To enjoy life peacefully, a very important aspect is to learn to forgive.
Forgiveness is to let go that which no longer serves us, freeing us to heal and move forward with ease and lightness. But for many of us, forgiving is a very hard thing to do.
The simplest things in life are often the best gifts. But they may also not be that simple.
The best gift people can give to each other are the gifts of forgiveness, peace, love, respect, and a smile, as we forget all the wrongs, we believe have been done to us.
Have we thought about giving ourselves the gift of forgiveness this year?
The way I learnt it was back when we came to Canada in 1989. At the time I didn’t speak or understand any English and was living at my aunt’s house with her family and my family being together. It started small, but over time it had an insidious effect. My aunt started teasing us, which slowly turned to insult, then bullying behaviour: we are useless here, we will be struggling, doing factory labour work… and on, and on. It started as just a joke but later turned into real verbal bullying.
At first, I thought it was nothing serious. No big deal. I thought she might realize and will change one day.
But slowly I started feeling depressed and began to brood about it. That eventually turned to actual, physical headaches every day. I felt like as if I was in hell. My mother was trying to help me, but as the bullying was not stopping, we decided that the only solution was to move to another place. And we did finally move out and get our own apartment — and then I had no more problems with bullying. But I also never showed my face to my aunt for a good five years after that. So much so that she noticed and began to complain to my mom and elder sisters.
One day we met at a family event, and she demonstrated to me, “What have I done wrong?” I explained to her, “Aunty, I love you and will always have respect for you and your opinions. But in this case, I am finding it very hard to dismiss the nasty comments you made about me and my family. I found I could not let such remarks go. They were hurtful, cruel… and though you aimed them to me and my family, I was the one you hurt. I hope that was unintentional.” She realized her part and felt bad and said, “Sorry!” Anyways, it will remain as an awful memory.
The road to forgiveness, it was hard. But I learnt to forgive her, with patience. It took time. When I thought of her, the urge to avoid her — worse, to get back at her, and treat her in kind — was strong. But I worked hard to get it off my chest and forgive her, and then I felt much better. True, I may never be able to forget what she did to me. But when I eventually learnt to forgive, it released the burden, and the floodgates of my negative emotions!
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or minimizing the pain we feel, nor is it about excusing others. Forgiveness means making a conscious and deliberate decision to let go of our feelings of resentment or revenge, regardless of whether the person who has upset us deserves it.
So, are you ready to be free and ready to move ahead into the future?
We have to let go of our mistakes and forgive ourselves and forgive others just as God forgives us. Completely and with no reservations!
Have a wonderful life and peace!
Surjit Singh Florais a veteran journalist and freelance writer based in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Editor’s Note: This is the true and very personal story of a woman who grew up amidst entrenched hatred and violence so common-place that it could have easily led her to a lifetime of cynicism, mistrust and skepticism. Instead, she chose to adopt forgiveness and peace-work as her way of life. This is her story.
Growing up in one of the most violent regions in the world has taught me that anything I care about can be taken from me at any second. As a child, I recall witnessing horrifically violent images constantly appearing on the television screen, and I still have memories of being confined in a bomb shelter during the 1991 Gulf War.
Somehow because we were children, my peers and I accepted this routine –the common ritual of periodically fitting gas masks on our heads in case a chemical attack should occur— as “normal.” We internalized the fact that any time we rode the bus there might be a terrorist attack against it (and many times there was), and we would be left to deal with the turmoil which was the reality into which we were born. We grew up with friends whose family members were brutally murdered in the middle of the street and who lost body parts or suffered horrific burns in terrorist attacks. Under these conditions, it was, and is, easy to hate and stereotype these “terrorists,” to wish them harm and never to consider what their lives are really like and what kinds of trauma they too have suffered.
But who are these “terrorists”? Do they have a name? A family? A dream for a safe home to return to? Is our pain from their attacks any greater or lesser than their pain? Although comparing pain is a slippery slope, one cannot help but wonder if we would all become “terrorists” if we were living under the same circumstances. As it is simply expressed in the Native American proverb: “Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked in his moccasins.”
We can easily dwell on our personal traumas and forget that violence and loss are universal conditions that people experience every minute all over the world. Perhaps an even greater challenge is to remember which roles each one of us passively plays in the construction of violence and abuse, such as through discrimination, consumption, and unfair trade. We fight and compete for resources, land, jobs, and recognition. The battle is real, and we may even have evidence to justify it to a certain degree, but what does it do to our bodies, our health, and to our past, present and future relationships?
What I have learned from my personal experience and relationships with those families who have lost loved ones is that forgiveness is a practice. In order to move through the trauma of my early years as an Israeli, I chose to adopt forgiveness and peace-work as a way of life. I understand how extremely short and fragile our lives are, and how crucial it is to place harmony with our environment as a priority. I have determined that spending our time in bitter punishment instead of restoring balance doesn’t help anyone.
