Forgiving the Nightmare

Mark SowersbyBy Mark Sowersby15 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Forgiving the Nightmare by Mark Sowersby


My Journey

When I speak about forgiveness, I am often asked, “Did you really forgive your mom, your abuser, your family, and your past?” Yes. I forgave because Christ has forgiven me, and He calls us to forgive others. I was tired of being angry. The entire world told me I had the right to be angry, to be mad, and that I could cut my family off and never speak to them again. People would understand. It was OK. It was my “right.” Unforgiveness was linking me to my abusers, connecting me to the hurts, pains, and poison of the abuse that ran so deep within me. Forgiving was, and still is, the only way to be set free.

Some people reach in to find themselves; others reach out to discover themselves. God calls us to reach up and die to ourselves. Dying to self only comes through praying, trusting, having faith, and being filled with God’s love, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God. Only then can the bonds of dysfunction, insecurities, and self-hatred be broken. Only In Christ, could I be set free from the chains that were still controlling so many areas of my life.

I wanted to forgive my mom. I only had one mom. Being born from an affair and not having a father, I did not want to lose my mom also. I knew she failed me and neglected me. I was angry and hurt. Maybe we would never have all that we could have had in a healthy relationship, but I wanted to forgive. As I grew older, more mature, and experienced more of life, I traveled further in the journey of forgiveness. The more I realized how truly abused, neglected, and ignored I was, the more the memories of abuse came at me like blows to my soul and slaps across my face. But every time the pain of my abuse raised its head, God’s grace and mercy would meet me and surround me with peace.

There is an old expression, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” While I am not endorsing the eating of endangered species, I think this perfectly illustrates the enormity of forgiveness. Looking at the mountain of pain before you can be overwhelming. How does one forgive? Forgive what is in front of you. Small victories prepare us for larger ones. One step at a time, one victory at a time.

For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little.”
– Isaiah
 28:10 KJV

I learned to trust the Lord to move the pebble and found He could also move the mountains. I wanted forgiveness in my life because I knew that was what the Lord wanted for me. He wants it for you too. I think about the story in Genesis of Jacob, whose Hebrew name means deceiver and liar. He wrestled with the angel of the Lord and did not let go until the Lord blessed him. And the Lord did bless him and gave him a new name. Jacob became Israel which means to wrestle and overcome. Just like Jacob wrestled with the angel of God, we must be willing to wrestle with our past, our pains, and our problems.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28 NIV

Often victims of abuse carry titles, names, and images that have been thrust upon them by their abuser, attacker, or even themselves. These include a hatred of oneself, insecurities, and a low self-esteem that had been instilled in them by the attacks, abuse, and shame. I know what it is like to feel like the least of these, unimportant, like dirt, a leftover, a mistake, a loser. I carried those names for most of my life, but after wrestling with forgiveness and dying to self, my faith grew. I have new names. I am whole, victorious, redeemed, and set free. I am a new creation: a child of God! Today, I confess, by God’s grace, I have forgiven the people who hurt and abused me.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
– Matthew 6:14 NIV

There have been many people who didn’t believe that I forgave, or who tried to minimize my testimony. One counselor even said, “I believe you believe you forgave.” They were trying to qualify my testimony of forgiveness, making it an act of self-will, or psychological denial of my true anger and hurt. After several months of meeting, sharing, talking, and praying. I walked into the office one afternoon and the counselor, with tears in her eyes, looked at me and said, “Mark, you truly have forgiven those who hurt you.” Then she confessed, in all her years of practice, she had never met anyone who had the freedom and healing that came from complete forgiveness. That day the counselor realized forgiveness did not come by my might or power, but from the Lord.

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.
– Zechariah 4:6 NIV

Weight Loss

My whole life I have struggled with my weight. I have been called heavyset, husky, chunky, and big-boned. I think there are a lot of reasons for that struggle. While genetics play a part, so do unhealthy habits. What was my biggest reason? I just did not care. Food was my safe place. Though my body hurt, and my health was poor, and as much as I loved my family and God, I would not let go of my unhealthy habits. I found comfort in my struggle, until the healing came.

People struggle with many different things, but for people who struggle with their weight, it is a struggle you can’t hide. Culture, neighbors, sometimes even friends and family judge a person who is overweight. People assume they are lazy, unkempt, and don’t care about themselves. There are reasons and excuses for their struggle, just like anyone who wrestles with other unhealthy choices.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
– Ephesians 6:12 NIV

For me, food always accepted me, was kind to me, and never rejected me. It was my friend. When I was hurting and my insecurities surfaced, I would punish myself with food. When I had a good day and was proud of myself, I would reward myself with food. Like any other vice, it lies to you, hurts you, and steals your hope. It promises you comfort and acceptance but can’t deliver on that promise.

Ever since my early 30s, I have put myself on all kinds of diets, just like many others who wrestle with weight. Yo-yo dieting, winning some days and losing most days, was just another pain that reminded me that I was not good enough. I confessed, proclaimed, believed, and tried, but the abuse of my youth, the fears of my past, the disappointments of my life were so familiar they easily crept into my spirit and deceived me. When I did well, I was on a mountaintop, but when I did poorly, I was in a deep valley. My value was being dictated by a number on a scale. I was again in a struggle that would not only drag me back to my weakness and insecurity, but also to my old familiar friend, food. At the end of 2019, I was tired of being unhealthy, overweight, and hurting. I just wanted to get thinner. I decided to go on another weight loss program, as I had many times before. I prayed and asked the Lord to help me.

Unbeknownst to me, this time, the journey led me much deeper. It was not just about losing weight, but the reason why I was heavy and unhealthy. It helped me to understand why I found comfort in food. I had let the weight cover me, hiding the pain of what was inside. The journey would deal with the rape and molestation of my childhood. God truly opened His Word to me.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
– 1 John 4:4 NIV

Again, I wish I could say the pain, hurt, and fear went away. It did not. What happened? God became bigger and stronger in my life. My confession was clearer, my faith deeper, and God’s love was so much larger and greater in me than ever before. I began to love God with all that was within me. As a result, I started to love myself, because God loves me. I want to take care of myself, eat right, and exercise. I really wished a miracle had happened that night, but I did not go to bed heavy and wake up thin.

I realized the weight loss was just an expression of the deeper healing that took place in my heart, life, soul, and spirit. I have no visions of grandeur. This journey is one I need to continue every day. There will be days I do well and days I do poorly. No matter the number on the scale, no matter how I feel on a particular day or moment, I will build my life on the promise, love, and hope of God. I pray daily, asking God to remind me that my hope and peace is found in Him, my Savior. As of today, I have lost over 160 pounds, but it is only a number.

God loved me enough that He allowed me to go through the struggle, the fight, and the battle where I learned to go deeper and lean heavier on Him. He gave me the discipline and strength to lose the weight and fight the good fight. For the first time, I felt it was OK for me to be genuinely happy. I am happy getting healthier. I run and do push-ups every day. I am looking forward to running a 5k. I enjoy hiking and being outside, admiring God’s amazing creation. His sanctuary is framed by pines, surrounded in granite, and refreshed with deep blue lakes and waterfalls that sing their praise to the Lord.

I am happy as I look at all the beautiful things He has created, and I am one of them. I am happy with me.

Order your copy of Forgiving the Nightmare by Mark Sowersby