SOS Jo Saxton

Jo Saxton is a director of 3DM, a movement/organization helping churches develop a discipling and missional way of being the church.

A few years ago at a leader’s retreat, I wandered into a workshop on healthy relationships. Always looking out for great ideas, I hoped the session would offer some tools to share at our young adult gatherings back home. I had no idea how personal the workshop would be.

The speaker told countless stories about the grip that unforgiveness had on many Christian leaders.  Stories of bitterness and insecurity, competitive relationships, leaders overcome by unresolved difficulties in their personal and professional lives. She also spoke of the freedom that could only be found at the foot of the cross. She urged every leader present to make forgiveness a core value in their lives. Then, she said the way to know you had fully forgiven someone was that you no longer felt they owed you anything. It was as if you’d torn up their IOU’s and thrown them away.

Can you tear up the IOU’s?,  she asked gently.

I don’t remember the rest of her talk. For me it ended with that question. Soon men and women were praying around the room, some on their knees, many weeping. I was angry.

My mind flooded with memories. Hot bitter tears stung my face.

The girls from school who made every day a living nightmare owe me nothing?  That man, a few days ago, who spat at me in the street and called me the N word, owes me nothing? No I can’t tear up the IOU. I can say it’s in the past and move on. I can even speak well of them or try to understand their weakness. But say they owe me NOTHING? Are you kidding me?

The list of offenders continued until I reached the father I barely knew.

How can you say he owes me nothing? He owes me birthdays and Christmases, love and hugs; a sense of security and worth, teenage arguments and adult friendship. He owes me every single consequence of his absence!

Yet my mind was flooded with other memories. The faces of people I’d wounded, relationships I’d damaged, cruel things I’d said. I felt so ashamed. I wanted mercy for what I’d done, yet justice for what had been done to me.

It was time to surrender to Jesus. I wept long and hard for my pain and my shame. I chose to let go.

It was a new beginning. My heart was restored, my attitudes changed. I was free. Even my relationship with my father slowly healed. One day we’d pray together as he reached out to Jesus asking for mercy. Who knew that it would be our last conversation …

There are still situations where forgiveness is difficult. Self-justifying bitterness is so tempting! But nothing feels like the freedom and mercy I’ve found in forgiveness. So I keep returning to the foot of the cross with a fistful of torn up IOU’s, ready to open up my hands. And I’m embraced by God’s grace and power.

Back to Stories