Thoughts on Forgiveness

on September 18, 2008

I just finished the book Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza, for the second time.  I read it a few months ago.  It is one of those books that is not just a “good read” (that’s what bookish people like to call a “good book”.) This book was what I call a “life changing” book.  A book that once you read you aren’t the same again.  You think of things a little differently and feel like you are a better person for having read the book.

Immaculee tells her story of surviving the Rwandan genocide by hiding in her pastors tiny bathroom with 7 other women.  They stayed there in total silence for 91 days while her family and friend were slaughtered by rebels.  Some of of the rebels at one time were her friends and neighbors so not only did she lose those she loved but she lost them at the hands of other people she cared about.  She recounts her many conversations that she had with the Lord (and the devil) during the time she hid.  Although she was always religious and a faithful woman, she talks about the fear and the hate and then gradually her deepened faith in God.  Toward the end of the book she tells of having the opportunity, after the Holocaust was over, to go back to her neighborhood and face one of the men who killed members of her family.  The soldier who accompanies her tells her that she has the opportunity to do to this man whatever she wanted – to inflict on him the same pain he inflicted on her family.  As she approaches this cold-blooded murderer she simply says “I forgive you.”  The soldier that is with her is outraged and demands to know why she would do this.  She simply replies that forgiveness is the only thing left she has to give.

I’ve been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately.  So I reread this book and I’ve also been reading about it in the scriptures and the Ensign.    I want to really understand it.  Not the part of being forgiven by the Lord – I repent enough daily to “get” that part.  But the part about me forgiving someone else — thats what I want to really understand.  The funny thing is – I thought I did understand it.  Little things happen all the time where someone does something dumb or says something stupid — they apologize (or not) and you let it go  – you forgive them and it’s all over.

But what about a big thing?  Where someone hurts you deeply to the point of having it effect your life?  How do you know when you have really forgiven?  Is it just when you don’t have anger or hate in your heart or is it more than that?  For me, there was some hurt that I just didn’t acknowledge for 35 or so years.  I assumed I’d forgiven but in reality I was just ignoring it.

I finally learned denial is not the same as forgivenss.  To really forgive someone you first have to acknowledge that they have indeed caused some pain.  To let the pain in in the first place is heart wrenching as much as it is cleansing.  You let your heart break and the tears flow and you realize that the Savior is the only one who can put the pieces together again.  And He does –  piece by piece He patches up all the broken parts of a human soul.  But as He heals, you also realize that part of the healing bargain is to forgive – even if it’s not for the other persons benefit. Forgiving somehow has to be my gift back to God.  I know He requires it – but I think even that is for our own good.

Someone recently recommended to me the movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman.  This is not normally a movie that would be of any interest to me but I had a coupon for Hollywood video and decided last week to fork over my buck-o-six and rent it.  It wasn’t anything like I imagined it would be.  It turned out to be a tender story of forgiveness (okay with a few scenes of humor from a guy dressed as an old woman.)  There is one scene that stuck out and it too has been playing over and over in my mind.

Myrtle: You know I know this man put a hurtin’ on you baby, but you’ve got to forgive him. No matter what he done, you’ve got to forgive him – not for him, but for you.
Helen: Forgive him for me?
Myrtle: When some body hurts you they take power over you, if you don’t forgive them then they keeps the power. Forgive him baby and after you forgive him, forgive youreself.

It rings true.  Truth spoken in the oddest place – but still true.  The Lord wants us to forgive to release our selves from the bondage.

But what I want to know is how do you know when you truly have forgiven?  Is it when you aren’t angry?  Is it when you are void of hate and malice?  Is it when it doesn’t hurt anymore – or is the hurting separate?  How do you really know?

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2 responses to “Thoughts on Forgiveness

  1. Tasha says:

    DeAnn, I wish I had a great answer for you. I am sorry for your struggle. I thought i had forgiven my parents, but lately i wonder if i too have just been hiding from it. I do not harbor any anger or hatred towards them, i worked that out a few years ago. However i do not wish to have any type of a relationship with them. I don’t have any “love” for them. I am sure if i truly had forgiven them there would be some sort of love or appreciation for them. I also do not trust them so they do not have any type of relationship with my kids. My kids have met my mom but no one wants to meet my dad. i often wonder what my life may have been like with out this experience. would i have the testimony i have? would i know the love of my Heavenly Father? would i have the friends in my life that i have? I don’t know.
    it’s taken 30 years to get where i am now, maybe in another 30 the love will come….
    i love you and am so grateful for the help you were to me growing up. i never would have made it without my “eternal brothers and sisters” who took me in! thank you!

  2. Laurel says:

    This is a beautiful post, my friend.

    I think forgiveness is when the hate is gone…when you no longer what them to suffer what you have suffered. I’m not sure, though, that you have to feel love for them. Maybe you do.

    But, I’m not there yet.

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