In a sermon series titled “Reply All,” a pastor answered the second-most popular question submitted by members of his church: “What does the Bible say about something so traumatic that I don’t know how to let go and move on? How do I let go of the past?”
He told them it’s a process characterized by four words: forgive, mourn, grow and hope.
“It starts with a decision. It starts with a word. It starts with a journey. It starts with a battle. It looks a lot like forgiveness,” Jonathan Wiggins told Rez.Church. It’s a message he’s shared around the world.
“I know a little something about this. My father was physically (and verbally) abusive. I left home at 16 and lived with a family the rest of my high school year and, in college, with a different (family) unrelated to us,” said 43-year-old Wiggins.
Long shorts and sleeves covered up bruises on his body. Fearing his dad, he stayed outside all day long by himself or played with friends to avoid going inside the family home.
“This is embarrassing but we’re talking about moving forward.
“I was scared to come inside so, sometimes, I would use the bathroom on myself and stink. When my dad would smell me, he became very angry and would beat me like an animal,” he said.
During a physical examination, his dad told the doctor his son used the bathroom on himself. Without understanding the situation at home, the doctor recommended discipline.
“So the next time it happened, I came into the house and my dad smelled me. He said, ‘go into the bathroom.’ He brought in a metal chair, unfolded it and said, ‘I want you to put your underwear on the seat and get on your knees.’
“So I got on my knees, and he pushed my face in my own waste. He said, ‘that’s how people treat their dogs.’”
That scenario repeated several times. One day, riding with a friend and his father in a car, the three witnessed a man beating a dog. The father was angry and incredulous that a man would beat his dog.
“I remember thinking if it’s wrong to treat a dog that way, then surely it’s wrong to treat me that way,” Wiggins said.
At 15, he ran away from his Louisiana home. When his father found him, he was beaten again on the car ride home. Fearing what would happen later, he asked if they could stop to visit a family friend, Miss Molly.
“Probably the biggest miracle I’ve ever witnessed in person – my dad actually said yes. To this day, I don’t know why,” Wiggins said.
He told her about the abuse, despite nodding disapproval from his dad.
For her intervention, Molly Hartrick, a respected, licensed family counselor – and Wiggins’ hero – won the Louisiana Angel Award in 2002 for her advocacy on behalf of at-risk youth and, specifically, 15-year-old Jonathan.
After he was removed from the home and placed with a family, Hartrick offered Wiggins a year of free counseling.
“She said, ‘I want better for you than being the same or the opposite of your father. I want you to be the person God created you to be.’
“I broke and I’m crying ‘how do I do that?’
“She said ‘forgive…it’s the only way.’”
In his sermon, Wiggins illustrated the third step in the process of letting go – growth – using the life cycle of a lobster. Watch the video where he unpacks what growth looks like for followers of Jesus beginning at the 29:30 mark and continuing to 30:48.