forgive them 2“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

If you’re looking for motivation to add more forgiveness to your life, look no further than the amazing families of Sandy Hook school shooting victims. I am blown away by their grace and courage to respond to horror with humanity.

Forgiveness is never easy for any of us. After all, the very notion of forgiveness goes against the grain of fairness. The world can be a harsh and unkind place, and people commit all sorts of atrocities. If we operated according to just desserts, it wouldn’t be hard to find reasons to rage; everything from minor mis-communications to  massive injustices would keep us busy settling scores and burning bridges all over the place. Forgiveness is THE most radical choice of all. Deciding to let go, erase wrongs, even turn around and wish your detractors and haters well, is counter cultural, counter intuitive, counter competitive. And yet the rewards for making this choice are profound; better health, a longer life, peace of mind, and knowing that you’ve been part of remaking the world a little in the image of kindness.

All of my petty grievances fade into nothing when I think about what the Sandy Hook families went through. Their courageous stories should be told everywhere and often as an inspiration to all of us. Here are just some of the stories that have moved me beyond words.

Robbie Parker’s six year old daughter Emilie was one of the twenty children killed at Sandy Hook. A day later, when he could be forgiven for crawling into a dark hole and thinking evil, vengeful thoughts, he gave a press conference where he actually wished the shooter’s family well. Instead of hate, he sent a message of love and forgiveness. He said to the Lanza family,

I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you. I’m not mad.

A month after the shooting, the Parkers met with the father of Adam Lanza. They said they weren’t angry with him, but did hold him partly accountable for the massacre. This is an important point. Forgiveness doesn’t remove another person’s culpability. You don’t have to trust or become friends in order to forgive a person who has wronged you. Forgiveness is the choice to add love rather than hate to the situation, and move on without waiting for the other person to give account for their wrongs. Robbie Parker modeled forgiveness in the most extreme way; forgiving the unthinkable.

forgiveness past

Then there was Scarlett Lewis whose six year old son Jesse left three words on their family chalk board a few days before he was killed at school. The words were “Norturing, helin, love.” These aren’t the sort of words you expect from a six year old boy. It was as if he knew something was going to happen. As his mom said,

I feel he was sending us a message of comfort as well as inspiration on how to live our lives with him gone.

A third story comes from Francine and David Wheeler who lost their six year old son Ben at Sandy Hook. They had some reasons to keep Ben home from school that day, but decided against it. Then they had to live with self blame, as well as the sinking grief. On the morning of the shooting, Ben asked his mum out of the blue, “What is forgiveness?” She answered and thought little of it, as they rushed out the door. But you can imagine how that question stuck for Francine as she came to terms with her loss.

Life is so precarious for all of us. It’s only a thin line of fate or circumstance that separates those touched by tragedy and the rest of us. And all of us have to come to terms with living in a world that offers no certainties, a world where we leave home in the morning or send our kids off, without guarantees that they will be safe.

We have to learn to forgive BEFORE we even leave the house in the morning. Maybe Ben Wheeler knew that. Maybe Jesse Lewis knew that. Maybe kids are closer to remembering it because they aren’t yet socialized into a fairness mentality.

Learn to forgive. Do it for yourself. Do it because people who have more reason than you to be hard and closed have found the courage to forgive. Do it for the victims of Sandy Hook, so that their deaths can be part of a catalyst for deep seated change in the consciousness of the world.

Forgiveness is the toughest thing you ever do, and it changes everything. It takes more strength than vengeance, requires more self awareness than bitterness, and demands more self compassion than anything else you ever do. But it liberates you to really live in the present moment and not in a bitter past.

Just to clarify, forgiveness is not:

Condoning bad behavior. Its a choice to move on, without bitterness, with or without an apology.

Passive and weak. Only the strongest people can practice forgiveness.  When you forgive, you might still set very clear and firm boundaries on your contact with someone. No one should passively allow abusive behavior to continue. With forgiveness, you can set your boundaries with a sense of peace and separate your own life from the fate of the abuser.