Forgiveness is not easy, but when done authentically and with a supportive group of professionals, it is a sustainable alternative to entrenched hatred and violence. A successful practice in forgiveness can become a building block in the joyful and meaningful lives we are all seeking to build. Practicing forgiveness has been restoring lives in many conflict stricken areas around the world such as Northern Ireland and South Africa.
Forgiveness is a sustainable alternative to entrenched hatred and violence.
How can we balance our needs to survive in our competitive modern world with the need to be compassionate and forgiving? For me, this juggling act of balancing the fragile scales of justice and mercy became easier once I uncomfortably realized that the capacity to inflict harm dwells in all human beings and that I myself cause harm unintentionally pretty much every single day. This understanding created an overwhelming emotion which left me feeling stuck in some surreal Stanford experiment. But I do believe we have a choice in transcending these animalistic tendencies by daring to embrace forgiveness and compassion, for the lives of all those involved in the conflicts. This path of action is not a quick fix, but nevertheless, it is possible.
As my colleague Siobhan Chandler, Ph.D., explains, sometimes the first step in understanding how to move forward in a situation where there are multiple competing interests is to be intentional in asking for an outcome that is for the highest good of everyone involved. I believe that when we compassionately and respectfully consider the needs of others, we open a new gate of communication which re-humanizes our enemies and inches us towards a solution where it is possible that everyone’s needs are met.
My exposure to violence and conflict have opened me to participating in the growing forgiveness movement. More and more groups around the world have formed councils, restorative justice programs and healing circles, and have learned to overcome the trauma of human violence, to sit together, to talk, to listen, to forgive and to co-exist peacefully. These are people who have lost children to murder; who have lost their homes to bombing; who were betrayed and were left penniless. They have still managed to overcome the loss because they have realized that the enemy has a name, and a face, and a family and a story, just like we all do.
When the wounds of human violence are open and bleeding, delicate care and emotional sensitivity is required. The healing process often requires material and verbal reconciliation and restoration, but the foundational step is to recognize that a lack of forgiveness or justification of anger and revenge only destroys us, not our “enemy,” and makes us more physically sick, emotionally lonely and socially isolated. What if this form of “justice” doesn’t work, since whether it is us, or someone else committing a crime, when we place the stereotypical innocent victims against heartless criminals, both sides lose their humanity? As author David Wong said: “But remember, there are two ways to dehumanize someone: by dismissing them, and by idolizing them.”
I believe that deep down we all want to heal from the pains of losing that which we care about, to make sense of the losses we all experience in this hurting world. I wonder if at the heart of healing and forgiveness is the recognition that we all share excruciating moments (whether we admit them or not) of losing the irreplaceable – loved ones, romanticized dreams or unique possessions which we have cherished so deeply. Perhaps through this fundamental human recognition, we can decide to start healing by taking a small step and make forgiveness the topic of discussion over our next meal with those dear to our hearts.
If someone told you that a rape survivor was writing a book together with the man who raped her, you probably wouldn’t believe them.
But that’s exactly what Thordis Elva has done with her former high school boyfriend who raped her when she was barely 16-years-old after a school Christmas party in Elva’s hometown of Reykjavík, Iceland.
Her boyfriend was an 18-year-old exchange student from Australia, Tom Stranger, who said he felt entitled to have sex with Elva despite her being so drunk that people at the party had suggested they call an ambulance. Stranger instead took Elva to her own home where he spent two hours accosting her as she faded in and out of consciousness.
The crime was never reported.
Elva said that at the time she wasn’t clear as to what rape actually was and that Stranger had returned to Australia a few days later after ending the relationship.
“I hadn’t told anyone because I harbored shame and self blame for being drunk and not being in a situation where I was in control” Elva says. “That slowed down my ability to recover and fully face what had happened.”
The two went their separate ways after that sinister event until nine years later when Elva contacted her rapist by email. Still struggling with the trauma of the rape, and “on the brink of a nervous breakdown,” Elva felt she needed to be eye-to-eye with her attacker in a bid to come to terms with what happened to her. And to her surprise, he replied with a confession and an offer of “whatever I can do.”
The book immediately became controversial not only because Stranger had actually raped Elva 16 years earlier and had only recently taken responsibility for it, but because Elva would eventually forgive herself and her attacker.
“It [forgiveness] is an extremely misunderstood concept,” according to Elva. “People somehow think you are giving the perpetrator something when you forgive, but in my view, it is the complete polar opposite.”
“Forgiving was for me so that I could let go of the self-blame and shame that I had wrongfully shouldered, that were corroding me and basically ruining my life.”
