“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
If you’re looking for motivation to add more forgiveness to your life, look no further than the amazing families of Sandy Hook school shooting victims. I am blown away by their grace and courage to respond to horror with humanity.
Forgiveness is never easy for any of us. After all, the very notion of forgiveness goes against the grain of fairness. The world can be a harsh and unkind place, and people commit all sorts of atrocities. If we operated according to just desserts, it wouldn’t be hard to find reasons to rage; everything from minor mis-communications to massive injustices would keep us busy settling scores and burning bridges all over the place. Forgiveness is THE most radical choice of all. Deciding to let go, erase wrongs, even turn around and wish your detractors and haters well, is counter cultural, counter intuitive, counter competitive. And yet the rewards for making this choice are profound; better health, a longer life, peace of mind, and knowing that you’ve been part of remaking the world a little in the image of kindness.
All of my petty grievances fade into nothing when I think about what the Sandy Hook families went through. Their courageous stories should be told everywhere and often as an inspiration to all of us. Here are just some of the stories that have moved me beyond words.
Robbie Parker’s six year old daughter Emilie was one of the twenty children killed at Sandy Hook. A day later, when he could be forgiven for crawling into a dark hole and thinking evil, vengeful thoughts, he gave a press conference where he actually wished the shooter’s family well. Instead of hate, he sent a message of love and forgiveness. He said to the Lanza family,
I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you. I’m not mad.
A month after the shooting, the Parkers met with the father of Adam Lanza. They said they weren’t angry with him, but did hold him partly accountable for the massacre. This is an important point. Forgiveness doesn’t remove another person’s culpability. You don’t have to trust or become friends in order to forgive a person who has wronged you. Forgiveness is the choice to add love rather than hate to the situation, and move on without waiting for the other person to give account for their wrongs. Robbie Parker modeled forgiveness in the most extreme way; forgiving the unthinkable.
Then there was Scarlett Lewis whose six year old son Jesse left three words on their family chalk board a few days before he was killed at school. The words were “Norturing, helin, love.” These aren’t the sort of words you expect from a six year old boy. It was as if he knew something was going to happen. As his mom said,
I feel he was sending us a message of comfort as well as inspiration on how to live our lives with him gone.
A third story comes from Francine and David Wheeler who lost their six year old son Ben at Sandy Hook. They had some reasons to keep Ben home from school that day, but decided against it. Then they had to live with self blame, as well as the sinking grief. On the morning of the shooting, Ben asked his mum out of the blue, “What is forgiveness?” She answered and thought little of it, as they rushed out the door. But you can imagine how that question stuck for Francine as she came to terms with her loss.
Life is so precarious for all of us. It’s only a thin line of fate or circumstance that separates those touched by tragedy and the rest of us. And all of us have to come to terms with living in a world that offers no certainties, a world where we leave home in the morning or send our kids off, without guarantees that they will be safe.
We have to learn to forgive BEFORE we even leave the house in the morning. Maybe Ben Wheeler knew that. Maybe Jesse Lewis knew that. Maybe kids are closer to remembering it because they aren’t yet socialized into a fairness mentality.
Learn to forgive. Do it for yourself. Do it because people who have more reason than you to be hard and closed have found the courage to forgive. Do it for the victims of Sandy Hook, so that their deaths can be part of a catalyst for deep seated change in the consciousness of the world.
Forgiveness is the toughest thing you ever do, and it changes everything. It takes more strength than vengeance, requires more self awareness than bitterness, and demands more self compassion than anything else you ever do. But it liberates you to really live in the present moment and not in a bitter past.
Just to clarify, forgiveness is not:
Condoning bad behavior. Its a choice to move on, without bitterness, with or without an apology.
Passive and weak. Only the strongest people can practice forgiveness. When you forgive, you might still set very clear and firm boundaries on your contact with someone. No one should passively allow abusive behavior to continue. With forgiveness, you can set your boundaries with a sense of peace and separate your own life from the fate of the abuser.
Denial. Feelings of anger and sadness should be deeply felt, expressed to yourself and others, maybe even to perpetrators. Forgiveness is intimately related to acceptance. Accept yourself, accept your past, accept whats happened in the past. Just don’t let past events frame your future or control your present.
A one time event. We forgive like walking up a spiral staircase. You can’t even see some of the steps ahead, or know how you will make it. But you take a step at a time, and with each step you see a higher perspective on the way forgiveness opens up your life. If you can’t fully forgive someone, forgive them part way, and let that be a step in the right direction.
Forgiveness IS an act of liberation. It separates you from the perpetrator. It frees you from the past, and any negative energy that you hold within yourself, about yourself, towards another, towards life. You aren’t giving up power when you forgive. You are reclaiming power.
I’m SO fired up about forgiveness at the moment. I have my own demons to deal with, most of them trivial in the scheme of things. And I’m determined to leave them behind. I want to live in a world where forgiveness is the new standard, and I want to spend time with others who value forgiveness.
Steve Maraboli said,
The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.
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