Denial. Feelings of anger and sadness should be deeply felt, expressed to yourself and others, maybe even to perpetrators. Forgiveness is intimately related to acceptance. Accept yourself, accept your past, accept whats happened in the past. Just don’t let past events frame your future or control your present.

A one time event. We forgive like walking up a spiral staircase. You can’t even see some of the steps ahead, or know how you will make it. But you take  a step at a time, and with each step you see a higher perspective on the way forgiveness opens up your life. If you can’t fully forgive someone, forgive them part way, and let that be a step in the right direction.

Forgiveness IS an act of liberation. It separates you from the perpetrator. It frees you from the past, and any negative energy that you hold within yourself, about yourself, towards another, towards life. You aren’t giving up power when you forgive. You are reclaiming power.

I’m SO fired up about forgiveness at the moment. I have my own demons to deal with, most of them trivial in the scheme of things. And I’m determined to leave them behind. I want to live in a world where forgiveness is the new standard, and I want to spend time with others who value forgiveness.

Steve Maraboli said,

The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.

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  1. C says:

    This article intrigues me.  I struggle with forgiveness on a few levels, but yet, I see the benefit of it.  Over the past 2 years, I’ve had to work on my forgiveness, but I still struggle.  I would love your opinion on my situation and how I can fully forgive some people/actions.  My ex-husband had an affair while I was pregnant with our 2nd child.  He ended up moving out before I delivered, but then stayed close by to be with our son and soon-to-be-daughter.  But only a few months after that, he moved 1-1/2 hours away from his kids to be with his new girlfriend and her two children.   Our divorce went smoothly — we ended up going the dissolution route because of how smoothly it went.   In my heart, I have forgiven him for the affair and for leaving me the way he did.  But the issue I cannot forgive, or seem to be struggling is that he moved away and completely left his kids.  He hasn’t seen either of his kids in 1-1/2 years now.  He stopped calling in Feb.2013.   For me, the fact that he is gone helps me move on, but the abandonment of the kids is an ongoing issue — how do I forgive him when the “deed” is still happening?  How do I forgive when my 10 yr old son cries for him and misses him and doesn’t understand.  I get so angry when I see the pain in my son’s eyes for why his Dad left and stopped loving him.  I would love to attend your workshop next week so please send me more information.Hoping you can help – and thank you,C

  2. ian says:

    hi there, thanks for your very honest and raw comment. For a man to walk away from his children shows that he is living in his own shadows, and while he is doing this it may be kinder to your kids to not see him. The pain of loss now might be much less than the pain of what he might mindlessly do to them in person. Your kids are learning the same lesson as you- to separate their own wellbeing from the behavior of their dad. Stay close to them, and keep modeling this self awareness, healthy boundaries and self love to them. They are also learning the hard lessons of forgiveness and while its difficult at such a young age, they are finding their own strength. Good thoughts to all of you. Ian

  3. shell says:

    Thank you

  4. […] “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi Just to clarify, forgiveness is not: Condoning bad behavior. Its a choice to move on, without bitterness, with or without an apology. Passive and weak. Only the strongest people can practice forgiveness. When you forgive, you might still set very clear and firm boundaries on your contact with someone. No one should passively allow abusive behavior to continue. With forgiveness, you can set your boundaries with a sense of peace and separate your own life from the fate of the abuser. Denial. Feelings of anger and sadness should be deeply felt, expressed to yourself and others, maybe even to perpetrators. Forgiveness is intimately related to acceptance. Accept yourself, accept your past, accept whats happened in the past. Just don’t let past events frame your future or control your present. A one time event. We forgive like walking up a spiral staircase. You can’t even see some of the steps ahead, or know how you will make it. But you take a step at a time, and with each step you see a higher perspective on the way forgiveness opens up your life. If you can’t fully forgive someone, forgive them part way, and let that be a step in the right direction. Forgiveness IS an act of liberation. It separates you from the perpetrator. It frees you from the past, and any negative energy that you hold within yourself, about yourself, towards another, towards life. You aren’t giving up power when you forgive. You are reclaiming power.  […]

  5. Katie Knight says:

    This is a powerful and perfect article to read before the holidays.  Thank you.

