Our Forgiveness Blog
Today the music world mourns the passing of the great Whitney Houston, who died at the age of 48. The newspapers are calling her life tragic, marred by drug use and a failed marriage. The fame, beauty, fortune, and admiration were not enough, nor could they ever be, because at our core is a need to love and be loved.
I am just speculating here, but I suspect that at her core, Ms. Houston had much love taken away from her by others across her life. When this happens, we need a way to put back that love in our heart even if others will not reciprocate. Forgiving those who have hurt us is one way of restoring that love deep within our heart.
I do not know if Ms. Houston practiced forgiveness or not. I do suspect that such practice on a deep and consistent basis may have helped her in her struggle with drugs. Maybe, just maybe, we would not be reading the headlines today if this kind of love were more continually present for her as a response to the love taken away from her. It is for reasons such as this that I am so intent on helping others create forgiving communities–as a way to restore love in the heart and help others to thrive in their pain rather than to be crushed by it.
“How can you tell me you’re lonely….and say for you that the sun don’t shine? Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Dublin. I’ll show you something that will make you change your mind.”
The lyrics of that folk-song actually say “London” rather than “Dublin,” but we encountered a similar scene today in the Irish city. A young man asked our friend Lynn for some money and in the damp, pouring rain, she spend 20 minutes talking with him, treating him as a person of unconditional inherent worth. It turns out that he was abused repeatedly as a boy, suffered gravely, and in his extreme pain, cannot get a job and climb up out of the pit.
If I could give him one thing, it would be the insight to forgive (rightly understood, without the error of reconciliation at all costs) those who have abused him. It would give him the strength and purpose to go on. Lynn was suffering with and for this man as she sheltered him from the rain with her umbrella and in essence mothered him. I could tell by his eyes that he was surprised, delighted, and humbled that someone would pay attention to him and love him like this.
It was the lack of love in his past that brought him low. It will be the strength to forgive that very well might pull him out of this. Lynn’s stance in the Dublin rain shows us what is possible—to love those who do not necessarily consider themselves to be lovable. As he forgives, he will find that those forgiven are lovable and (surprise!) the one who forgives also is lovable.
Imagine for a moment that a homeless person knocks on your door and wants to talk with you. Are you: afraid or somewhat apprehensive or welcoming? A show of hand from all of you who admitted fear or apprehension.
Do you think that homeless people: are completely unconcerned about their appearance or rather neutral about it or are concerned about their public appearance?
We all have a perception of the entire group known as “the homeless.” I am challenging your perceptions today because forgiveness is about challenging perceptions, specifically toward people whose actions we resent.
Let me tell you first about a homeless friend and then we will turn to forgiveness. My homeless friend, a woman in her 30’s, is gentle and kind. “Hi, Hon,” is her typical greeting to her friends. I picked her up recently to bring her to the Salvation Army shelter. She had two bags with her….which constituted most of her worldly possessions.
“How is it going for you today?” I asked with worry.
With a deep and smiling sincerity she responded, “It is going great,” and she meant it. She will have a place to sleep tonight. She will be in drug treatment soon. It is going great.
Here is the rest of the story. Her mother was a serious heroine addict. The police were called too often for conduct that was very disorderly. Dad? He was not in the picture. Her sibling committed suicide and so she is now isolated from family. Yet, she is a person crying out for love and finding it in only a very few who see her for whom she is—an upbeat person with a very soft heart.
You see, too many look at her and see the two bags that constitute her worldly possessions. They see rough edges. They see someone who might ask something of them, and the needs are great for the homeless. They see inconvenience, they see a loser. My friend is no loser. She is someone who is crying out for love, receiving little, and so she drowns her sorrows in drugs and drink. Each substance that she throws into her body is a teardrop of pain, in the hope that the pain will end. The tragic irony is that each ingestion of drugs or drink intensifies the pain until she is powerless over these substances. And all the while all she asks is to be loved.
The next time you see a homeless person on the street, please remember my friend (“Hi, Hon.”)
Now we turn to you, the reader. What are your preconceived perceptions toward one person—-just one for now—-who has hurt you, who has been unfair, perhaps even cruel? Can you see beyond the fog of resentment to the wounds that he or she carries, perhaps trying to mask those wounds, as my homeless friend does? Her method is drugs and drink. The method by the one who hurt you might be displaced words or actions. He or she is trying to rid the self of wounds and in turn is wounding you. Was he or she hurt, wounded by others? Is there a “Hi, Hon” within that person waiting to come out? Is there a cry for love, sadly coming out wrongly?
The next time you see or think about this person, please remember my friend and her cry for love and ask yourself: Is the one who wounded me now crying out for love? What little gesture can I make: a smile, a prayer for him or her if your worldview includes this, a kind word?
My homeless friend is more than those two tattered bags by her side. The one who wounded you is more than his or her actions and words against you.
Here is a question that I get frequently: When I forgive, should I go to the person and let him or her know that I have forgiven? Can I forgive from my heart and not say anything at all about forgiveness? What if my saying something will only make things worse? Do I have to go to the person under this circumstance and say I have forgiven?
OK, rather than the IFI giving the answer, what are your views? Let us allow the answer to emerge from the discussion.
We have come to a new year. Let us gently move forward one year from now to January 1, 2013. Let us do a mental exercise and pretend that 2012 is now over—gone forever. What you have said and done has now gone out to others for good or for ill. Regrets? Guilt? Remorse? These could be part of the package as you reflect back on 2012 on the first day of 2013. How have you lived in 2012? What could you have done to make the world a more loving place?
Back to present-day January 2012…now is your chance to open the door of opportunity to this New Year. An opportunity to fulfill your January 1st, 2013 hopes and dreams that you just reflected on—to make them whole, peaceful, joyous and a reality. Despite the unforeseen trials and hardships, regardless of others’ injustices and unfairness, you have the power to make the year 2012 a triumph of love worth remembering and celebrating next January 1st of 2013.
You are not the master of your fate in that you can prevent the unwanted. You, however, do have a strong influence on all of this if you make a commitment with me now to love. 2012 will be the year that you grow in love, give love to others, give love to those whom you do not think necessarily deserve it. The kind of love connected to forgiveness is that which serves–out of concern for the other. You have within you now the capacity to give this love freely, without cost, without anyone earning it. Go ahead, try it. Give love away as your legacy of 2012.
How can you start? I recommend starting by looking backward at one incident of 2011. Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague. Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for whom you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?
This kind of love will not necessarily be a two-way street in 2012. You may have to extend the love through forgiveness, a hard but joyous road. Forgiveness is part of your unfolding love story. Forgiveness, which serves the other through compassion and gentleness, is not always reciprocated. Yet, one thing is certain: When others reflect upon 2012 in early January, 2013, they will remember your kindness, your unconditional love, your forgiveness. They will see who you really are. And as for you? Well, you will have added a chapter to your unfolding love story. How do you think that will feel?
Welcome to 2012. The International Forgiveness Institute is here to support you as you add a new chapter to your book of life.