The gift of forgiveness

It is rare that I am home watching TV on a Friday night (we are firm believers in trying to kick off the weekend with a diversion), but last night I found myself watching Dateline for the first time in a year. The program was depressing, but I was caught up in the report within minutes. It was about a man and woman (brother and sister) who, as teenagers in 1979, were the victims of a home invasion. Their father was a prominent Oklahoma minister and he and their mother were both senselessly murdered in the random attack. The children both survived, although they were critically wounded. The Dateline report was about this man's and woman's journeys since that horrible event -- the agony of the murderers' trials and multiple court appeals, the failed relationships they experienced, and how they eventually began to heal and were able to move forward. While the experience will obviously impact them the rest of their lives, the real focus of the story became the young man's ability to forgive the person who pulled the trigger that horrendous night. A lot of the questions to him centered around, "how could you possibly forgive someone who did that?"

What struck me in all the questions and answers about forgiveness was that no one ever mentioned that forgiveness does not mean condoning the hurtful action that occurred. When I was trained by the Grief Recovery Institute as a group facilitator, that point was one that hit me hard. I had never thought of it that way. The Institute's philosophy is that forgiveness really means, "I am not going to let this hurt me anymore." By looking at it that way, it gives at least a minuscule piece of responsibility (and control) to the person who feels they have been wronged. It becomes their decision as to how they want to move forward.

I was very angry at a certain individual caregiver who failed us when Kathleen died. I could not have been convinced at the time that there was any way I could forgive him. When I started to look at forgiveness as setting myself free rather than letting him totally off the hook, I was better able to let go and move on.

If you find yourself angry and unable to forgive someone, I hope that you give this some thought, because you might find that it is helpful. No one deserves to live their life filled with anger, and I certainly believe that Kathleen would not have wanted her death to result in that for me.