By Heidi Hiatt
This is the question posed to visitors upon arrival at http://livetoforgivemovie.com/, the official site of the new Live to Forgive movie.
Dean Smith was 12 when his mother was murdered by his stepfather in Enumclaw, Washington. Haunted by this sudden and violent loss, Dean’s life became a self-medicated pit of despair until he realized that he would only be free when he forgave the man who took his mother from him.
Dean’s life transformed when he unhooked the emotional equivalent of several bags of cement from around his neck and gave them to God. He’s now the executive director of Live to Forgive Ministries and helps others learn how to let go of the heavy baggage that holds them back from the Creator’s best in their lives.
Information about the movie and trailer is available at http://livetoforgivemovie.com/. The Live to Forgive Ministries home page is http://www.livetoforgive.com/, and at that site you can find tools and information that can help you make a choice to forgive.
What is forgiveness? For those who have been physically, sexually, and psychologically violated, it can be the last thing in the world you feel you can possibly do. It’s natural to want to hurt someone who hurt you, and take from them as much or more as they stole from you. In doing so, though, we may become like them. Breaking down our self-control and morality may be the crowning glory of their violation of us, their utmost achievement, because not only have they hurt us, but they have convinced us to lower ourselves down to their level.
Many of us were raised with a skewed view of forgiveness that left us without proper boundaries and in positions where we could be harmed repeatedly. Some of us Protestants and Catholics were taught that forgiveness is not just turning the other cheek, but laying down and letting your head get stomped on until it bursts. We’ve been taught a wimpy type of Christianity that leaves us and our families wide open to attack.
Forgiveness is not rewarding evil behavior. It doesn’t mean forgetting. You can forgive and not forget. In many cases people must be held accountable for their crimes and punished for their choices. You may need to put up major boundaries or cut someone out of your life so that they can’t hurt you or your loved ones anymore, but you can still forgive them.
In Dean’s case, he went as far as contacting the man who killed his mother to personally forgive him. I realize that’s not practical or wise in many cases, especially in cases of domestic violence. But you can forgive and not have contact with someone who’s likely to hurt you again. You don’t have to take your abuser back because you’ve forgiven them. Your abuser doesn’t need to be involved for you to forgive them. Forgiveness is a deeply spiritual process, and sometimes it’s something that stays between you and God.
It can take years before you’re ready to forgive someone. You may have people nagging you to forgive a perpetrator, which only makes you more resistant to the idea. When you finally reach a point where you’re ready to give your cement sacks to God, you might have to do it over and over and over again. Forgiveness can be a horrifically difficult concept to master, especially when the person who violated you still poses a threat to you and others.
Below I’ve posted some of my favorite quotes about forgiveness, because they’ve helped me realize what forgiveness actually is. It’s not the victim-blaming garbage that seemingly pious people use to guilt you into reuniting with an abuser, sociopath, or vampire. It’s not the fluff that people plaster on when they want you to control you and break your defenses down. Forgiveness is not passive; it’s active. It’s not constricting, it’s liberating.
To me it’s finding the strength and freedom to say, “There is no back. There is only forward.” It’s opening yourself up to what God wants to do with your life rather than keeping yourself chained to the hell that someone else caused you. It’s about making yourself available to help others out of similar situations.
Sometimes crime victim advocates, or passionate people in general, are told they that must be full of unforgiveness if they spend so much time writing and speaking about topics like domestic violence and sexual assault. T.D. Jakes says that sometimes God calls us to make our misery into our ministry, so it may not be unforgiveness at work in these cases.
When you’ve survived the horrors that an abuser, rapist, narcissist, and others have inflicted upon you, you are in a powerful position to help others. You’ve walked in similar shoes. You can stop the same wickedness from claiming more victims. Unforgiveness keeps you focused on how you can hurt the liar or pervert who violated you. Righteous anger, passion, and love can motivate you to change the world for everyone else and make it a safer place.
This is a fallen world, and God needs seasoned veterans who’ve been forged in the fires of affliction to, as the Proverb says, stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves and achieve justice for those who need it. The most qualified people to do this are those who have ended their own bondage and do not let past circumstances dictate their futures.
Dean Smith may not agree with everything that I’m saying, but I do know that his message and movie causes people to think about how they can achieve forgiveness. Forgiving is one of the hardest things in the world when you’ve suffered multiple injustices, lost loved ones, and been mercilessly used and abused. It can be so difficult to detach from the pain when the person who harmed you has gone about their merry, unethical way that will inevitably result in more damage to themselves and others.
But there’s a bigger picture. Everyone will have to answer for their actions the second they leave this earth. All of us. Even if you have to wait until the end of your life, God will give you justice. It will come. In the meantime, you can choose to shed the barbed net that your attackers have thrown over your head and walk forward into a better future that is ripe with possibilities. You can teach others to walk out of the shadows and into the light.
Even if you’re not ready to forgive someone– and I understand that– Dean’s movie may introduce you to a means of letting go when the time is right. Check out the trailer at http://livetoforgivemovie.com/. If Dean can go this far, you never know what you might be able to do with the unlimited resources of a forgiving Father behind you. He said that once you forgive others, He will forgive you, and could you imagine a more powerful kind of freedom than being set free from everything that’s ever gone wrong in life thus far?
Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free and then discovering the prisoner was you. –John Eldredge
Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me. –Archibald Hart
There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness. -Josh Billings
Forgiveness is almost a selfish act because of its immense benefits to the one who forgives. -Lawana Blackwell
Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were. -Cherie Carter-Scott
The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness. -William Blake
There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, ‘You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.’ In the same way I could say of a certain man, ‘Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.’ For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. -C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms