Yesterday, the world watched as the family of George Floyd said their final goodbyes. There were songs of praise, tearful eulogies, and calls for equality. Yet, there was one thing missing; a call for revenge for those that killed their beloved family member. There was a sense of forgiveness that has been granted by the Floyd family and that in itself is beautiful.
The power of forgiveness was also on display in October of last year when the actions of Brandt Jean, the brother of Botham Jean dominated the internet and social media. At the sentencing hearing for his brother’s killer, he asked the judge if he could step off the witness stand and give Amber Guyger, his brother’s convicted murderer, a hug.
The words spoken by the 18-year-old Jean were words of forgiveness and release as throughout his testimony he said, “I forgive you”, “I love you”, and “I want the best for you”.
The beauty of forgiveness that was on display yesterday in Houston and in a Dallas courtroom in the fall of last year is something I believe we are in desperate need of in our society today. According to a Gallup Survey, anger in America is the highest it has been in a decade along with stress and worry. This is not what we were created for and there is so much more we can get from life.
One only needs to scroll a social media feed, turn on the news, or make a wrong turn in traffic to experience the ire that is so quickly released without a thought. And given this current state of angst in America, one has to wonder what would our world look like if instead, we made the choice to forgive. What if rather than hold onto our grudges and anger we chose to release, to let go of the perceived wrongs and hurts we have had, if for nothing else than our own well being.
To be honest, forgiveness has not been something that I have come by easily. For years, I would keep accounts of those who had done me wrong. I held onto hurts and kept grudges which over time, inevitably, turned into bitterness and anger which only had a negative impact on my quality of life.
In one particular session when sitting with my therapist, I began to share with him the anger I felt towards those who hurt me. I detailed for him all of the wrongs that had been done, how angry I was because of it, and how I would never forgive those individuals. After all, that was the least I could do to get back at them for what they had done to me.
After listening to me rail against those who were on my non-forgiveness list, he looked at me and softly said, “anger and bitterness towards someone are like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
I was stunned. Had he not just heard what I told him? Was he unfamiliar with the idea of hurt and how it worked? Did he really expect me to let those people off the hook for what they had done? He again repeated his phrase and then added, “forgiveness is not for them, it is for you. It is eating you up and you really cannot begin living until you let it go.”
Years later I have taken his advice. I am free!
This does not mean that those hurts never occurred, it does not mean that there are not scars but it does mean that I am no longer holding onto bitterness and anger. This has led to me being able to live a joy-filled life and choose happiness. With the anger and bitterness out of the way, I know that anything is possible.
In the book The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, Bishop Desmond Tutu writes the following:
“Forgiveness does not relieve someone of responsibility for what they have done. Forgiveness does not erase accountability. It is not about turning a blind eye or even turning the other cheek. It is not about letting someone off the hook or saying it is okay to do something monstrous. Forgiveness is simply about understanding that every one of us is both inherently good and inherently flawed. Within every hopeless situation and every seemingly hopeless person lies the possibility of transformation.”
We will never be able to avoid hurt in our lives and inevitably, as humans, we will experience hurt from those that are close to us. But may we begin the process of transformation within ourselves by doing one thing . . . forgiving.