86. Forgiveness Practice

86. Forgiveness Practice

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

Forgiveness Practice

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.

~Mary Anne Radmacher

After a drunk driver killed my son Shawn on his high school prom night, my life fell apart. My vibrant charismatic nineteen-year-old had perished and in his place stood only broken dreams.

Searching for hope, I gathered memories seeking to keep them alive. I shared my feelings with friends and family on a daily basis. We reminisced about the sports Shawn played, the fish he caught, the hijinks with friends. I searched old photo albums, watching his progress from towheaded toddler asleep on Dad’s chest to his senior picture in cap and gown. I reread sympathy cards detailing Shawn’s impact on his friends’ lives.

All those sweet memories faded when I saw his killer in the courtroom. For the first time in my grieving process, I was angry. The young man appeared stoic, devoid of emotion or remorse. Why was he alive and my son dead, his future gone? Shawn had a plan for life after high school—two years in community college and a part-time job with a carpet company.

Our son loved children and coached a youth flag football team where he patiently led small boys who idolized him. He wanted a future with a family and was fond of saying, “When I have kids, mine will be dressed in babyGap!” The world lost a good father. I lost an opportunity for grandchildren.

After several years of struggle, I began my journey up the steep hill of forgiveness. The theologians are correct: Progress cannot be accomplished if one is dragging the chains of anger and hatred.

The first step involved pondering a Sunday repetition of The Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I had trouble saying the words.

During my daily walk, I wrestled with this dilemma. I shook my fist and told God I wasn’t ready. Wisely, God didn’t answer. Maybe I could forgive in increments, or practice forgiveness in percentiles. I began by saying, “God, I can forgive him ten percent.” Daily I repeated this mantra. Shawn always defended the underdog, didn’t he? The scabs on my soul began to soften.

Some days I managed to add another point or two, others another five. Two months later, I stalled before fifty percent. Why would I want to admit that I was halfway to total forgiveness? Not me, Lord!

Eventually I crawled across the fifty-yard line. Relieved at this milestone, I believed success was possible. Progress accelerated until I arrived at the ninety percent marker. Only ten points separated me from total forgiveness. The light at the end of the absolution tunnel beckoned, but my face turned away.

Spring passed, including what would have been my son’s twenty-fourth birthday and the fifth anniversary of his death. I longed for completion of my task. What an accomplishment that would be—and an accomplishment I needed. Instead, I plodded into summer while still stuck at ninety percent. Depressed, I wondered if I’d make the final victory.

One morning in the fall, I awakened to the words, “Come into his heart Lord Jesus.” Did I dream the phrase or did the voice speak to my innermost being? I believed the latter. The elusive 100 percent arrived, and with it relief and journey’s end. At last, sounds were more musical, colors more vibrant, tastes sweeter.

The following May, a letter arrived from the drunk driver. The killer’s note was composed two days before he was released from prison. At his sentencing hearing three years prior, the judge had directed him to write an apology to us. It began simply: “Undoubtedly, this represents the most difficult letter I have tried to compose… the content is derived solely from the inner-workings of my heart.”

Why now? Why did this communication arrive after completion of my tortuous journey toward healing? The last line summed up my spiritual travels: “Be well in the meantime and may God give you guys the courage, strength, and wisdom to light your path.”

The timing of the letter did not go unnoticed. May was the great equalizer—May 1st, the date Shawn died and the following week Mother’s Day. Now perhaps I understood God’s plan. Until I’d reached the 100 percent marker, I wouldn’t have accepted the apology.

A scripture came to mind: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Peace arrived in increments. I provided the math. God, through forgiveness practice, became the teacher.

~Rita Billbe

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