“Forgiveness isn’t necessarily a two-way street. It’s a very personal thing, and you don’t need two people for forgiveness two happen.” – Elizabeth Smart
In June 2002, when she was 14 years old, Elizabeth was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. She spends 9 months in captivity, during which her captors tied her up, raped her daily and threatened to kill her family if she attempted to escape. Almost a year later she was rescued by police and returned to her family. Such an ordeal would leave many of us in a permanent state of resentment and anger but incredibly not Elizabeth.
Shortly after her release, she decided to forgive her captors for all the horrible things they had done. She moved forward with her life loving herself, allowing herself to feel whatever emotions she felt and to deal with them. And if it’s anger, she said that is just fine. She knew staying angry at her captors wouldn’t make any difference to them. It would only trap her in her won cycle of trauma and rage. For her holding onto this anger meant she would never be fully happy again.
“When you have those moments when you feel like you’re falling back into anger or sadness, allow yourself to feel those feelings and then love yourself enough to let them go and to try to embrace your life moving forward.” She added “I do everything I can to fill my life with positive emotions, positive people, positive activities. Holding on to anger is like keeping the wound fresh and open; you never give it the chance to heal” said Elizabeth.
“I found that desire to let it go was like a battle, minute by minute. I’d say to myself if I could do this for 5 more minutes and then the next 5… Over time, it became a little easier to do. Gradually, I developed a greater ability to let it go. It’s like an athlete getting better at the sport they’re practicing.” – Chris Williams
Chris wanted what was best for Cameron, the young man who had caused the accident that took the lives of his wife and children. Amazingly, Cameron’s health and well-being were always on Chris’s mind, from the moment they were rushed into the ER. Chris remembers in the ER repeatedly asking about Cameron’s status, even as he struggled with his own anguish.
“Whenever I felt angry or sad, I didn’t want to direct it at him, because that would bring him back into my life. What I wanted was the ability to go through those emotions, as powerful as they are, with my family and my friends and my loved ones.” Chris said. He knew he and Cameron would now struggle beneath their own burdens. Chris would carry the grief of losing his family while Cameron would feel guilty having cut those lives short. But from the beginning, Chris found solace in empathy. Their shared burden became a bond between the two. They helped each heal as they moved forward.
Christy was trying to a new chapter in her marriage with her wife Adrian who had had an affair.
Having been a product of divorced parents herself, Christy knew the hurdles of broken marriage for the children. She knew it wasn’t the route she wanted to take for herself and her family. It wasn’t the legacy she intended to leave for her children.
Christy says to imagine the gift of forgiveness as a big present wrapped with pretty bows. Some people present the gift but can’t let it go. When you’re able to hand over that beautiful gift – not expecting anything in return – that’s when you’ve really given the gift of forgiveness.
After 3 months of soul-searching, Christy felt she had finally reached forgiveness. Today Christy and Adrian are happier than they’ve ever been. Every betrayal is unique and our reactions are our own. But Christy’s choice shows us that – with a committed partner – forgiving can be a way to strengthen a relationship that might otherwise be abandoned.
Immaculee decided to go to the jail to see the man who had killed most of her family.
She wanted to make sure she had actually done the work to truly forgive. When she confronted him, she realized he didn’t know what he had done. She broke down and cried out of compassion for him. She not only forgave him also explained she saw the murderer as a blindman who didn’t know what he had done. This was a man she had known and respected like a father yet he killed her family – all because they belonged to different ethnic groups.
Years later, Immaculee recalls talked with someone who said to her “You are not damaged. What you’re missing is the affection of your parents, and that is understandable. There’s a way you can fix that. Love those who need to be loved most. “And that was how she recouped the feeling of her parents’ affection. She began volunteering at orphanages and helping those in need. Doing this helped to fill the space in her heart. By giving love, love comes back to you, and that is how Immaculee continues to live on her life.
Hearing her rapist apologize on the phone with genuine sincerity, Deborah Copaken felt as if she had been taken back to her 22-year-old self and cleansed the pain of that haunting night.
Many people say forgiveness comes to them in an instant. Others say it took weeks, months or years even. For Deb, it took 30 years. Deb said her forgiveness came at the perfect time for her.
Many of us feel a need to rush into forgiveness, to brush painful events quickly into the past. But forgiveness doesn’t work unless you’re ready to forgive. There’s no time limit for forgiveness. It comes when you’re ready and it’s never too late either to make amends or to ask for an apology.
Lewis Howes’s story exemplifies what you see from the outside doesn’t always reflect what’s happening on the inside.
Lewis is a former pro footballer and international acclaimed best-selling author, entrepreneur and social media expert. But the path toward that peace wasn’t easy, especially when it came to forgiving himself. So, few would have guessed that he was haunted by dark events in his past. Only once he was able to reveal the abuse he had suffered and forgave his abuser was Lewis finally able to discover the inner peace he had long been craving. Lewis found fully embracing forgiveness in every facet of his life is the only way to live free of resentment.
“I feel like you don’t understand forgiveness unless you can forgive everything that’s happened. If you hold onto a grudge for one person or one incident in your life, but you forgive other things, I don’t think you’ve truly forgiven. You’re either all in on forgiveness or you’re holding onto a grudge.” Lewis said.
Scarlett recalls Jesse’s 7th birthday, 6 months after his death.
She planned a big celebration with the blow-up slide that he had begged her for when he was still alive. The night before his birthday she woke up distraught, paralyzed by the though of celebrating her son’s birthday without him. The anger welled up inside her again – anger for the shooter who took her son from her.
