sex before marriage. I have read several references to a study that indicated half of all teens surveyed were sexually active or had been at some point in their teen years. That tells me two things. First, if you are a virgin, praise God! Know that you are not alone—50 percent of your peers value their virginity, too. Second, there are teenagers out there who are making a choice to be sexually active. But I already knew this from speaking with my students or kids in youth groups. The choice for teens to be sexually active can be a matter of curiosity, acceptance, or temptation. Yet, regardless of a person’s reason, the Bible has something to say about it.

God speaks often in the Bible of sexual immorality as a sin. Also, God calls us to save ourselves for the person we marry. The Bible tells us to refrain from sex until marriage because sexual intercourse is a sacred and intimate act that should only be shared within the union of husband and wife. Within the sanctity of marriage, sexual intimacy can be a wonderful experience and a blessing. God didn’t say, “Sex is bad!” In fact, He created sex. Don’t forget, though, He also gave us boundaries for sexual behavior. I encourage you to save sex for marriage. Offer it to your husband or wife on your wedding night as a precious gift that you have treasured and withheld to share with the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.

I have had many teens ask me, “How can I rate with God after what I’ve done?” Regardless of the choice that a teen may have made to lead to his or her need for forgiveness, God lays out the answer for us plainly. The Bible proclaims that if we feel sorry for what we have done and we sincerely ask God to forgive us, He will. God lifts the burden of sin from our hearts and grants us His mercy. Like the free-flowing river, God doesn’t recycle past sins. When He forgives, He forgives forever, and His grace overflows.

Mrs. T

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I realize that Courtney’s story is very tragic, and I pray that you never experience such an ordeal. However, I feel compelled to give you the following information as a resource: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 1-800-656-4673.

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