As we approach the end of 2020, many of us will formulate new year resolutions. An overabundance of these will relate to our physical improvement. Although our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, let’s also take a serious look at improving our inner Being as well.
The following experience, as related by my friend Timothy W. Ehrlich in his book The Long Road to Eternity, shows us how important it is to God that we forgive others and the joy it will give us to do so.
On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. (Acts 2:2-3)
I flew back to New York practically not needing a plane: the vows we exchanged on the Peak went through my head again and again. I felt that we were truly married in the eyes of God, if not in the laws of man. I was so head over heels in love with Anna; she was so incredibly beautiful, so intelligent, and so talented. I was amazed that her talents as a banker were getting us both over to Hong Kong, to live in a huge apartment paid for by her bank. I began working extra hours as a bartender in addition to being the bouncer, so I could save up some extra money for the move.
Bartenders got a lot of quarters in tips in those days, and I saved the quarters I got from tips to use in the Schooner’s payphone (this being the era before cell phones when almost every business had a coin operated payphone). It cost $12 for an initial few minutes to call Hong Kong, and a dollar or two every minute after that. I accumulated enough quarters to speak with her every few days.
One morning in August I called Anna at 10 a.m. my time, 10 p.m. her time; twelve dollars in quarters into the pay phone. There was no answer when I knew she should be home. The same thing happened the next morning when I called. Finally, the third day I reached her. Somehow, I knew what she was going to tell me, but it was still a shock to hear it: “I have decided I don’t want to be married to you.” I was stunned. I managed to ask why. She said, “I don’t want to be married to anybody right now, the opportunity here is too big and the job is too demanding, and I don’t want to be married.” I asked, “Is that it? Are we done? You are breaking up with me for good?” She said, “We can still be friends, I’m sorry if I hurt you but I need to do what is best for me.” She said she would be staying in Hong Kong for at least the next three years.
I literally felt like she had died. The breakup was as sudden and terrible as a fatal car crash, but even a little worse, in that she had chosen it. This was a rejection with no second chances; her declaration that she was staying in Hong Kong for the next three years meant that realistically I would probably never see her again. We had been together two years, but in two minutes I had gone from a head-over-heels in love guy about to get married, to a head-over-heels in love guy, whose love had been rejected and whose lover was 12,000 miles away and never coming back.
I said goodbye to Anna believing it was the last time I would ever speak with her and went upstairs to my room in the attic of the Schooner, to lay down on my bed. It was the lowest moment of my entire life. I was in the greatest emotional pain I have ever experienced. It was all at the same time a sudden and unexpected death of a two-year relationship, a rejection of my love, and a cancellation of my plans for a fantastic future life in Hong Kong. I was a mess; tons of negative emotions swept over me. The one constant emotion was pain; I felt like I was in a world of pain that I could not escape; everywhere I looked all I could see was more darkness and pain. I began to pray to ask God to help me with my pain.
Getting the Heart Right With God
In several instances when I was in emotional pain, God had pretty quickly answered my prayers, but not this time. For an hour I lay on my bed praying for relief from the pain of my broken heart, but after an hour I felt no better. I was surprised; usually I can count on feeling better after an hour of prayer, but I was absolutely no better off. I prayed, “God, I have been praying for an hour and I feel no better. I don’t understand why you haven’t answered me, never-the-less, I trust in you.” Instantly, I could hear these words from the Lord’s Prayer echo in my head;
“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…’ for if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your father in heaven forgive you for yours.”
This was not God speaking but it was God calling to my attention the thing that was blocking out His Holy Spirit from giving me the help I needed. For years I had been neglecting forgiving others.
Hearing the words of the Lord’s prayer and Jesus’ explanation at the end of the prayer in the context of my current situation, made me realize my hypocrisy; here I was asking God for help, yet I had not obeyed one of the central teachings of Jesus – a teaching that I repeated in the Lord’s prayer almost every day for last five years: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In that moment I suddenly realized that there were many people, at least a dozen I had not forgiven, and against whom I was currently holding a grudge or otherwise was still angry at. In my mind I began to see the face after face of the people I had not forgiven. So, I set about forgiving each one.
One at a time I pictured the face of every person I was holding a grudge against. I was either deeply hurt by that person, or still very angry at that them and had not forgiven them.
I started with Anna and there were many things I was angry with or hurt by or both. Picturing Anna I thought about all the reasons why I was still angry at her. I thought of everything I thought she had done to me that I thought was wrong, and then I gave my hurt and my anger up to God by actually saying the words in my head, “God I am really angry at Anna for…., so I am letting go of that anger and giving it to you. Please take this burden from me.” Then I would think of the next thing I was angry about or hurt by that she had done, and I repeated that formula until I had forgiven her for every single thing I was hurt, sad or angry about. Then I thanked God and moved to the next person.
It was not as easy to forgive Anna as I just made it sound. Before moving on from one hurt to the next, I first would pause and try to feel in my heart if I had truly forgiven her for whatever it was and if I had truly let go of it, or if I still felt anger or hurt when I thought of it. Most of the time on my first try the forgiveness I was saying in my mind didn’t make it down into my heart. Did you know you can forgive someone with sincere effort but not have your forgiveness of that person make the trip between your mind (where you have decided to forgive the person) and your heart where the pain is?
I was not going to settle for that; some of the things I was so hurt by or angry about that I would have to go back and repeat the whole process three or four times until I could truly feel in my heart that I had forgiven her and truly had let go of it.
After I had truly forgiven Anna completely, I repeated that same process for every person I could think of that I was still angry at or hurt by. God helped me bring them to mind. I would say, I forgive you John or Jane or whatever that person’s name was. Then I would see how I was feeling in my heart. If I could feel in my heart that I had truly forgiven the person I would smile and go on to the next person. If I did not feel full forgiveness for that person in my heart I would start at the beginning with that person and go frame by frame picturing in my mind the event or events I was angry about or hurt by and forgiving and giving it up to God until I could feel peace in my heart towards that person.