  6. Kris says:

    Hi Ian, thank you for addressing this topic.  I am working on it and it is a conscious effort each day, but I am getting there.  I just really wanted to take a moment to thank C for her response….I am going through the same thing with my children and their dad.  Her posing that situation to you and your reply were EXACTLY what I so desperately needed at this very point in time.  I want to thank you both and it is very reassuring that one is not alone in such situations.  Can you please extend my gratitude to her in some way?  My mother saw this all and sent it to me and I am so glad she did.  Thank you! 

  7. Terri Detweiler says:

    I love this. There are messages on forgiveness everywhere I turn lately! (I get it, I get it! :) And what holds me back, every time, is the idea of they’re “getting away with it”. Seems so petty and trivial to see it in writing. But it’s powerful in its ability to hold me back. Thank you for your wisdom that “Forgiveness doesn’t remove another person’s culpability. You don’t have to trust or become friends in order to forgive a person who has wronged you.” I feel much grace and Divine permission in those words to help move me into forgiveness. Thank you, Ian.

  8. Silvana says:

    I am trying to learn forgiveness, especially for my older sister who seems to have an ongoing issue with me all our lives. I am 60 and she is 66….. My first and only grandson died this year after having bowel surgery at birth but unfortunately he died 39 days later from renal failure….it has been the saddest year of my life and obviously the worst year for my beautiful daughter and her husband. My sister has never phoned me and talked with her heart and did not contact me till my daughters birthday  five months later with a very standard sympathy card…..it has become all about her with issues from a miscarriage she had 42 years ago as she feels the doctors put forward her dates and she had a son who lived for 3 hours, which from what I remember didn’t happen and her miscarriage was classified as non viable, any way she wrote to my daughter with all these horrible details and has given her ‘baby’ a name….she can’t compare what happened to her to the loss of by daughters baby, born full term and lived for 39 days. She is obviously suffering unresolved grief but continues to send toxic emails to my other sisters about me and cc’s to me so I can read them. I realise that through out my life with any event, good or bad she can never given me a good ratings…..she has nothing nice to ever say to me always it’s a negative. I have done a lot of work over the years in self help and feel that I want to resolve our conflict and have also been to counselling but what ever I do to reach out to her back fires on me. She has a very narcissistic personality and has the ability to show no empathy, when we were younger I was always there for her and went above and beyond to help her in hard times. I see it as a problem with envy on her part, I have no idea why as my life has not been an easy road with many hardships to overcome but I know deep down I am a good person with a good heart and soul. Could you please help me with some positive feed back, I would be most grateful……thank you Silvana

