Monday Musings…. Forgiving Those You’d Rather Not
In 2007, Barbara Mangi’s 25-year-old daughter, Dana, was murdered by her college friend, Patrick Ford in his apartment, just weeks before she was to start veterinary school. At his sentencing, in 2010, Mangi thanked Ford for his apology, and since 2014, has actually kept corresponding with him. This may appear to defy human logic, and may even go against what you would consider a ‘normal’ emotional response to such an atrocity, but somehow Barbara Mangi managed to forgive.
A few weeks back, I talked about the difficult task of examining your choices and the ensuing consequences, and letting go of the pain, the guilt, and the shame through forgiveness. But what if the resentment of your current state isn’t due to your choice, but rather someone else’s? How do you forgive, then?
We often portray forgiveness as the act of reconciliation or making amends. One person wrongs another, the offender apologizes for their actions, and the victim extends forgiveness. That’s transactional forgiveness. And that’s what happened in the above scenario between Barbara Mangi and Patrick Ford. You may have even experienced that in your own life when you were younger and worked through sibling rivalries, or even as an adult with misunderstandings in your own relationships. Forgiveness can happen and relationships can be restored.
But you have to admit that Barbara’s example seems extreme. How is it possible for her to get to the point where she could forgive the murderer of her own child? Could you?
Before we delve deeper into forgiveness, let’s pause for a moment and realize what forgiveness is NOT.
Forgiveness is not:
· excusing the other person’s actions. They did what they did.
· having zero feelings about the situation. You are very much still grieving.
· forgetting what happened. Your memories are pretty salient.
All of the above still remain true and valid.
Now let’s go back to Barbara. In her book, Reawakening: Return of Lightness and Peace after My Daughter’s Murder, Barbara acknowledges that in the aftermath of her daughter’s death, she struggled to get through every minute of the day. She harboured deep resentment and fear, especially if Ford was not convicted and allowed to roam free. When she saw he had no remorse through the proceedings, this caused further anger and confusion. But, when Ford confessed at his sentencing, and, of his own volition, acknowledged the family’s pain, and what he had taken from them, a change took place in Barbara’s mind and heart. She says that she believed at that moment her daughter was telling her to let go. And that transformation marked the beginning of her path to healing through forgiveness.
I want you to think of your own situations, where forgiveness towards another has been a struggle. Just like Barbara, you may be thinking of what could have been. You instinctively blame someone else for the life you didn’t have, or don’t have now. And it’s hard to let go of painful memories especially when the person may or may not have acknowledged what they have done. As Barbara tried to make sense of Ford’s actions, she came to understand that everyone carries their own pain around with them, which influences the decisions they make. This in no way justifies a person’s actions, but for Barbara, and maybe for you, it can make it easier to understand what the person did.
It’s difficult to go through each day, dragging unforgiveness along with you. It’s the ultimate resistance that holds you back from progressing in life. But, somehow it feels like a duty to uphold, with a misconception that by withholding forgiveness, you are punishing the other person. But that bitterness, resentment, and vengeance is all-consuming, and you become a shadow of who you’re truly supposed to be. It takes a lot of energy to remain in that place of pain. And, let’s be honest, it can last for years. And you wonder why you’re exhausted?
Forgiveness is the only thing that will restore your energy and bring peace to your mind and soul. To be free from those grievances, judgments, and memories of past hurts, that you've been carrying with you for some time, can only come when you forgive.
So, how can you forgive when you’ve been hurt so deeply?
The first thing is to realize that by hanging onto that pain, you're giving that other person your power. Erase from your mind the thought that forgiveness means absolution from their ‘crimes’. They are guilty of whatever offense they did against you, and there will be consequences for them, whether in this life or the next. For them to see you miserable may actually have been part of their plan. By becoming a prisoner of your pain, you’re punishing yourself, not them. Think of the headaches, anxiety, sleepless nights that you’ve had to endure. Your power was sabotaged. Instead, turn the tables and take back the power. They won’t know what to think if they hear you are happy, confident, and thriving. They may have stolen your faith in the kindness of the human race for a moment, but not for your lifetime. No, you are better than them, and your release of the grievances you held, will prove that!
The second thing is to stop dwelling on the offense. You can’t go back in time. While the following statement is overused in our culture, it is true that “it is, what it is”. You have to give up the hope of a better past. It is done. What you achieve through forgiveness is the hope of an improved future! You can decide what happens today in your relationships or in your career path, and that will determine the success of your tomorrow.
Thirdly, forgiveness is more for your peace of mind, than their benefit. You hope that they will see the value in restoring relationship and acknowledging the hurt, but sometimes that's not always possible. They may be blinded to their flaws, they maybe stubborn, or they may even have passed on. Don’t wait until they come around, do it anyway. Forgive them. Even if they’ve been long in the grave, do it anyway.
Fourthly, if energy is to be spent, don’t spend it on the person who hurt you, spend it on the lessons they taught you. We’ve all heard from well-meaning people – so what did you learn from that? Don’t wait for those statements. The moment you feel slighted or taken advantage of, or hurt in some way, acknowledge the pain and then process what this means for your understanding of relationships, of the type of person you don’t want to be, and commit to taking better care of yourself by living a better, kinder, and more humble life moving forward. No one gets to the end of their life and wishes they had stayed angry longer. Think about that! Don’t waste your time on resentment.
Lastly, find a healthy way to release the pain and forgive. If you are able to go to the person that's an ideal situation, but in some cases that's just not possible. Consider writing a letter and send it. That’s what Barbara did. I’ve heard of others who’ve written their thoughts, but due to particular circumstances couldn't send it, so they burnt it, a symbolic gesture of releasing the pain and the power that person had over them. The key is to acknowledge, let go, and restore peace.
No one said that forgiveness is easy, but it may be easier than you think in the cases where you really don’t want to extend it. By resisting and holding onto resentment, you’re giving your energy and power to the perpetrator of your pain. You become the prisoner. It's only when you forgive, that you can break those chains and become free! So, embrace forgiveness and release the past. What’s done is done. Consider what you’ve learned, grab hold of your future, and strive to be resilient moving forward. That’s the healing power of forgiveness!
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Eph 4:31-32