He discovered the key to forgiveness after a suicide attempt ended his church mission and tested his faith.
Luke 23:34 states, “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do … ”
This quote from the bible was a guiding light for me during a time when I wanted to do anything but forgive. It was a few months after returning early from my church mission that I encountered some negative feedback from church members. One of which involved a church leader asking his son, my friend, to stay clear of me. Luckily for me he decided to be disobedient and provided the friendship I needed to remind me to not generalize the members of my church. Not all members had it out for me, which meant I had more support than the negative voices in my head wanted me to acknowledge.
In hindsight, I understand why there was so much confusion and animosity toward me when I returned. In 2002 no one really talked about depression and there was still this belief that mental illness was some how connected with sin. That if you were living the gospel you wouldn’t suffer from mental illness. Plus when you add to it that I tried to commit suicide, which many members believe is a dire sin, it’s not hard to understand why members would be cautious of me.
Without an understanding of mental illness it was easy for some members to keep me at arms length. I left for my mission a success story, which everyone was happy to be apart of, however, coming back early after not even making a year turned people off. I was no longer a success, I had become a hushed warning to other members. I was the example of someone you didn’t want your kids to be like and especially hang out with.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel betrayed, angry and despondent about the reaction of some members. Some of which were extremely close to me when I was growing in a new faith. However, it was because of my faith that I was able to find the ability to forgive.
“Forgive them father for they know not what they do.” I would recite these words when I’d feel myself growing resentful and angry. These words by themselves mean little but when put into context these words had the power to keep me in a state of forgiveness. When I’d ponder on these words I’d think about the pain I’d feel being nailed to a cross, whipped and mocked by people I was sent to help. If I would have been on that cross I would have been doing anything but asking God to forgive them. I would have been cursing everyone that had hurt me. I wouldn’t have been asking for their soul to be saved.
I’d cry whenever I’d picture myself in that moment. I can’t help but feel the power in his words and what it means for me. Even though I was wronged and had every right to be angry that didn’t mean I had to be. Would it have helped? I’d bet it would have made things worse and I’d surely wouldn’t be an active member of my faith. I was able to forgive because I knew someone else had suffered more then I and served as an example of what it took to forgive. So why can’t I.
It’s not easy but I can testify that forgiveness can change hearts because I’ve seen and experienced it myself. About a year into my college career at a faith based school I was approached by a member of my church family back home on Maui. The last time we talked he threatened me with public humiliation if I decided to attend that specific school because he feared I would be a danger to the students at that school. These threats weren’t empty as I quickly encountered school officials during my first week of classes who would question me and make sure I knew I was under their watchful eye.
So here I was with every reason to hate and avoid him but through the grace of God when I saw him all I felt was peace. I felt this calm because I believed that his actions though wrong had come from a place where he thought he was doing the right thing. He didn’t know if I was a danger or not. He went about it the wrong way but I couldn’t stay mad at him for doing something based on the lack of knowledge he had about me and mental illness. So instead of avoiding or giving him the middle finger I greeted him when he gestured for me to come over.
He surprised me with a handshake and within that shake he handed me a twenty dollar bill. He smiled and said he had heard I had been doing well. In shock I took his money and came to the conclusion that he had felt bad for what he had done. He knew at that point he had been wrong and seeing me find success in college was proof that I wasn’t a danger to anyone. After that day I haven’t talked to him much but I knew when he left that the past had truly been left there.
Without forgiveness it’s hard to move on in life. It’s what allows us to grow and find peace in a world of imperfect people. So if you’re able I would encourage you to forgive and remember the words, “Forgive them father for they know not what they do.” The sooner you forgive the quicker you’ll be able to move forward and prove that you are more then what people think of you.
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Photo: Flickr/Thanwan Singh