  9. Pippa says:

    It’s the bit that happens after forgiveness that  struggle with so much – it always seems that when people talk about forgiveness, what they are really saying  is – move on as if it had never happened – but how can that be? My siblings have behaved in ways that have hurt me very badly, and whilst I do not hold that against them and  do not hate them and try not to let their actions have an ongoing negative effect on me, I still feel a pressure – self imposed or whatever, to make up with them, to re-establish relationships with them, to make out that it is all in the past and we can forget about it.But there is no reason to believe that they have changed, No reason to think that they  regret their actions or would  not do exactly the same thing again if the occasion arises. How could I ever trust them again?. Yes, there is also that sense of “why should they get away with it’ – and as the other writer said – that does sounds so petty. Am I withholding my acceptance of them in order to “punish ” them – make them regret what they have done and how they have treated me, as if they will regret the loss of my company. I cannot imagine that they care one iota. Hence the need to let go – and not doing so for sure would hurt me a million times more than it hurts them.  In fact it wouldn’t hurt them at all – and I won’t give them the satisfaction of turning me into a bitter, vengeful person whose life is dominated by their actions. It isn’t. And yet, I have lost what little family I had, my sons have lost their immediate maternal relatives, So much of this goes round and round in my head – and meanwhile they are probably getting on with their lives, oblivious to what I am feeling, and no doubt  (?)  feeling very satisfied with themselves for what they have “achieved” and regarding me as naive and stupid for suggesting that it wasn’t okay what they were doing.  Who knows. who cares?  My life is based on very different values, but this family stuff cuts to my very core – and I struggle not to measure my  sense of self worth in terms of how my family regard me . Aren’t  families supposed to be there for each other?  I know many are not – but why do we persist with that myth then? I mostly feel too ashamed to talk about any of this to my friends -” nice”  families like mine aren’t supposed to behave this way though it turns out that many do – esp when money/property/possessions are  involved. I struggle to understand how the sister whom for years  I helped and supported and counselled  through the many trials and tribulations of her life,  was the one who turned most viciously against me. I have only recently overcome the daily anxiety that she will email or ring me to continue her attack – So, yes I forgive her  and I wish her well and even pray for her- that is almost the easy bit..and it is as much if not more  for my sake than hers. It  is what comes next as regards our relationship which is the problem. From a distance I can feel sorry for her, pity her, understand her even but up close, maintain a relationship with her, that is s step too far for me right now (not that she shows any sign of wanting one) Pippa.  

  10. Rachel says:

    Hi,I read your post on forgiveness and I am glad I made the right decision. Just yesterday I had the feeling that I need to forgive my ex for taking my feelings for granted and breaking my heart. I had earlier come on your blog and read the title “Forgive them even if they are not sorry” but I was busy so I did nhot read the content. But that sentence keeps coming to my mind through out the week and just yesterday, I decided to apologize via a social network. As if he had been praying or waiting for me to send him a message, he instantly reply by  apologizing as well. I was so happy! The weigh of un forgiveness was lifted from my shoulder  and I felt free. Free!!!!!!! Now am going through the content and I kept nodding in acceptance of everything you wrote because forgiveness is truly an act of liberation.

  11. sam says:

    Forgiving when you are forced daily to interact with the one who committed the atrocities is mind numbingly impossible.  It is destroying me to deal with a child in my home that raped my 5 year old.   I want him gone but have no means to do so.  Even dss refused to help.  They threatened to take her away but no one wants him to be their problem.  So we are forced to ‘care’ for him until he is 18.  Every one talks about forgiving but it is always after the perpetrators are out of the picture.   How can one move forward when they are still trapped in the nightmare?

  12. carey says:

    Sam. My heart is breaking for you and your family. All of your family. I assume that this child you wish removed is not your own child. I honestly don’t know what pain could cause one child to do this to another,but I would think it must be considerable. Have you considered that this child himself may have been sexually assaulted? This cycle is often perpetuated. I can’t imagine how messed up inside this child is and he no doubt will feel your abandonment. It is a very sad situation and I hope  you are all getting the help and support that you no doubt desperately need. God bless you all.

