She sat on the stage and told a tale of heartbreak—indescribable, unfathomable heartbreak.
She talked about how she grew up in a home where insults and fists were a form of communication. Six kids grew up in this environment, all affected in horrible ways. This woman’s brother used heroin as a copping mechanism. He escaped his torment by drowning himself in the haze of that drug.
During one of his drug binges, this woman awoke to find her brother standing at the end of her bed. In her words, “He hurt me in the worst way.” This vulgar act was her final straw, and at the age of 16 she left her home to live on her own.
She talked of how she lived her life by trying to destroy it. Feelings of revenge, rage, self-loathing were her constant companions and weights around her neck. She said that she hated herself so much that she covered all the mirrors in her home with towels.
She lived her life in her own haze of alcohol and boys. She hopped from one bed to another seeking out the love and acceptance that she craved from her family. During this time she came in to contact with a faith group that walked with her through her pain and eventually helped bring her to a point of forgiveness.
She said that it was a process that took many years. And when she finally arrived at forgiveness, she realized that for her she had to have closure. And that closure came in the form of contact her brother and telling him that she forgave him.
So that’s what she did. She called him and talked about that night. She said to him, “I forgive you”. She said that he went silent and then quietly said thank you. Never before had they talked about the event of that night but in that one conversation she said she found a freedom previously not known. In that moment she found freedom.
There is power in that word.
There is power found in the ability to release a hurt.
There is freedom.
Think about what that word means for a minute. Forgiveness does not mean that there are no consequences. It doesn’t mean that you have to forget to forgive and it doesn’t mean that you have to allow someone total access back in your life. Forgiveness is none of these things.
In my own life I have found that real forgiveness takes time and patience. Sure small grievances are easy to let go of, but those big ones . . . those are a different story.
Let me share with you something that happened in my life.
Someone in my life that I love dearly was at one time in an abusive relationship. I am not a violent person but because of my inability to let go or to forgive it took me to a dark place. Even though I wasn’t the one abused I began to feel an intense hatred for the abuser.
I love this person very much and I couldn’t stand the image of them being hurt or scared and because I wasn’t there before I decided that I wouldn’t let the abuser hurt my friend again. So I thought about it and thought about it . . . meditated on it. Day and night I stewed in my own hatred for this person and that hatred quickly began to grow darker and deeper in my heart. It soon consumed my life and I started to plot and plan how I could attack this person. I wanted them to feel every emotion and hurt that they dealt out. I conceived ways to hurt the abuser and eventually came to the point of wanting to just murder them.
Unforgiveness took me to the darkest moments of my life. All because I loved my friend and I could not get past their pain.
I eventually realized that my hatred had affected my life and personality.
I was changing.
And I didn’t like who I was changing into. My wife and I talked through these thoughts and emotions. And I began the slow climb out of my anger.
It came to a head when I saw the abuser face to face. I worked in retail at the time and this person came into my store and asked me a question. They knew who I was and they also knew what they were doing.
I had a choice to make. Do I enact my plan for vengeance or do I forgive? I had only seconds to decide.
In that moment my heart changed and I saw them for who they really were. I saw them not as this horrible monster but as someone who was weak and not worth the energy I expended on them. My act of forgiveness came in the form of me walking away from them and going into the breakroom.
After that day, I stopped thinking about him as much and one day I realized that I hadn’t thought about him for quite some time.
Being able to forgive isn’t an abstract thought or some nursery rhyme concept for kids. It’s a very real and tangible thing; something that is beautiful when lived out in life. And it’s something your kids must see in your life.
If you can’t forgive then your kids won’t either. And during my time of working with families I can say that not forgiving may be the single biggest detriment to a student’s life. The inability to forgive can lead to all kinds of long term pain, whether that pain is swallowed and not seen or lived out in their life.
To allow your kids to see you struggle with your pain and then come to the point of forgiveness is a picture painted that’s worth more than all the conversations or lectures in the world. If you are able to model forgiveness in your life your child will too.
To be able to forgive to is to live a life of freedom, free of the prison of hatred and revenge. To model forgiveness for your child will allow them to live differently from the crowd. It will give them the opportunity to live free of the shackles that can and will destroy who they were meant to be.