Anna was the hardest to forgive, after forgiving her the others were easier; but it still took a long time because there were so many people I had not forgiven. The next up was the guy who pushed a chair into me in Sunday school and broke one of my front teeth when I was 12. I forgave him. Next was the across-the-street neighbor from my childhood home who I detested for regularly punishing his two children, my friends Lori and Skipper, with his thick leather belt; I forgave him. There were a few people in the Marine Corps I thought of with anger, so I forgave each of them. I was surprised at how many people I was carrying bad feelings in my heart towards.
It took about an hour but finally I had dredged up every bit of buried anger and resentment I was holding onto against every person I could think of until I had forgiven every person attached to each of those memories.
I lay there on the bed feeling drained but so much lighter, realizing how heavy unresolved anger and hurt are when you carry them around! I said, “Wow, I did it! I forgave them all!” I set down a huge burden I had been carrying in some cases for over a dozen years. The pain of losing Anna was still there, but I had forgiven her entirely. Even though I was still heartbroken, I felt I had really accomplished something very good and memorable:
Finishing all that forgiveness, my heart was right with God, and I didn’t know it but that was what God was waiting for. I said to God in prayer, “Well Father, I have forgiven everyone, but I still feel such pain.” Immediately I heard the wind begin to blow above the roof. The noise of the blowing wind increased getting louder and louder until it was roaring.
The Holy Spirit Descends
I was lying on my bed on my back looking up at the ceiling. The ceiling in my attic room was the underside of the roof and looked pretty flimsy compared to the volume of wind so, I was deeply afraid that the roof was going to blow off. Suddenly, in an instant the wind completely died, and the room became silent. At that same moment, a golden, glowing, translucent, shimmering substance started coming down through the roof across the whole ceiling.
It came into the room kind of like a flat cloud descending slowly across the whole attic at once. As the edge of the golden substance was slowly coming down towards me, I could see the roof beams and nails through it. Feeling no fear, I was amazed as the edge of the beautiful golden, shimmering substance moving steadily downwards passed over me as it moved down to the floor; and then the whole attic was filled with it, ceiling to floor and wall to wall, but I could still see through it.
As the front edge passed over me, I was filled with complete joy and peace. I realized – this is the Holy Spirit! I could feel it passing through me and staying in me. Then I was shocked and amazed as I realized I wasn’t in pain. I thought, “Where is the pain?!!” Just seconds before I had been in the worst emotional pain of my life, I felt like the whole world was pain and darkness and my heart was broken. Now I realized there was still a little pain, but it had shrunken to what felt like the size of a golf ball. It was amazing that the pain now seemed tiny compared to the amazing joy!
As soon as I realized that my pain was all but gone, the golden shimmering substance started to rise back up from the floor. I did not want it to leave, but at the same speed it came down into the room it now went back up passing my bed, then above me and slowly rose right up through the ceiling and was gone. The wind immediately began to blow loudly again for a few seconds, then it faded way and there was silence again. I found myself grinning from ear to ear.
I lay there staring at the ceiling for quite a few minutes enjoying the wonderful feelings sweeping over me: relief from the pain of loss, lightness from all the forgiveness, and joy from what I had just experienced: hearing, seeing and being immersed in the Holy Spirit.
I sat up at the foot of my bed grinning and looked out the little attic window facing towards the ferry dock. I remember thinking, “Now what should I do?” What do you do at a moment like that? I was kind of in shock, I felt overpowering happiness, I could not stop smiling; I was trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I had just experienced the Holy Spirit coming to me to wipe away my pain. People go into shock from being suddenly wounded or injured so I suppose it is not surprising to go into shock from being suddenly healed.
I got up still in shock, went outside and walked over the ferry dock next-door to try and find someone to talk to. I was so happy and hoped to find a Christian person to share what just happened to me with but there was no one. Never-the-less, for three whole days afterwards I could not stop smiling.
I have had many wonderful spiritual and secular experiences in my life, but this was the best; that moment has given me strength for the rest of my life. It was years later before learning enough to realize that God had given me my own personal Pentecost: I heard the loud wind then something that kind of looked like tongues of flame descended, and I was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Though emotionally destroyed when Anna broke up with me, I now know what a good thing it was. It took years to fully realize what an unhealthy place I was in at that time both spiritually and emotionally. Before she broke up with me, I was unbalanced spiritually in that I loved Anna more than I loved God. I know now that it is a form of idolatry to love a person more that you love God, but at the time it was great fun to feel that much love for someone – it was intoxicating.
When you love a person more than you love God it creates an emotional problem as well. A human being is not God; therefore, neither is any person (other than Jesus) worthy of worship. If you love a person more than you love God what you are doing is loving the creation more than the creator, and that is suspending reason and logic to such a degree as to make you emotionally unbalanced. I was so attached to Anna emotionally that when she distanced herself from me, my emotional attachment pulled and dragged me over and I fell flat on my face.
God’s number one commandment by volume in the Bible is not as you might think it would be: to love God, or to obey God. The most commonly given commandment is – the first of the ten commandments:
“I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. “You must not have any other god but me.(Exodus 20:2-3)
So, God used Anna breaking up with me, the worst pain I ever experienced, to help me rebalance myself spiritually and emotionally, and at the same time giving me the best spiritual experience of my life. That day I put God in the place in my heart where He should have been, and He has remained first in my heart ever since. To this day I thank God every day for giving me my own Pentecost experience, hearing and seeing and feeling the Holy Spirit.
The culmination of Tim and Anna’s relationship will be revealed in a future post.
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