I try to separate the offense from the offender, but I am having a hard time doing that. Do you have some suggestions for me?

Not knowing the concrete details of your particular situation, it is not easy to answer this one.  Yet, here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Do you see the person only in terms of the injury against you?
  • Is there more to this person than those actions?
  • Can you see any examples of when he or she treated you well?
  • If you combine the injurious behavior and his or her good behaviors toward you, how are you seeing this person?
  • Is he or she more than those injurious behaviors toward you?
  • Who is this person when you see him or her more broadly like this?

Christmas Tree Thief Gets Tree Plus Forgiveness

WCVB Channel 5, New Bedford, MA – After a 9-year battle with mitochondrial disease, 14-year-old Noah Fernandes died last spring. His grieving parents buried him at Pine Grove Cemetery in New Bedford.

Christine and Noah (at age 5).
Christine and Noah (when he was 5).

Last week, they decided to spruce up his gravesite with a small Christmas tree, and decorated it with some of Noah’s favorite ornaments.

But over the weekend, someone stole Noah’s tree and all the ornaments.

Rather than express bitterness and resentment, however, Noah’s parents offered forgiveness and good wishes to the perpetrator. They said the Fernandes family lives by the creed: If you harbor bitterness, happiness will find another port.ornament

“If someone needed it more than Noah, and they couldn’t afford a tree, then maybe Noah blessed it, and the tree will bring them happiness,” said Noah’s mother Christine.

Noah was diagnosed at age 5. He fought the disease for about nine years. Finally, confined to a wheelchair, blind and unable to speak, Noah succumbed to the disease in March, at age 14.

The family has set up a website in Noah’s memory. It tries to provide logohelp for other families dealing with mitochondrial disease. They’re also using the website to raise money to build a playground for children in New Bedford. You can get more information at teamnoahfoundation.org.


Read more:

Mother forgives whoever stole Christmas tree from child’s grave – WCVB Channel 5, Boston, MA

New Bedford Mother Shows Grace After Christmas Tree Stolen From Son’s Grave – Boston.cbslocal.com

Christmas tree stolen from child’s grave, mother offers forgiveness – MSN.com (Microsoft)

Understanding the offender seems to be an important ingredient in forgiveness. Yet, what if I never understand why he did what he did? What if I just can’t understand his motives or his background? Is forgiveness still possible?

In the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, I talk of three perspectives a forgiver can take toward an offending other person: the personal, global, and cosmic perspective.  You basically are talking about the personal perspective in which you see the details of the person’s life so that you can empathize with his or her pain from being wounded by others.  When this is not possible, I recommend a focus on the global and cosmic perspectives.  For the global perspective, try to see your shared humanity with the other.  You share a lot in common: You both need air to breathe and a little plot of land on which to stand.  You both bleed when cut and both of you can be hurt by others.  Try to see these commonalities between the two of you.  The cosmic perspective will depend on your worldview or religion.  Can you see a very large picture of how the two of you fit into a divine plan, for example?  In other words, again depending on your worldview or faith, can you see that both of you are made in the image and likeness of God?  Such a perspective might help to soften your heart toward the other who has hurt you.

I am not sure that you actually can answer my question, but it has to do with trust. How long does it take, generally, to earn back trust? I have an uncle, who does not have much time left, and I would like to patch up our problems before it is too late.

You might want to think of trust in two ways: Trust because of one area in a person’s life (he or she is a compulsive gambler, for example) or trust more generally (the person harms you in many ways and across time).  Does your uncle have a particular weakness, such as we see in the gambling example?  If so, then he would have to start building trust by small steps.  Perhaps you are slowly seeing that he no longer asks for money from you, as an example.  You need time to see that the particular actions are no longer hurtful. That may take a number of exchanges between the two of you before your trust begins to build.  This could take weeks or even months.

If your uncle has general patterns of injustice which have hurt you, then this can take a lot longer.  Try to look for instances of genuine change in him.  Is he beginning to see what he has done?  Is he remorseful by showing an inner sorrow for what he has done?  Has he apologized or expressed regret to you?  If he can give back something tangible to you, has he tried to do that?  Look for what I call the Three R’s: remorse, repentance, and recompense.  If you begin to see these, then your trust may begin to build.

I sometimes feel a general kind of stress. I am all worked up inside and am restless. How can I begin to understand the source of this stress, its cause? It usually is not caused by something that happened to me that day.

When some people have a persistent unease within, it can be traced to anger that begins because of unjust treatment by others in the past.  The key here is to think through any unresolved issues from the past.  Did someone treat you very unfairly?  Have you not yet started a process of forgiveness with this particular person?  Try to take an inventory of unfair treatment, starting in childhood and moving up to the present time.  You might consider for this exercise the Forgiveness Landscape Rating Scale (Appendix B) in my book, The Forgiving Life.  If you discover deep, unfair treatment against you which you have never truly confronted, then you can start to forgive the person, which may decrease anger toward the person and reduce your general stress.

What techniques can help me to recognize my anger?

  • You could create a journal in which you record instances of unjust treatment and your level of anger on a 1 to 10 scale.
  • You could ask a confidant how angry he or she thinks you are about certain instances.
  • You could think about the psychological defense of denial and ask yourself the question: To what extent might I be hiding anger from myself ? Then reflect on what you consider to be a particularly unfair action against you and rate the anger there on the 1 to 10 scale.

I am interested in character development. What would you suggest to me if I want to change my character so that I do not hurt so much from what happened to me? I don’t want to be consumed by the pain.

A paradox is to bear the pain of what happened so that you do not run from it or deny it. It seems like a contradiction to ask you to bear the very same pain that you do not want.  Yet, as you courageously bear that pain, you begin to see that you are able to stand under the weight of that pain.  You begin to see that you are stronger than you might have realized.  As you continue to stand in courage like this, the pain begins to lift and you then have a confidence that you can confront and defeat any future pain that comes your way.

A paradox is to bear the pain of what happened so that you do not run from it or deny it. It seems like a contradiction to ask you to bear the very same pain that you do not want.  Yet, as you courageously bear that pain, you begin to see that you are able to stand under the weight of that pain.  You begin to see that you are stronger than you might have realized.  As you continue to stand in courage like this, the pain begins to lift and you then have a confidence that you can confront and defeat any future pain that comes your way.