How do you gain victory over something like unforgiveness? A step at a time.

My mom told me about a painful experience she and my dad had during their early years in pastoral ministry. They were building a new facility at their church and—as is so common—tensions between the church leadership and the church laity grew as the building costs escalated, and the project threatened to soar out of hand. During that season, many people left the church (and many more came, too, because of all the excitement). Whenever someone leaves a church it hurts the pastor. Sometimes more and sometimes less, but it always hurts. Maybe it shouldn’t. But it always does.

Some of the folks who left were Mom and Dad’s closest friends. In fact, all of their friends left. The church grew, and many people came to faith in Christ, but my parents were left alone, hurting, and bewildered as to their abandonment. To make matters worse, the reason their friends left was some uncertainty about my father’s character. I can tell you honestly that my dad is the single most godly man I’ve ever met, but they didn’t know that. They only had suspicions and rumors to go on, and go they did.

My folks were not only isolated, but also besmirched. And not just by enemies, but by their allies.

Mom says she was full of hate. She couldn’t figure out why they had been so abused. And they still had to see their old friends at social events and around town. They tried to avoid the same grocery stores and shopping centers and restaurants, and they were mostly successful, until—finally—they had to go to a wedding where all these people would be.

En route to the wedding, God spoke to my mom, and told her to walk up to the ringleader of the dissenters and throw her arms around him. She was instructed to remember the good times, before all the drama, and tell this man she loved him. She told my dad what God had spoken into her spirit, and Dad encouraged her to follow through on it. Dad wasn’t excited about the prospect of any kind of confrontation, but he had enough faith to believe God knew what he was doing.

They got to the wedding and, sure enough, all my folks’ old friends were huddled together laughing at the reception. Mom went right up into the middle of them and hugged that man for all he was worth, saying “I love you.”

He was totally taken aback, but composed himself quickly. He returned Mom’s hug and replied, “Glenda—I love you, too.”

Mom says in that moment all the evil went out of her. It was like an exorcism. In an instant, she had been given supernatural victory over her hurt and her inability to forgive. Those folks never came back to our church, but that’s not the point. The point, in Mom’s words, is that “my hatred was hurting me—they didn’t have a thing to do with it. And when it was over? I could have done the happy dance.”

Mom wouldn’t have had that experience without first being obedient to God. If she had refused to hug that man and tell him she loved him (do I even need to point out it was plutonic?), then she may have had to work through those issues for much, much longer. But that’s how it works: you take a step, and then God meets you. He doesn’t show you the whole way forward, just the next step.

In Genesis 12:1, God spoke to Abraham and told him to leave the land of his fathers and “go to the land I will show you.” Abraham must have wondered, Which land? But God didn’t tell him. He just told Abraham to take a step.

You take a step of faith. And then God takes a step to meet you. If you don’t take your step—your step of obedience—he waits a long, long time to take his. Because he wants the two of you to journey together.

How do you get over something like unforgiveness? A step at a time. But not alone. And not without any promise of recovery or reward. And not without some confidence that God is going to greet you. You have to take the next step, but he takes the one right after.

In the end, we are condemned to victory.