Introduction

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Introduction

Self is the only prison that can ever bind the soul.

~Henry Van Dyke

This is a life-changing book. The fact that you are reading it means you are at least thinking about using the power of forgiveness to change yours. We hope these 101 personal, revealing stories will motivate you to let go and get on with your own life.

It’s astounding how many of the contributors to this book talk about the freedom they feel after forgiving someone. They hadn’t realized how much they were holding themselves back by holding on to the resentment, plotting revenge, and staying angry! Many of them lay out the steps for you—exactly how you, too, can analyze your situation, come to grips with what happened, and then forgive and move on. It’s empowering and it’s freeing to leave those resentments behind, to put them in the past. And many of our contributors eventually realize that the only people they’re hurting by not using the power of forgiveness are themselves.

These stories cover just about every kind of human relationship and all the different ways that things can go wrong, so you will undoubtedly find some good advice in these pages. In Chapter 1, you’ll read about people forgiving their fathers. Anthony Anderson, coauthor of this book, talks about forgiving his biological father right before he died, and how right it was to do that. He says, “I sleep peacefully at night knowing that I was able to release my father from a burden of guilt as well as Robert releasing me from the burden of anger I had towards him.” And he passes on some great advice about how you can take the first step, whether you feel it’s your responsibility or not. Someone has to be the strong one, right?

You’ll also read a fascinating story by Kara Sundlun in Chapter 1. It was only when her biological father was running for political office that she discovered who he was. Eventually, when he became governor of Rhode Island, and after she filed a paternity suit, he accepted her as his child and even had her come to live with him. She didn’t start a relationship with him until she was in her late teens, but she forgave him and he passed away at the age of ninety-one in her arms. Kara says, “Forgiveness is the closest thing I have found to a fairy godmother. Its energy has the magical power to transform us and create the happy ending we so badly want.”

In Chapter 2, you’ll read about forgiveness between mothers and their children, including a very moving story by Ruth Logan Herne. Ruth was raised in abject poverty by a depressed, alcoholic mother. One day Ruth came across her mother’s poetry from when she was a teenager, and that was her wake-up call—she saw her mother as the talented, thoughtful girl she had been. And when her mother stopped drinking, Ruth embraced the relationship with her again and was thankful to be her daughter.

And then there are the in-laws and the “steps” and the “halfs” and all the other family relationships we add to our lives through marriage. In Chapter 3, we read stories about learning to live with family-through-marriage, including an uplifting story by Helen Colella that is sure to make you smile. Helen’s brother married a widow and became the stepfather to a wonderful, loving teenage son. Their relationship was fabulous but the stepson became increasingly unhappy with his stepfather, until one day he opened up and told him that he wanted to be described as his son, not his stepson. Of course the stepfather had always viewed him as his son but didn’t want to look like he was trying to replace the boy’s late father. It’s a great example not only of the power of forgiveness but also of speaking honestly and openly.

The occasional fights between siblings are a normal part of growing up. But when things go wrong between adult siblings, it really hurts. In Chapter 4 you’ll read many stories about patching up rifts with siblings, including a fascinating one by Mark Rickerby, whose brother was a drug addict. After his brother died, Mark needed to forgive him for what he had done to the family. Mark also needed to forgive himself for what he viewed as his failure to save his brother. One night, in a dream, Mark’s brother appeared and assured him that he hadn’t done anything wrong. And Mark forgave him. When he woke up, he says he was “heartbroken that it was just a dream” but also says that he had “a heart lighter than it had been since he died.”

Chapter 5 is all about the bad things that can happen in love and marriage. You’ll read many stories about affairs and marriages that failed, but you’ll also read how husbands and wives learned to see past these transgressions and reconnect with the person they used to love, even if it’s only to maintain a civil relationship post-divorce. One such story, by Karen Todd Scarpulla, is about how she and her teenage kids moved back in with her ex-husband when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She nursed him through his final year, and she learned to separate his bad behavior from the person she had once loved. She says, “Forgiveness had given me the ability to stop judging him and accept him for who he was. I was finally at peace with our past. It was time to let go of our history, so we could both move on.”

