If you spend any time online visiting any social media or news sites you will notice that there are a lot of people who are mad, angry and offended by just about anything. Some of the offending topics of the last few weeks that pop into my brain at the moment are, in no particular order, ISIS, politics, healthcare, unions, President Obama, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, vaccinations, circumcision, education, school lunches, gun control, gay rights, religion, abortion, sports, Grammys, Oscars, celebrity nude photo hacks, Kardashians and even The Dress. (White and gold. I know. Who cares!) And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of crazy stuff out there. But what’s even crazier to me is the amount of truly vicious and vile comments that people leave without a second thought. I wonder what would happen if people lived their lives choosing to forgive instead of choosing to look for ways to be offended. Can you imagine what a difference there would be if we each lived that way?
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Sure, Carl, that sounds nice. But we’re talking ISIS. That’s pure evil. How could you possibly forgive them? You know they murdered over 20 Christians recently and just kidnapped over 250 Christians in Syria, right?” I agree. That is pure evil. Yet, Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, an American journalist who was captured by ISIS in 2010 and beheaded last August, is calling for forgiveness of the man who is believed to have been the chief executioner for ISIS.
“So, he, in a sense, had a priviedged upbringing, so to me that makes even more sad that he’d want to use his gifts for such evil and hatred. It’s very frightening to me. We need to forgive him for not having a clue what he was doing.”
What? How is that even possible? If anyone has a right to withhold forgiveness from another person or group it would be his parents, right? Again, I agree. Wanting revenge is the natural and instinctive reaction. Yet, they are choosing to forgive this man. Wow. Again, can you imagine if we each tried to live our lives with such forgiveness? Maybe we could forgive ourselves for saying or doing something wrong.
Most of us don’t have our major screw-ups happen in front of over 70,000 people plus millions on TV, but that’s exactly what happened to a football player on the Green Bay Packers named Brandon Bostick. He’s the player that many fans blamed for the Packers’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks, which cost his team a trip to the Super Bowl, all because he made a mistake near the end of the game. Bostick wrote an article recently about what his life has been like since that game took place about six weeks ago.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning and it’s the first thing on my mind. There are nights when I dwell on it before falling asleep. Sometimes the thought creeps up on me when I’m lifting weights, or eating dinner, or sitting on my couch at home.
I flash back to that moment—I can see the ball floating right in front of me—and I wonder: What if?
I messed up in the NFC Championship Game, and trust me, it hurts. I’ll probably think about my role in the botched onside kick every day for the rest of my life. It haunts me like a recurring nightmare.
This guy is beating himself up over something that he did wrong. How many of us do that to ourselves? I know I do. Unfortunately, I mess up daily. I lose patience with my family. I’m not as loving or kind to my wife and kids as I could be. Sometimes I even raise my voice and yell. I say or do something, trying to be funny only to have it blow up in my face. Yet, at the end of the day, I know that I’m human and that I’m going to mess up. I love my wife and kids but I’m not perfect. So, I ask those I’ve wronged for forgiveness and I forgive myself; hoping to learn from my mistakes so that I won’t repeat them. Sometimes I’m successful in not repeating them. Sometimes. I try to point out to my kids that I’m not perfect so I don’t expect them to be perfect either. It’s just that we need to keep that as our goal so that we’re improving ourselves.
Back to forgiveness. When we choose to not forgive it wrecks relationships. I grew up with a loving yet very controlling father. As I grew into my teenage years I began to realize how much I didn’t like his type of parenting and began to resent him for it. Thankfully, I soon realized that not forgiving him (even though he hadn’t asked for it) wasn’t going to help my situation but only cause me to become angry and bitter myself. So, I forgave him in my heart and decided that I would still love him. It certainly helped when I moved away to college two hours away from my hometown. It wasn’t until almost 10 years after I graduated from high school that my father finally realized the hurt he had caused from his desire for control and asked me, his son, to forgive him. It was a tender moment when I was able to honestly tell him that I had forgiven him years before and had prayed for this day of reconciliation. We became much closer from that point forward and those last 6-7 years of his life saw him a changed man. I believe that the healing of our relationship was only made possible because we both chose to forgive. I’m so thankful that I could learn from him how to humbly seek forgiveness so that we could be so much closer over the final years of his life before he passed away in 2007. I know that it has certainly shaped my own parenting as a Stay At Home Dad, prompting me to seek and give forgiveness in order to develop and maintain a close relationship with my fantastic children, even during their crazy teenage years!
Can you imagine what the world might be like if we each chose to look for ways to be kind and to find common ground instead of choosing look for ways to be offended and angered? What if we actually dared to forgive others? When I was 10 years old, my 12 year old friend Beth was killed by a drunk driver who hit the car that Beth’s dad was driving. Even though they had to face some pretty serious emotional and physical pains of their own, Beth’s parents chose to forgive the young man who ended their daughter’s life by driving drunk. While the guy faced legal consequences and was imprisoned for a time, Beth’s dad reached out to him and regularly met with him in prison, extending him true forgiveness and love. Can you imagine doing that? I would like to think I would do the same, but I don’t know for sure.
Can you imagine how different our relationships might be if we each chose to forgive instead of holding on to the anger and hurt? I’ve heard many people talk about how a lack of forgiveness hurts you, not the person who wronged you. But what good does it do to hold on to that hurt and anger? It doesn’t help to heal the relationship. In fact, it does the opposite by creating distance until ultimately it is destroyed. It happens with co-workers, with friends, and with family. Why hang on to the control and power and lose the relationship? As someone who values relationship over control and power I tend to forgive rather than get offended or, as my teenagers call it, butthurt. Some might call me a sucker for giving people an extra chance and I suppose that is one of the risks of forgiving. You lose some of the control and make yourself vulnerable to being hurt again. But the upside is that I’m not burdened by the past. Newsflash: If you’re dealing with another human being you’re going to be disappointed and hurt at some point. I guarantee it. How you choose to respond to that disappointment and hurt is up you. The choice is yours. Choose wisely!
Good stuff there, Carl, but forgiving others and especially forgiving yourself is so important. When we hold that anger and desire for vengeance inside, it hurts us and starts to poison our other relationships.
This year has been a big year of forgiving, and being forgiven as well. I can’t express how it lessens any burden. I feel the slate is clean, and I wish to keep it that way.
Very well said Carl. The world would be a better place if more people chose to forgive.
There are so many powerful lessons in what you’ve written, I totally agree about the importance of forgiveness.