  13. Alan says:

    Hello, I too am struggle with forgiveness not in one but many.1) my mum left my dad and took me and my sis because he was not meeting her expectations and needs when i was like 2 years old. i was like shit i dont have a dad :( .  So she went to my grand parents house. i was like ok. Then she wasnot the same .As a child i try to make her happy but i was at the same time naughty and that bothers her . The was she looks at me some times is that she regret giving birth to me. It was most painful part of my young life. As i was only living to make her happy but she was not.  So what reason do i have left to live? . Well my grand parents pity me and cared for me so i turn my attention to make them happy instead. That is the same time my mom left to work so they were there when i needed some one. After a while she started to get jealous i thing or angry that i am showing them more love then showing her. So i was happy in side that she finally wants me?  ok i tryed to stay with her because a parents love cant be given by anyone else. I feel really happy she wanted me. then she started showing the face that wish i was not born and i felt so down for around few months living with her. ( this hapened when i was 15 years old ). She did try to take care of me and my sister but i can see that she struggled but she dosent want my help i dont know maby i cant give her what she wants. the we went back to my grand parents house. and once i finished school i was dam happy i can leave the house because ..ok 2nd story. 2) When i lived in my grand parents house i was ok but also faced problems. I was used a lot like not by my grand parents but by my aunt relatives who sees me as a boy with out parents so lets make use of him as how i recall. I was happy to go with the flow but i was getting tierd of it. Dont get me wrong my grand parents are good just they had some attitude problems which i dident like. (Example talking to me that my mom abandon me and left my mom is stupid and useless and i dint like this kind of sayings. They would tread my mom badly . but ok with me? Wehn my mom leved with us in my grand parents house she was looked down by many of our family members. I din realized at young . When my mom left to work far away she left me just like that with no phone call or what so ever contact for 2 years . This was the darkest days of my life not for her leving me but me having no parents when im at 16 years old . Although i din want her i still wanted my mom or dad because the lonely pain is killing me. then when she came back after 2 years dam i was happy . but my grand parents was not happy as she left and forgot her son and daughter.  So they did not allow me to go lived with my mom. I didnt want to as well coz i was tied close friends in school and in church. I was happy but disappointed with her . My grand ma always said my mom will come back and use me when i get a job she want to take all my money for her self and sit at home and use me as a slave. So i had that mind set towards her and avoided her. But what hurt me also was that roumers was going on saying that i was using my grandparents and eating their food only coz he dosent have parents. Hes using you. I felt really bad after hearing that and wanted to lev the house so badly. when i was 19 i ran away after few months of work. I eventually came back and then left again because i know i dont belong there. 3) My eldest Aunty took care of me when i came to my grand parents house at 2 years old. She loved me as she had no child yet and said you are always my 1st son, shes nice and caring to me i spoke to her the most when it comes to family problems. She was the most supporting me even more then my mom. But she was also angry with my mom for leving me to go to enjoy her life . But some times i dis like her when she says bad about our family members at the back to me . Well i thing our whole family have this attitude problem including me as well. But as the generation goes it gets better. So but she cant take care of me as she was busy with her life.  4) My aunt 3rd after my mother she got divorced and move to my grands parents house when i was 16 years old she was the one that used me and took advantage of me the most as how i viewed i saw she wanted to pease my grand parents coz she is living under her roof and i was in the way. so that was when lots of problems came and gave me the idea of moving its me or her ( i saw her with 3 children so i told my self ill run away im young and want to see the world i was 19 years old. She bought a car under my name she asked me to drive her many places which i feel she was taking advantage of because i love driving. (Example come dirve me to here there see a friend and so on) I love driving but not for anyone too long many times.5) my last aunty was really my hero. She stood up and fought for the right thing in the family. She was the one that tought me the most what was wrong and right for me. She loved me and i know. But she was the one who encorage me to move out not for selfish reasons but for my one good . If i did not have moved out i will have been stuck in the family loop of my depression.When i moved out i learned the world i eventually got married and i love my partner she never makes me feel lonely . I have some bad attitude of not being appreciative but i an working on it coz i love her.In my wedding everyone came from my family but not my mom . Because She tought i will make the same mistake she made . i felt sad but happy at the same time because all my aunt came.My mother dont like my wife she even tryed to use her and abused her ( Example : use her car for unnessarry reasons she have her own car tough, Tell her shes ugly and our family wont accept her and she wont me happy with me ) so the i decided my mom cant come to my house if she cant behave . thats the last i saw her after the wedding.its been 5 months now. She said we will get divorced after 3 months of marriage . In my point of view i alwaysed forgive my family for what ever they did wrong but the hardest part is to forgive the repeated wrong doings like my mom keep hurting me and abusing me for what i tryed talking to her but it always ends up we avoiding each other. I dont like when she always said you shld have listened to me and not other people.  So that was my past . I dont know the future but theres a long journey ahead . And sorry for my spelling i am wrighting this in a rush :)