I read The Shack last month and wow, what an amazing book. I loved it. It contained so many beautiful messages, but the one that really stuck out for me was around forgiveness…
I’ve always looked at murderers and rapists as evil, despicable people who are nothing like you and me and are – for sure - less deserving of love, forgiveness and compassion and all those wonderful things because they are mean and horrible and cause suffering and unhappiness.
But I have to say that after reading this book, I have a new perspective…
It’s so easy to look at these people – be it a hardcore gangster, a house burglar or a child rapist – and see them as nothing but pure evil.
But think about this: They were all once upon a time tiny little babies brought into the world with a clean slate and no intention to do anybody any harm. Unlike you and I, these people might have endured their first brutal beating before they could even talk or been sexually abused from as early as they can remember. They might have been witness to unspeakable acts of violence on a daily basis as small children. And yes, some people endure those things as children and somehow find a way through to become normal upstanding citizens. But they have the tools to find their way through.
Without a huge battery of emotional tools and plenty of support, people who grow up in violent, poverty-stricken and abusive homes are highly likely to become twisted and angry or downright sick, through no fault of their own.
Can you imagine the depravity that occurred for an innocent baby to grow up into a 17 year old rapist?
17 years. That’s roughly 2000 days.
And how quickly they go by… If in those 2000 days, a child is beaten, abused, neglected, abandoned; is witness to rape, drunkenness, extreme violence; is shaped by all these actions during these 2000 days, what do you expect this person to believe in and understand about the world by the time they are fully grown? Especially without a single positive role model to provide an alternative perspective…?
How can we expect them to understand compassion when they have NEVER seen or experienced it?
You know those lovely pictures you see of a mom lovingly holding her baby, all wrapped up in a warm baby blue blankie, the sunlight coming in from the French doors casting a lovely glow over the infant?
For thousands, that is about as far from their reality as being paraded around Sandton city in a brand new stroller. They are more likely to suffer malnourishment and be kicked in their little ribs for crying too loud.
So… to look at a killer and judge him (or her) according to what YOU know and what YOU have experienced in your life is completely irrational.
Rather look at that person and know that they have a very unhappy story, and are twisted and tortured souls with a life understanding very different from yours. Rather look at them and know that they were once a toddler… and then try to imagine what their life was like…
I’m not saying all rapists and killers had horrible tortured childhoods… but even those who didn’t might have dodgy genes or something wrong with their brain. Don’t hate them. Feel sorry for them.
It is not by choice that they are bad people.
And so, once you believe that, it’s easy to understand and accept that it’s not BY CHOICE that your best friend hurt your feelings. It’s not by choice that your boss is over-sensitive, any more than it’s by choice that your gran forgets stuff. It’s not by choice that your dad couldn’t express his feelings.
But back to forgiveness.
Should you forgive your father for being an absent father (whether or not you know that his life he yearned for affection – to the point that it makes him extremely uncomfortable now)?
Do you forgive a friend who lied to you and slept with your husband?
Do you forgive a cheating partner, an abusive family member or the street kid who broke into your car?
THE ANSWER OF COURSE IS YES!
It doesn’t mean you have to invite them for dinner or send them a Christmas e-card or SMS on their birthday or invite them into your life in any way. On the contrary, by forgiving your offenders, whoever they may be and however small or big their crime, you are FREEING YOURSELF.
You don’t even have to tell them. That’s the best part. It also means that you can forgive dead people.
So do you feel geared up to do some forgiving?
I’m pretty sure for most of you, there’s a person or two who’s cropped up as you’ve been reading. And maybe you thought: “I’ll never forgive her/him” or “how can I forgive them?”
You might be attaching a whole bunch of other stuff to the forgiveness. (Like: If I forgive my cheating husband, he’s going to do it again; Or: If I forgive the neighbour who kicked my dog, it means I don’t love my dog. OR if I forgive my friend for being a bitch, I’m just being a doormat.)
NOT TRUE. Not related.
Don’t attach anything to the forgiveness. Just forgive. It doesn’t mean you have to change your actions, or accept the same behaviour.
If you feel that you should make an attempt to forgive one or more people…. Don’t delay – do it as soon as possible.
It will free you. You will hold less anger in your heart and your days will be brighter.
HOW TO FORGIVE?
All you have to do is find a nice quiet space somewhere and set the intention to practice forgiveness in the 5 or 10 minutes you’ve set aside.
Then think about that person. Think about their crime against you without judging them. Think about the things that might have made them the way they are/were. And then, when the anger is swelling and you start to feel yourself blaming and hating, just breathe LOVE in and HATRED out… Take a few breaths and let it go… Just try to send forgiveness out there in the energetic direction of that person and say in your head (and especially in your heart) “I FORGIVE YOU”.
And even if you don’t feel that way and you want to lash out… just keep breathing and let it go. And then try it again the next day.
You could try to imagine the person as a baby, as an innocent child…
You could also write to that person –word-vomit to your heart’s content and hold nothing back… And then burn the letter and as you do, try to breathe lightness and love into your heart and say “I forgive you”.
And of course you could – once you have done the forgiving – tell the person/s involved, if you are ready.
After reading The Shack, I tried on a few occasions to exercise forgiveness. And honestly, it turned out to be much easier than I had anticipated. I suppose like many things in life, it’s about making the decision to do something. So when you really really want to forgive someone, you WILL find the forgiveness in your heart, no matter how hard it seems at first.
It really does make you lighter to release people from your judgement, anger and hatred. You are bound to your transgressor by those very emotions after all. So you would be releasing yourself at the same time. And while we’re talking about YOU… Forgiving YOURSELF for stuff is probably the best place to start…