Last year I met with a couple of friends for beer and conversation (two of my favorite things by the way!). Let me just preface by saying that at the time neither person I was talking to knew my full life story. Neither has journeyed with me through deep struggles or has seen the way that Christ has transformed me. They only know the Kara they see sitting in front of them today. Yet, I sit here amazed that God showed up and gave me the words to share something that not even the closest of my friends knew at the time.
Here’s what God revealed that day: I can’t define but I can see what forgiveness looks like in my life. I can be free from guilt. I don’t fear sharing my life with others because frankly I don’t care if it makes them uncomfortable– being comfortable is for wimps.
Over ten years ago my mother was killed in a car wreck. I guess I should say “accident” but that would require me to believe that there are accidents in life… which I don’t. I was 16 years old and just starting to figure out who I was. On that hot Texas morning I instantly became a mom figure to my two younger brothers and had to put aside the normal life issues that a teenager deals with. There were more important things to deal with. Of course everyone around my family helped in their own way. People brought dinner to us for over 8 months. Notice I said dinner, not plural. Even now I still can’t look at a chicken casserole without wanting to vomit. Others sent beautiful cards and letters expressing their heartfelt sympathies with phrases like “I understand”, “I know what you’re going through”, “Your mom is in a better place so you shouldn’t feel sad”. Gee, thanks guys. I had therapists diagnosing me with things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and my favorite “anger and rebellion issues”. Please don’t think that I’m not grateful for other people helping my family. I’m beyond grateful for all that the hundreds of compassionate souls did for us. I’ve also come to the conclusion that the best thing you can do for someone in grief is to stop talking and just listen. The best thing anyone did for me during that time was sit next to me and just listen to me cry, scream, and share my thoughts. I had a running list of reasons why I was mad- and justifiably so:
*My mother was dead.
*My dad was hurting and I couldn’t fix him. No one could.
*My brothers were only 6 and 10 and would grow up without their mother too. Elijah at 6 years old would probably never really remember her.
*I didn’t understand why God let this happen. He should have known right?
*This really REALLY screwed up my life. My social life was dead- I had a family to take care of. I couldn’t enjoy high school and therefore chose to just stop going for a few months.
I was royally pissed off and I wanted everyone to know about it. Not understand it, just know it. In the midst of all of this I found myself placing blame on many people. First, my dad for driving our car. Didn’t he see the other driver run the red light? That only lasted until I regained some sort of common sense. Next, I blamed God (this continued in some form for years to come). I blamed myself. I was sitting in the back of the car until 5 minutes before we left our house. My mother insisted that I sit up front with my dad and she would take my place in back. She took my place. Ugh. The guilt of thinking “it could have/should have been me” stuck with me for too long. Finally, I landed on the most obvious choice: the man in the other car. The idiot who didn’t think to pay attention while driving. The drunk driver.
His name is Robert. For many years I’ve thought about him and instantly felt sick to my stomach. He utterly repulsed me. How could someone take another life and essentially get away with it? He spent no time in jail, never paid a dime in damages. He was free. I however was not. The anger and complete desire to never forgive this man honestly drove many of my decisions for the next few years. I was reckless and didn’t care what others thought or how my choices might affect them.
There’s so much more of the story to share here and although I won’t write it out right now, I did share my complete story, the good bad and really ugly to those 2 friends at a bar last fall. In that moment God said this to me, “Let go, stop running and just forgive Robert.” Really God? Really??? I had to first figure out what forgiveness was and what it wasn’t. Forgiveness is not a pardon. It’s not me saying that what he did to my family was OK, nor is my act of forgiveness based on his ownership of his mistake. I shouldn’t expect for him to one day find a way to apologize to us. Would that really help? I can’t wait for him to confront me. This is not about him anymore. This is about me and God. Period. My decision to forgive Robert is not based on anything other than my desire to: 1. authentically be who I am 2. grow closer to Jesus 3. feel freedom.
I read this recently which included the following: Forgiveness, the Way of Freedom by Henri Nouwen. You know when you read something and it hits you like a brick in the face? Your first reaction is “Damn, that really hurt!” followed by, “Yeah, I probably deserved/needed that.” All this to say, you’ve been warned:
“To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, “I no longer hold your offense against you” But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the “offended one.” As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.”
I don’t have a complete definition of what forgiveness is for me. I do know what it looks like in my life and relationships now. I no longer cling to anger. I am not defined by what others have done to me or being a victim of anything. I am a child of God. I am free.