By MARTIN WILLOUGHBY
A familiar plot in many movies is the main character’s journey of revenge. I have found this particularly true in old westerns. Someone gets wronged, and the main character goes to great lengths to exact revenge on the evildoers. Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest movie The Revenant falls into this genre. Based loosely on the 19th century explorer Hugh Glass, the movie tracks DiCaprio’s grueling story of revenge.
I believe there is a deep part of us that screams for justice. We want an “eye for eye.” We don’t want the innocent to suffer while the “bad guys” roam free. It can be very challenging to forgive those who have wronged us. We marvel when people are able to express forgiveness in spite of tragic wrongdoing.
In 2006, the world watched when an Amish community around Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, reacted to a madman who stormed into a schoolhouse and shot 10 young girls and killed five of them before killing himself. Members of the community attended the funeral of the shooter and hugged members of the killer’s family. Not holding grudges was a part of the DNA of the Amish community and manifested itself in this dramatic way before a national audience.
Poet Maya Angelou once said, “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” I agree with Angelou’s point. Dr. Fred Luskin, the Director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project has extensively studied the power of forgiveness. His work—which has included projects in Northern Ireland, Sierra Leone, and with World Trade Center survivors—has shown that “forgiveness reduces anger, hurt, depression, and stress and leads to greater feelings of optimism, hope, compassion, and self-confidence.”
I particularly like Luskin’s definition of forgiveness as “learning to make peace when you didn’t get something that you wanted in life.” I don’t know about you, but there are constantly things that don’t go according to my plan. I can easily set unrealistic expectations of what people will or won’t do. However, logically we know that when we harbor anger and resentment, the only person we hurt is our self. It has been said, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
As followers of Christ, the whole premise of our faith is about forgiveness. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Jesus did not want us harboring resentment. He told us, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).
As we approach Valentine’s Day, we will see many retailers with an array of Valentine’s supplies. Florists will sell millions of flowers for people to share with those they love. Restaurants will be packed with couples celebrating a special night together. While these are great expressions of love, perhaps this year forgiveness may also need to be part of what you share with someone. Whether a spouse, family member, neighbor, or friend, perhaps there is lingering resentment or anger. Maybe there is a wrong that you have not let go of.
After being beaten mercilessly, humiliated publicly, and killed brutally, Jesus did not rise three days later and lay waste to his killers. He did not destroy towns or exact revenge against the rulers of the day. Instead, He talked of forgiveness and repentance. He spoke of peace and love. Perhaps, we as followers of His path should consider what that looks like in our lives.
May your heart be filled with love and forgiveness this month and throughout the year.