I never understood why God would ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son he waited so long to have. I always hoped He would never require such a sacrifice of me. The love a parent has for a child is like no other. God blessed me with three daughters (the last two are 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.
On May 11, 2002, a 24-year-old drunk driver named Eric killed one of my twins, Meagan, and one of her friends, Lisa. Both girls were 20 years old. This was devastating for all three families involved and for countless friends who 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-years 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 a video of him in my presentations and will soon have him standing with me, a living, breathing example of the dangers of drunk driving and the power of forgiveness.
I cannot think of a more vivid, modern-day example of the power of forgiveness than Renee’s story. No parent should ever have to face what she did. Being a parent myself, the thought of receiving a phone call with the horrifying news that my child’s life had been taken is too horrible to wrap my mind around. And yet that has become Renee’s reality. A drunk driver who never should have 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 harbor toward this criminal, who stole her daughter away from her. Even the most gracious seem to have their limits. Many would say she has a 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. My flesh tells me that if someone took them away from me the way Eric took Meagan and Lisa, forgiveness would be impossible. 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 store checkout, or even 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 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.
Philip Yancey, in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, describes forgiveness as an unnatural act. I could not agree more:
“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 when 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 only 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 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. “God demonstrates his own 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 forgiving Eric, Renee 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 our hearts and souls are awakened to the need of forgiveness in our own lives, we will be more inclined to see our enemies through eyes of compassion. Jesus laying down His life for our sins is the truest example of how we should forgive others. And the reward for forgiveness is great.
“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 prison we set free was us.”*** Set yourself free. Carry Renee’s story with you this week and ask God to help you follow His example of forgiveness toward someone who has wronged you.
*Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 93.
**Beverly Flanigan, Forgiving the Unforgivable (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 1994), 29.
***Lewis B. Smedes, Shame and Grace (New York: HarperOne, 1994), 141.