The Story: FORGIVENESS
Out of the darkness of bitterness and into the light of forgiveness…
From Renee Napier:
I never understood why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Issac, the son he waited so long to have. I also always hoped He would never require such a sacrifice of me. Once my first child, a son, was born I really couldn’t understand how Abraham just did what God told him to do. The love a parent has for a child is like no other. God also blessed me with 3 daughters, the last two being identical twins. I love my children with all my heart and could never imagine living without one of them.
I now have a mission I did not choose: DUI presentations.
May 11, 2002, 24-year-old drunk driver, Eric, killed one of my twins, Meagan, and one of her friends, Lisa, both girls 20 years old. This was devastating for all three families involved, and countless friends that mourned the loss of these precious girls. But this is also a story of forgiveness and healing. My family and Lisa’s family chose to forgive Eric. We even appealed to have his 22 year prison sentence reduced to 11 years.
Since March 29, 2004 I have traveled all over the country telling this story to thousands of people, mostly teenagers. I always talk about forgiveness because we have learned how powerful it is for everyone. Eric told me he has his eternal salvation because of Meagan and Lisa. I show him via video in my presentations and will soon have him as an inmate, standing with me, a living, breathing example of the dangers of drunk driving, but also of the power of forgiveness.
From Matthew West:
I cannot think of a more vivid, modern day example of the power of forgiveness than this story you have just read. No parent should ever have to face the reality Renee did. Being a parent myself, the thought of being on the receiving end of a phone call delivering the horrifying news that your child’s life has been taken is beyond unbearable. And yet, that has become Renee’s reality. A drunk driver who should have never been behind the wheel of a car that night senselessly killed her beloved daughter. Few would blame Renee for any resentment or even hatred she may have towards this criminal who stole her daughter away from her. Even the most gracious seem to have their limits. Many would see it as her right to hold a grudge. After all, the young man was found guilty by a judge and jury. Even the law is on Renee’s side. Yet somehow, she has found it in her heart to extend the hope of forgiveness to this guilty man who took the life of her daughter, and both of their lives changed as a result.
If you are anything like me, reading Renee’s story may have left you a bit conflicted. One of my first thoughts was, ‘I’m not sure I could do the same.’ I thought about how much I love my daughters, and if someone took them away from me the way that Eric did, my flesh tells me forgiveness seems like an unreachable destination. And while I am being honest, I should probably confess that I have a hard enough time forgiving the person who cut in front of me at the grocery check out, or my wife when we find ourselves at odds, let alone someone who has done irreparable harm to myself or my family. Yes, unfortunately holding a grudge is something I do quite well. How about you? Is there someone in your life who wronged you? Maybe a relationship that has been severed because a lie was told or trust betrayed? Or perhaps, you relate to Renee’s story, having been wronged by a complete stranger, you hold on to a deep resentment that you carry with you every moment of every day. Maybe, like Renee, someone has stolen away something or someone so precious to you that you can never get back. Big or small, forgiveness can be a seemingly impossible bridge to cross.
In Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, he describes forgiveness as an unnatural act. I could not agree more. He writes, “I never find forgiveness easy, and rarely do I find it completely satisfying. Nagging injustices remain, and the wounds still cause pain. I have to approach God again and again, yielding to him the residue of what I thought I had committed to him long ago. I do so because the Gospels make clear the connection: God forgives my debts as I forgive my debtors.”
Forgiveness makes little sense, as long as we are the ones being asked to forgive. It goes against everything we feel inside when we are the wronged party. And being the flawed humans we are, we do have our limits. However, when we are the ones in need of forgiveness, well, isn’t that quite a different story? C.S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Let us always be mindful of our own deep and endless need for forgiveness, and grateful for the limitless forgiveness that is extended to us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Let us be grateful that He did not wait for us to make the first move. “For god demonstrates his great love for us in this; while we were still sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8.)” He initiated forgiveness of our sins, and in doing so, released its healing power into the lives of all who accept.
By Renee forgiving Eric, she has made a choice to humbly follow the example Christ set for us, and God has used her step of faith to release healing into both of their lives, leading Eric to find his own personal freedom in Christ. And what is it about Renee that would allow her to see her perpetrator through eyes of grace and not anger? When one’s heart and soul are awake to the need of forgiveness in one’s own life, then they will be more inclined to see their enemy through eyes of compassion. Jesus laying down his own life for our sins is the truest example of how we should forgive others. And the reward of forgiveness is great. Beverly Flanigan wrote, “Forgiveness is a rebirth of hope, a reorganization of thought, and a reconstruction of dreams. Once forgiving begins, dreams can be rebuilt. When forgiving is complete, meaning has been extracted from the worst of experiences and used to create a new set of moral rules and a new interpretation of life’s events.” This is the reward Renee has been blessed to discover. Yes, she still hurts. Yes, she still misses her daughter. But forgiveness can bring hope to our hopeless tragedies, and freedom from the burden of resentment. Lewis B. Smedes wrote, when we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.” Set yourself free today. Carry Renee’s story with you this week and ask God to help you follow his example of forgiveness towards someone who has wronged you.
It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those who don’t deserve
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just too real
Takes everything you have to say the word
It’s always angers own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you’ve got a right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying, “set it free”
Lord, show me how to love the unlovable
Teach me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
It can clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what its power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of Grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you