It was my senior year of college, and I was one month into my walk with God. I had a fresh sense of awe and gratitude tangled with curiosity. I retreated to a coffee shop where I snuggled into some pillows on a stoop in front of a large window. Next to me was my mug of steaming coffee, colorful pens, journal, and new study Bible. I was ready to settle into spending time with Jesus.
As I read and journaled, I sensed the word “forgive” coming up. I became curious. Why had this word surfaced? As I continued, I sensed it again, but this time it was connected to my story and the pain around my relationship with my adoptive parents. I felt so confused. I had no idea why I sensed the Lord asking me to move toward forgiveness with my adoptive parents, as I felt the knot of ambivalence in my gut, knowing the Lord knew all of my story and what I survived in my childhood home. Since my faith was so fresh, I felt the tug of wanting to lean in, listen, and learn, but also the betrayal of being deeply wronged. I wondered about the road God was inviting me to travel.
I had no idea how to start down the road of forgiveness, so I simply looked up the word in my thick study Bible to seek understanding of what it meant. To my surprise, the concordance held over 100 references to forgive, forgave, forgiveness, and forgiven! I jumped right in with wild curiosity and hunted down every reference. As I flipped the thin, fragile pages of my Bible, I took my markers and wrote out each verse, learned about the context of each verse, and then asked the Lord, “What do you want to say to me through this verse?”
This treasure hunt took many months to complete. During this season of discovery, I also read a book about forgiveness and asked others around me what the word meant to them. When I approached a year since beginning the journey, I came to a surprising realization: “If God has forgiven me of all my wrongs, who am I to withhold forgiveness of others who have wronged me?” It was a realization that brought me to a grounded humility. As much as I thought this road to forgiveness was outwardly focused, it actually brought me to a deeper awareness of how much I have been forgiven.
After I finished my quest of discovery, I wrote a letter to my adoptive parents and shared the truth (that I was aware of at that point in my life) and named the forgiveness that I had experienced and was now offering to them. I took that letter and burned it on the same beach where I began following Jesus just a year prior. It felt good to burn it and let it go.
Over the past ten years, I have come to understand and name more of the pain in my childhood. As I do this lifelong work and continue to tell the truth of my story, I seek to maintain a posture of humility, knowing how much I have been forgiven. This propels me to bring the wrongs of my adoptive parents before the throne of God, extending them deeper forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a road that is less traveled. It is not easy, quick, or painless.
This past March I wrote a new letter to my adoptive parents, whom I haven’t been in relationship with since I was disowned at 18. It was time. I sent it in the mail with very little expectation of a reply, and I received none. Here is a short excerpt:
“There was no love, no kindness, and no grace in my childhood home. I do not understand why things were the way they were or what happened, but I have reached a point where I don’t need answers to these questions anymore. I forgive you. I continue to forgive you. I want good for you and for you to experience healing. I want you to run to Him and know that His love, grace, and mercy is just as much for you as it is for me.”
Whether it is something big or something small, there is a cost to holding onto resentment and a grip that keeps you from freedom. However, there is great peace for the soul who understands what it means to be forgiven and extends this forgiveness to those who have wronged her.
Sandhya Oaks is a passionate speaker, advocate, writer and reconciliation leader. Born in India, and adopted as a Transracial Adoptee in Wisconsin, Sandhya is now based out of the Minneapolis Area. She has served for more than 12 years in campus ministry with Cru. Sandhya works with the Lenses Institute and is also the Co-Founder of The Adoption Triad, a social media platform to connect, teach, and resource individuals connected through adoption and foster care. She is deeply passionate about helping people experience the fullness of life through story work. Sandhya is fiercely committed to developing the next generation of leaders, racial reconciliation, and discipleship.