There are plenty of people we need to forgive outside our families. Most of us have had a falling out with a friend or work colleague at some point. Unfortunately, we don’t have family occasions to force us back together to work things out. In Chapter 6, you’ll read stories about a variety of misunderstandings and just plain bad behavior and you’ll meet some great role models who show you how to overcome your feelings and use forgiveness to reclaim your lives from these people.

Joe Rector writes about what happened when he resigned as coach of his son’s baseball team and the father who took his spot exacted revenge on him by not letting Joe’s son play for the rest of the season. Joe remained angry about this for years, and resentful of the father’s son as well, until one day his own son said to him, “Dad, it’s time to quit being mad. His dad was a jerk, and he hurt me back then, but I’m okay now and don’t care.” Joe realized he was right and he forgave the other father. He says, “Almost immediately, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders.” And he was able to enjoy baseball again. The only person he had been hurting during all those years was himself.

In Chapter 7, “Lessons from the People You Meet,” you’ll read inspirational stories that will make you look at strangers in a new light. When Marya Morin moved into a new home, it seemed that her elderly neighbor was determined to make Marya’s family miserable, complaining about any noise the young family made, even if they were just laughing. Then one day, when Marya was hosting a barbecue for friends and neighbors, she had an epiphany. She invited her crabby neighbor to join them, and discovered that she was just a lonely old woman who was being mistreated by her own grown son. After that barbecue, Marya reports, “We never heard a harsh word from her again. In fact, we became close friends, forgiving and forgetting our rocky beginning, and embracing our friendship instead.” That’s a great lesson for all of us. You have to look beyond someone’s behavior to see what is motivating it. Sometimes, addressing that unseen motivation will solve the problem for you.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine forgiving someone for murder or rape or pedophilia or drunk driving, but our contributors have done it. Chapter 8 contains fourteen stories by contributors who forgave someone who committed a crime against them. We start the chapter with a story by Immaculée Ilibagiza, known worldwide as one of the survivors of the Rwandan Genocide, that terrible, insane civil war that occurred two decades ago when the Hutu majority turned on the Tutsi minority, even killing members of their own families.

Immaculée and seven other Tutsi women spent three months crammed into a twelve-foot-square bathroom, hiding in the home of a local Hutu pastor. When they finally emerged after the slaughter had ended, Immaculée learned that her entire family had been killed except for one brother who was studying abroad. When she was introduced to her family’s murderer in a local jail, she said, “I forgive you,” shocking the jailer, who expected her to kick the cowering old man who lay at her feet in rags. But Immaculée explained: “Hatred has taken everything I ever loved from me. Forgiveness is all I have left to offer.” She walked out of that prison free of anger and hatred and says she has lived as a free woman ever since.

Perhaps the most important forgiveness of all is self-forgiveness, because we seem to beat ourselves up more than anyone else. So this book ends with a whole chapter on the importance of self-forgiveness, and as an example, you’ll read Judythe A. Guarnera’s story about the advice she received in a divorce support group. The leader asked the participants to say, “In my marriage I did the best I could.” Then they were told to say, “My spouse did the best he or she could.” And Judythe came to realize that her husband had done his best, and she had done her best, and it just hadn’t worked out. She forgave her ex-husband and herself, and thus faced a better future.

And finally, you’ll read a poem by Christina Galeone that we believe is a wonderful way to sum up the lessons we have learned from this book. When she talks about rage “steamrolling good as well as bad” it sounds like she is speaking for every contributor to this collection. Forgiveness brings peace. Rage and anger bring nothing but more of the same.

As Anthony Anderson says in his story, “Life is fleeting. We need to LIVE and LOVE in the moment!” We hope this important new collection of stories from Chicken Soup for the Soul will help you reunite with a loved one, get over a dispute that’s keeping you up at night, and shrug off those daily problems and issues that arise, big and small, in all our lives.

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