78. From Revenge to Peace

78. From Revenge to Peace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

From Revenge to Peace

Forgiveness is like faith. You have to keep reviving it.

~Mason Cooley

“Aunt Rachel and Uncle Harold have been murdered,” my mom said softly over the phone. “An employee who did their yard work beat them to death and has been arrested.”

Immediately, shock and disbelief overwhelmed me. I didn’t know his name and never asked. Knowing that would make it real. Since I lived 1,300 miles away from the publicity, I was shielded from the details but not the reality. At the funeral, the spicy sweet smell of carnations brought no peace or comfort as we buried my aunt and uncle.

Everyone has people they dislike or avoid, but I’d never had a reason before to hate someone. Nightmares plagued my dreams when I fell asleep. In the worst one, a hooded figure sat restrained in an electric chair. A large switch on the wall glowed as a judge encouraged me to pull the lever. At first, I hesitated. But as the dreams continued night after night, I gleefully yanked that bar, relishing the outcome. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, my heart pounding, and then I’d cry because I had become inside what I hated most—a killer.

I found it difficult to concentrate, and day-to-day tasks became almost unbearable as if I were trying to swim through mud. Any joy evaporated from my life, and nothing brought me peace or pleasure. I’d grown up in a religious home, but this shattered everything I’d ever known about forgiving. He’d beaten my dear elderly loved ones to death with a baseball bat! How could I let someone off the hook for a crime so heinous? Trapped in misery, I only managed the prayer, “Oh God, I can’t stand this!”

One day, my husband was cleaning the car with our two-year-old son playing in the front seat. Like a typical boy, he pushed every button and turned every knob he could find. Later, I crawled into the car for a trip to the grocery store. I started the engine, and the radio blasted at full volume: “MOST PEOPLE CONFUSE PARDON WITH FORGIVENESS.” I turned down the volume and collected my wits as the preacher continued. “When someone is pardoned, the consequences for their crimes are removed. Unless you are a governor, the President of the United States or God, you can’t pardon anyone!”

I backed out of the driveway and kept listening as I drove. “When you forgive, you give your right for revenge to God. The person who wronged you is still accountable for what they have done. The wrong is now between the wrongdoer and God. If you’ve been badly hurt and can’t forgive, it’s okay. Ask God to make you willing to forgive. That’s enough for now.”

I pulled over as tears streamed down my face. “God, I can’t let go of this. You’ll have to make me want to.” I dried my eyes and went on with the day. That night there were no dreams, just sleep.

As weeks went by, a thought followed me around. Whose capacity for vengeance is greater, mine or God’s? Who would a murderer fear more, Him or me? God could hurt this man more than I ever could, so I gave the Lord my right for revenge. It wasn’t because I was being kind or loving—it was survival forgiveness. I forgave just for me, putting this situation in His hands. Even with my vindictive motive, the nightmares stopped completely.

When the court deliberated on the murderer’s fate, I was at peace because his destiny was not in my hands. He was given a life sentence. Part of me was relieved because it was finished, and part of me wanted to be angry. He will live; they are dead. I placed it into the Lord’s hands again. Peace returned. Joy and pleasure trickled slowly back into my life as my heart healed. I pushed it all out of my mind, relieved, thankful for normalcy, and ten years flew by.

When an offender is given a life sentence, he comes up for parole every ten years. Parole was denied him, but it brought me questions: What if God forgives him? What if someday I’m in heaven, he walks in and the Lord says that it’s okay for him to be there? I decided that if the Lord lets him in, he must have changed. I gave up my right for revenge, so if my Father says it’s okay, then I’ll trust Him. At that point, I thought forgiveness was completed, but it resurfaced again a few years later.

Our church started participating in a new prison ministry, and they needed people to bake cookies for the prisoners. Baking the cookies included praying for the inmates who would eat them. So as I baked, I prayed that the Lord would change their lives. I asked that they would become new people who would know and love God. And then He whispered in my heart, “Pray for that other prisoner you know.”

“For him, Father? You want me to pray for him?”

Reluctantly I began. First, I prayed that someone would bake cookies for him. A power began to flow into me as I asked my Lord to change his life and make him a new person. Something began to break inside me, like a dam that first cracked, then leaked, and love broke through in a torrent. “Father, I want to meet him in heaven someday.” Did I say that? And then I continued, “Please, it will be such a waste otherwise.”

I used to worry about walking into heaven and facing the people there whom I’ve wronged or hurt. Praying for him made me understand that our Father pours love into all of our hearts, even for those who hurt us. Others will want me in heaven with them, just like I want him there. It’s liberating to know that when I extend forgiveness and pray, my heart opens to receive more of it from the Lord, others and myself.

Forgiveness was a process for me. I needed God’s help to even be willing to give up my right for revenge. Trust in the Lord’s justice nurtured acceptance of whatever the outcome might be. I have grace in my life again and I received a love for a man I believe I’ll meet in heaven. I’ll keep praying for him.

~Susan Boltz

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