Creating additional controversy is the fact that the victim and the culprit are travelling the world together to discuss the very serious topic of rape. Together, they gave a TED talk that summarized a 20-year long process, whereby Stranger eventually shouldered responsibility for his actions and the way those actions impacted their lives. It was viewed nearly 2 million times in the first week and more than 4.3 million times since being posted. You can watch their TED talk here. The TED talk was presented in San Francisco, CA for the TEDWomen 2016 conference.
Stranger, it should be noted, is not benefiting from his work with Elva. “Any profits that I receive will be going towards a women’s’ charity in Reykjavík,” Stranger told an interviewer. “I realize how disrespectful and contemptuous it would be for me to benefit my bank balance or anything else.”
South of Forgivenessis an unprecedented collaboration between a survivor and a perpetrator, each equally committed to exploring the darkest moment of their lives. It is a true story about being bent but not broken, of facing fear with courage, and of finding hope even in the most wounded of places. (Source: South of Forgiveness website)
Read more: ⇒ Is forgiveness a virtue? – Malay Mail Online, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia ⇒Can I forgive the man who raped me? – The Observer/The Guardian, London, UK ⇒South of Forgiveness – Forgiving rape – IceNews, Reykjavik,
Iceland ⇒Rape victim and rapist reconcile, co-author a book and give talks – IceNews, Reykjavik, Iceland ⇒Could you forgive a rapist? A 17-year story of reconciliation – Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia ⇒ Our story of rape and reconciliation– TED Talks (video: 19:07), New York, NY ⇒ A Q&A with Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger – Ted Talks, New York, NY ⇒ South of Forgiveness – Promotional Website, Stockholm, Sweden
Please tell us what you think of this story, of the campaign being conducted by Elva and Stranger, and of Elva’s willingness and ability to forgive herself and her attacker. Could you forgive someone who raped you? Click on the “Leave a comment” button at the top of this story or use the “Leave a reply” box below to let us know what you think. Thank you. We appreciate your thoughts and your feedback.
Through my work as an existential logotherapeutic coach, I help people find meaning in everything in their life, including work, family relationships, and in situations where they face insurmountable suffering. I do this mainly by working with the power of forgiveness.
In my home country, Colombia, forgiveness seems like an impossible task for many. With a history of more than 60 years marked by war, drug trafficking and constant conflict, entire populations have now had to confront a hard question: will they forgive those who horribly hurt them even if they never asked for forgiveness?
This made me look for ways I could help those clients who had to leave their home behind, fearing for their safety, and who came to a city that in more than one occasion, receives them with a hostile environment and not much help. Many people with deep wounds derived from the conflict and a past of violence, resentment and vengeance.
As I looked for ways to help, I researched many therapies, but with time, I found them temporary or incomplete. I also looked into the initiatives of religious groups, and though they were having some admirable results, they did not appeal to non-believers.
Then I heard about the International Forgiveness Institute, and all their research on how forgiveness is a psychological matter, not only a religious one. I was personally impressed by their focus on forgiveness’ impact on psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and others as measurable variables. For me, it meant that now we can present evidence that forgiveness works and can in fact change hearts!
Finding meaning and forgiveness in a life full of resentments is crucial to heal. To see the offender as a human being and giving them what they deserve in dignity and love, changes your life and theirs. It restores justice even without reconciliation.
Forgiveness gives you a second chance for a meaningful and happy life, an opportunity to live a better, healthier, fulfilling life where people reach for their dreams without the weight of resentful thoughts.
As a life coach, I found particularly reassuring and helpful to learn that forgiveness has a measurable impact on the people I treat despite what the offense was. My time studying at the Forgiveness Institute gave me more tools to better treat my clients, to measure their progress and to encourage them to strive for a better and more meaningful life.
Editor's Note:Darlene J. Harris is a sought-after speaker, author of "And He Restoreth My Soul," and the developer/leader of workshops and retreats for women. She writes primarily on the topics of sexual abuse and molestation because by the age of 18 she had been raped twice. "I don't want anyone to hurt like I did," is the mantra that drives her. This is her story in her own words.
Too Young to Have This Secret. . . and Too Old to Still Keep the Secret.
The Question – Would Forgiveness Help?
You see, rape was my secret, the secret that almost became my death.
I wasn’t able to stop playing the charade game with my friends and family for a year or two, waiting to graduate high school and move out on my way to college.
I am a believer in Jesus Christ, the lover of my soul, the lifter of my head, and the light of my life. Nevertheless, I did not trust Him with the whole problem. I remember making this statement the morning after the rape: “Lord if You keep me from getting pregnant, I will take care of the rest.”
