Bob McCoskrie: This Christmas, gift yourself balm of forgiveness

NZ Herald 24 December 2018 
It has been said that if we collected up all the goodwill and festive spirit we exhibit during the Christmas season, put it in a bottle and released a bit of it each day of the year, the world would be a better place to live.

We seem to be ready to forgive and seek reconciliation more readily during this time than at any other.

We make that extra effort to get together with and enjoy the company of other family members and friends. We even manage to somehow forgive the people who normally rub us up the wrong way – people who push in line, who leave the toilet roll empty, who let their little kids go wild in shops, even people who sit in the fast lane doing 60km/h – well, almost.

Forgiveness may not be easy, but it’s also not an F-word. What we may not understand is that it’s not only good for the recipient, it may actually be exactly what we need.

Author and theologian Lewis B Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover the prisoner was you”.

It’s easy to pull a newly planted tree out of the ground but once it’s had time to grow and take root, a fully grown tree is that much harder to remove. If we don’t deal with inforgiveness and anger today, tomorrow it becomes bitterness, associated with negative emotion, stress and thoughts of revenge.

An example of this is Debbie Morris, the author of Forgiving the Dead Man Walking, the counterpart to the 1995 award-winning movie Dead Man Walking.

At age 16, Debbie and her boyfriend were abducted at gunpoint by Robert Willie and Joe Vaccaro. Her boyfriend was led into deserted woods, tortured, shot, and left for dead. Debbie was repeatedly raped by her captors. They both survived their ordeal, but Willie ended up on death row awaiting execution for the murder of another woman he had killed only days before – the basis of the movie Dead Man Walking.

Yet Debbie says, “I think that many times people in my situation think that justice is what is going to heal them – and I thought that … and I was disappointed time after time … Justice is not what heals us and it was not what healed me.

“I realised that there is no such thing as justice on this earth for what that man did … When I was able to forgive, not only did the hate, the anger and the pain go away, but the shame did too.”

Justice depends on the effectiveness of the legal system. Offenders also have to deal with their own conscience, the legacy of their life, and their judgment to come.

The movie industry knows us well and feeds our natural desire for revenge.

Take any action movie you have seen. The very basic theme is “good person” versus “evil person”, and the final scene, after the evil person has been really evil, is the goodie walking away from a scene of pandemonium, fire, and destruction where the baddie has just been violently killed – the more violent, the better.

That’s why forgiveness is so hard, it goes against the grain.

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

Yet we recall the line from the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Forgiveness comes back to us.

We can live in the bondage of bitterness or the freedom of forgiveness.

As Smedes says, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. It takes one person to forgive, it takes two people to be reunited”.

Christmas is a great time to receive and offer forgiveness. It is an investment in family life that has great returns.