The Under-Appreciated Power of Forgiveness
When we're hurt, justice demands retribution. But, forgiveness brings relief and power.
President Davies, members of the board, distinguished faculty and staff, graduates and guests: Good evening! It’s a pleasure to be here with you to celebrate this graduation for the Hayworth College. Congratulations on your achievements, graduates!
This may surprise you. But you are an intimidating audience to address! Your strength, courage and perseverance is admirable. I have to wonder if you shouldn’t be speaking to me and my House colleagues instead of the other way around!
As I was looking around for ideas on how to challenge and encourage you tonight I came across some wonderful examples on following your passion, making a difference in the world, instilling hope and this one from my husband, the power of trust. (Imagine that! A politician talking to you about trust!)
Those are all truly good options and I hope you do them all!
But one of the most powerful influences in my life is something folks don’t talk about much. And when they do, it is more commonly viewed as a sign of weakness rather than as a foundation for discovering your passion, making a difference, living in hope, and being trustworthy.
Not many books are written on it and even fewer movies.
- Nelson Mandela used it to become president of South Africa.
- Corrie ten Boom used it to survive the Holocaust and minister to millions.
- Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin used it to establish peace between Egypt and Israel.
- I used it to put my life back together at 30 and equip me for service today.
What is this amazing force?
This is the unexpected and under-appreciated power of FORGIVENESS.
We all have had things happen to us that leave us angry, hurt or scarred. In fact, for some of you that may be why you are here today instead of 5, 10 or 20 years ago!
If so, then you have already begun to learn that it isn’t the events themselves that change us, it is how we deal with them.
Here is my story and I’m sure there are others here with a similar one.
When I was in high school I wasn’t always where my parents thought I was, or doing what they thought I was doing. As a result, I experienced a traumatic event that I did not feel I could share with them or anyone else because of the hurt and shame.
Instead, I became defensive, controlling, and more argumentative. It interfered with all my relationships, especially with my husband. It made me less productive at work and created health complications.
Over time, I finally realized that what I thought I had “stuffed” was at the root of many of my problems. Counseling helped, but the breakthrough was when a friend said, “Ruth, true healing won’t come until you learn to forgive.”
I didn’t know what to do with that but I was willing to do ANYTHING to get relief. In my case, I went to the elders of my church for prayer and advice. It was then that I finally understood my need to forgive myself and the other person.
I can’t adequately describe the relief and freedom I experienced. My health improved quickly and over time relationships were restored. A friend who had not seen me in several years once commented that I didn’t even look the same. She said I had taken “the boxing gloves off”!
She was right too. I am a different person. Learning to give and receive forgiveness has,
- Freed me to raise not only my two birth children, but also two children who were abused and abandoned by their birth mothers.
- It freed me to restore fractured relationships with my siblings so that I am no longer the bossy know-it-all but a trusted friend, confidant, and business partner.
- It freed me to serve and succeed in public service where a careless word or deed left unaddressed can ruin years of work by many.
- And most cherished to me, it freed me to love and encourage my wise and wonderful husband of 29 years who has stood with me through it all!
So, “What really is forgiveness?”
- Forgiveness cancels a debt. It will cost you! When someone hurts you it is right to expect that they deserve to be hurt back. Our sense of justice demands retribution. Yet, forgiveness says that I no longer expect to be “repaid” for what I suffered or lost. This is the same concept you see in banking when a loan is “forgiven.”
- Forgiveness is an event and a process. It takes time and practice! Each time the desire for revenge rears its powerful head, you have to choose to once again to forgive. Over time, the anger and pain subside. Hopefully replaced with a renewed and healthy relationship, though that is not always the case.
- Which leads to the final point, forgiveness is not always forgetting! It is not peace at all costs! When you release someone from your right to hurt them back, that does not mean that you allow them to continue to hurt you and others. It may mean avoiding the other person or confronting them on their behavior. (In politics, it may mean choosing different colleagues to help you with your bill!)
Don’t get me wrong! I know these are not easy things to do. But the powerful, life changing things are never easy!
Nelson Mandela found this power and freedom when he forgave his captors and led South Africa into democracy.
Corrie ten Boom found it when she forgave the men who captured and murdered her family during the Holocaust so that she could spread hope and healing to other survivors.
Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin used it when they looked past the years of war between their countries to establish a peace that still stands today.
Our country needs people like you with the strength, courage and perseverance to fulfill your dreams.
We need you finding your and following your passions to make a difference.
It will be your trust and integrity that rebuilds our national and international reputation.
I pray that you will also be the ones who choose to unleash the power of forgiveness, providing hope and peace in a fractured world.