“I think we love to blame when something happens to us. The first thing we say normally is oh whose fault is this? Who can I blame? And of course, Adam Lanza and his mom were the natural targets, because well, Adam was the perp and his mom gave him his gun. Yes, he’s responsible for the tragedy: however, is it really all his fault?” said Scarlett.
There’re good people who want to be part of the solution and then there’re good people in pain. And that’s what Scarlett saw Adam Lanza as. Did he want to grow up to be a mass murderer? No way. That was the result of neglect and pain and disconnection. She added “If we had given him the skills and tools to be able to choose a better, happier path, doesn’t it make sense he would have chosen that? Teaching kids how to get along, how to be resilient, how to manage their emotions – that’s cultivating safety from the inside out.”
“I think the power of forgiveness can be found in not forgetting what has happened, but not allowing it to have a negative, long-term impact n our life, as much as we can control that.” – DeVon Franklin
DeVon recalls his father being an aggressive drunk. Hi heavy drinking and unhealthy lifestyle contributed to his sudden heart attack and his absence left DeVon with a deep sense of happiness.
No one should feel pressured to forgiven prior to being ready to do so. Franklin uses the analogy of getting hit by a car and someone telling you to stand up and walk already – but you can’t do what you aren’t ready to do.
“Whether we like it or not, it’s often the fact the person who has hurt us has moved on with their life, but the one who is offended holds onto the pain in ways that can be severally detrimental to the entire course of their life.”
For Sue Klebold, saying “I forgive you” feels like a declaration loaded with condescension.
Not everyone has the same reaction to forgiving and being asked for forgiveness. Sue further proved that how complex and layered the forgiveness truly is. What forgiveness means to you could be something completely different to someone else. And that’s okay. It’s only with open and honest conversation, and compassion, that we will deepen our understanding of forgiveness and adapt our behavior accordingly for our own growth.
“Depression doesn’t have a face, and it could look like somebody’s fully happy.” said Talinda Bennington, former wife and now widow of Chester Bennington.
Talinda loved Chester and desperately wanted to get him the help he needed although it was ultimately in Chester’s hands to help himself. Talinda will never know if Chester truly meant to end his life that night but learning to cope openly with the pain, especially for her children, is her main focus today. She wants her kids to know they’re not alone in grieving the loss of their father, and that everything they’re experiencing is okay.
But there’re times when she feels like her marriage was betrayed because he left. One of the most important steps she took in forgiving herself was recognizing there was nothing she or anyone else could have done to save her husband. He was just not well and made a tragic mistake. She recalls all the times Chester had been open with her about his struggle with depression and how he felt that his family would be better off without him.
“I try to remember that it was that broken part of him that took that action that night. And I can’t help but forgive him, because he truly loved us. He truly loved me. He was such a great dad. He was just not well, and he was so good at hiding it that it makes me almost have even more compassion for him, because that’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work to feel that bad and to not let anybody know.”
“I love you, but I don’t believe in what you’re doing. I think you’re causing a lot of harm to a lot of people.” Sebastian said to his father Pablo Escobar, Columbian drug lord.
For Escobar however, there was no turning back. This left Sebastian in a torn reality, drawn toward the gentle love of his father but alienated from the brutal drug trafficker who was terrorizing the nation. He explained to his father he had no intentions to follow in his footsteps. Instead he would use his heart and words to build a very different world.
In 1993, Escobar’s reign of terror ended when he was shot down in a gunfight with the Columbian police. That’s the official story. But Sebastian is sure that he ended his own life. Escobar had promised his family that he would never be captured alive; he himself would be the one responsible for the bullet in his head. On the day of his death, Escobar used the phone 10 times to contact his family. Sebastian had been raised to never use the phone because the police could trace the calls too easily. His family was being closely monitored by police after their attempts to flee the country had failed. Escobar used those calls to let his family know that he loved them.
“He knew in his heart that if he didn’t appear dead, the next ones would be his own family” Sebastian said. “I see that my father’s suicide was perhaps his biggest act of love for his family. He knew that the only way to set us free was to kill himself.”
To escape his father’s legacy., Sebastian decided to assume responsibility for Escobar’s crimes – crimes that he had no part in. To appeal to the victims for forgiveness, he documented a film called ‘Sins of My Father’. This project allowed him the opportunity to approach the families of victims and to ask for their forgiveness. His friends thought he was crazy saying his father’s victims would never forgive him. But Sebastian needed to try. “When you ask for forgiveness, you shouldn’t expect answers.” He would respect their decision whether or not they forgave him.
Today when Sebastian walks the streets of Columbia, strangers often stop to thank him for the work he’s doing. He believes people have accepted his plea because they know he’s coming from a place of love, and not politics. He is now an architect, the author of two books and a two-time documentary filmmaker. Bute, he knows that part of his identity will always be that he’s the son of Pablo Escobar. He knows the journey of forgiveness will never end. This is his life’s mission. He has had the chance to become friends with the families of his father’s victims, and this gives Sebastian hope. Whenever he goes back to Colombia, he visits with these families and they welcome him into their homes and into their hears.
“That leaves me a lot of hope. This cannot change the past, but I’m changing the present, and that of course will affect the future.” Sebastian’s public appeal for forgiveness has helped transform one of the darkest chapters in Colombia’s history into a story of hope. It taught us that forgiveness is a power that transcends generations and can help rifts that once tore a whole country apart.
“Whether we’re rich or we’re poor, or something in between, this earth ain’t no final resting place. So, in a way, we all are homeless, just working our way home.” – Ron Hall
“Forgiveness is not an invitation for others to harm you. It’s the act of taking back your power and freeing yourself from the past.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber