Tagged: “The Forgiving Life”
Melissa Ohden’s mother was 19 years old, unmarried, and eight months pregnant in August 1977 when she went to a hospital in Iowa for the first step in what the medical profession calls a “hypertonic saline abortion.” Five days later, and unknown to her mother, Melissa was born alive and the staff left her to die in a pile of medical waste.
Soon after the birth, however, another nurse entered the delivery room, heard a faint rustling noise, and discovered Melissa still alive. The nurse rushed Melissa to the neonatal intensive care unit where the 2 lb. 14 oz. child was treated for jaundice, respiratory distress, and seizures but miraculously survived.
Melissa was released from the hospital three months later to the care of a loving couple in a nearby community that adopted and raised her alongside their own children. Years later, when Melissa learned that she was adopted, she began a quest to find–and forgive–her parents.
After seventeen years of fruitless searching, Melissa was finally able to track down her father who did not respond to her queries prior to his death. Through her father’s relatives, however, she was able to get enough information to find her mother who had married another man. Her mother, who had no idea her daughter had survived the abortion attempt, said she had felt guilty every day since then about what she had done.
In an interview with the Daily Mail (a daily newspaper in London, UK), Melissa shared her incredible story and explained how she has forgiven her mother and father–as well as her grandmother who was apparently the major catalyst for the abortion.
“It’s been a long and painful journey from shame and anger to faith and forgiveness. But I refuse to be poisoned by bitterness — that’s no way to live,” Melissa told the reporter. “Through my Catholic faith I have learned to forgive. It doesn’t make what happened okay, but it releases you from the pain. We are all human and we all make mistakes. I have only forgiveness in my heart. . .”
Melissa, now 42 years old, is married with two children of her own. She has a master’s degree in social work , is an accomplished motivational speaker, and has also started an organization called the Abortion Survivors Network. She wrote an engaging book about her life: You Carried Me: A Daughter’s Memoir, and is the subject of the 2011 award-winning documentary, A Voice for Life.
Is it possible for someone to actually improve in forgiveness? If so what do you suggest as some keys for me to do that?
Forgiveness is not a superficial action (such as saying, “It’s ok” when someone is unfair to you). Instead, it is a moral virtue, as is justice and kindness and love. Aristotle told us thousands of years ago that one challenge in life is to become more perfected in the virtues. In other words, we do grow more proficient in our understanding and expression of the virtues, but only if we practice them. It is a struggle to grow in any virtue, including forgiveness. So, first be aware that you can grow in this virtue. Then be willing to practice it, with the goal of maturing in love, which is what forgiveness is (loving those who are unkind to us). You need a strong will to keep persevering in the struggle to grow in forgiveness. In sum, you need: understanding of what forgiveness is, practice, a strong will, and keeping your eye fixed on the goal of improving in love a little more each day.
For additional information, see Forgiveness Defined.
How can I keep the light of forgiveness burning in my heart? There are so many distractions in contemporary culture. Forgiveness could be easily forgotten.
A key is this: Know that what you call “the light of forgiveness” is important to you. Know further that it could fade in you if you do not give it the attention it deserves. Aristotle emphasized practice as a way to grow in the virtues. The more you practice forgiveness, the better you become at it. The better you become at it, then the more you develop what Aristotle called a love for the virtue.
In my book, The Forgiving Life, I focus on what I call the strong will. You need this strong will to persevere in the practice of forgiveness, even though all around you are opportunities to ignore forgiveness and seek pleasure to avoid pain. Forgiveness can be painful work, but the pain, in my view, is far less than carrying the pain of deep resentment for many years.
I wish you the best in your persevering journey to develop a love of the virtue of forgiveness.
Learn more at The Forgiving Life.
I forgave my ex-partner and all was forgiven and forgotten. This was years ago. All of a sudden, I find myself angry all over again after three years. Did I not go through the forgiveness process the first time?
Forgiving others is not a perfect straight line that gets you to the end of anger and then all anger is finished. The late Lewis Smedes said that forgiving is an imperfect process for imperfect people. Sometimes anger does resurface and it is good to once again go through the forgiveness process. This time, it likely will be a shorter journey, well worth your time and effort. Anger does not necessarily go away completely and so please be gentle with yourself as you forgive again. You may have to do this in the future and this is not unusual.
For additional information, see Forgiveness for Couples.
I am a little confused about self forgiveness. You say that you do not forgive your own particular imperfections such as, for example, not being good in sports or being overweight or having a chronically sore knee with which you are frustrated. Why can’t we forgive the less-than-perfect coordination or the weight issue or the knee? It seems that it would help people move on in life.
I say that we do not forgive those issues because forgiveness is centered on **persons** and not on things. You offer your goodness to other persons in the hope that they change. When a person is frustrated by the issues of coordination or weight or a challenging knee, the person can forgive **the self** for the disappointments or even the self-loathing caused by these issues. In other words, you are not focused on the issues as you self-forgive, but instead on yourself as a person. You are welcoming yourself back into the human community because of the self-frustration or self-loathing.
For additional information, see Self-Forgiveness.