I had made my first bargain with God! I didn’t know the magnitude of these words: “I will take care of the rest”, nor the effect it would have on my life. “I will take care of the rest” meant I will control all future situations. I will keep families from falling apart; I will keep members of my family and the abuser’s family from killing one another. I could do this. And I wouldn’t let anyone hurt me ever again, ever. Nevertheless, I didn’t have the type of control I thought I had. My future held a second rape, near rapes, and a lot of pain. I now know if I had known more about God, His power, His understanding, and most of all His love for me that my life would have been different.
Nevertheless, by the time I was 40 years old, I realized I was not handling life very well. I had moved to California, running away as far as I could before I had to turn around and look at me. I looked at the tired me, and the hurting me, realizing that I could no longer escape. Yet, God met me with favor, mercy and love. He walked back through history with me and cleared a path for me to have a future. Most of all, He took me through a journey of the “F word.”
The Affirmations From Rape that Affected My Life
My rapist was an African-American boy with a very dark skin tone. For years later, the sight of dark-skinned men represented fear, hurt, and pain to me. If they tried to get to know me, I distanced myself from them, whether a friendly or personal approach. For the next twenty years, I limited myself to associating with men whose skin tone was lighter than mine.
My rapist continued to ask me, “Is it good?” I now know this question set me up to believe I had to be good to keep from being hurt. This question became my question in my future intimate relationships. I had to be good to avoid being hurt. But deep down I knew I could never be good enough to take back those nights.
My boundaries were destroyed and my trust was violated. Out of my fear of being hurt, and not feeling wanted, I clung to fear, anger, and shame. These emotions became my constant companions. The decision I made that one Sunday night, determined the next twenty years of my life. They moved in and made themselves at home in my damaged spirit for over twenty years.
In my twenties, I also suffered physically. Various medical problems that caused me to undergo several surgeries that included a hysterectomy at the age of twenty-eight. I continue to suffer from irritable bowel and/or digestive problems. Medically speaking, these symptoms are often reported by women who may have a history of sexual abuse or assault.
“Vengeance is mine,” saith the Lord
But He, The Lord, didn’t act fast enough for me, at least in my eyes. He didn’t take His fury out fast enough or long enough to justify my pain.
After ten years, I saw my rapist once again. He had come back home for his father’s birthday. I stopped to visit with the family, and at that point I didn’t know what to call him. The charade was still alive while in the midst of the family. Nevertheless, he and his brother decided we would all go to the neighborhood bar and have a drink. We were standing in the kitchen, and his mother was cooking, warning us to be home in time for dinner. At that moment, I felt this “hot” hand on my behind, and it was as if another person suddenly rose up in me, a very (concealed) angry person.
We went to the bar, found a seat, and we begin to talk while his brother went off to talk to some other people he knew. At that moment, remaining surprisingly calm, I asked him, “Why did you rape me?” He answered, “Because another group of boys told me they had already had sex with you.” Needless to say, I was surprised he just blurted out his answer. He didn’t even have to think about an answer. I couldn’t believe he didn’t deny raping me and justified it by blaming others. He had given this act of violation a “name”….RAPE, and had given it some thought during the past ten years and was able to answer as calmly as he did, without any remorse.
That angry person, that rose up inside me, set out to go on a mission—a mission to cause as much pain as possible because of the pain I had hidden deep in my spirit for so long. Oh, and so this was my plan: I now had my own apartment, and later that evening I invited him to see where I lived. I excused myself and dressed for the occasion, and now it was time to pay him back. I cannot tell you, how I thought my plan of seducing him would be a payback. Nevertheless, that was how twisted my thought process was at the time.
I was out to seek vengeance. My heart was hurting and needed healing. The mind, the thoughts that took over became very dangerous. To my amazement, I didn’t feel any better—not the satisfaction I was seeking after seducing him. If anything, I felt a deeper shame and disgust toward myself. No wonder God says, “Vengeance is mine….” God was the only real warrior in this battle.
I didn’t understand forgiveness. I didn’t want to let the rapist off the hook. First, from being a product of Christian teachings, forgiveness became the “F word”*. My therapist urged me to at least consider the “F word”. I researched it in an educational, mentally logical manner, and that didn’t help me.
If I’m truthful, I didn’t want to understand Forgiveness. However, during the time I was in therapy, I was also attending a church that understood and taught about the freedom that Forgiveness brings to one’s life; and I love my freedom. I listened, prayed, studied, and talked to my therapist. My relationship with God became important to me, and most of all, I wanted God to know I was sorry for all the years and hurt I caused others and myself. I want nothing that would cause separation between myself and the GREAT I AM.
For once now I understood that Forgiveness was not about payback for hurting me, but that it was about freedom for me. I asked God to forgive me and then invited Him into the healing process.
When I look back, I was in darkness for a long time. I needed Forgiveness for the pain I caused myself by holding hate and anger in my heart. I also needed Forgiveness for the pain I caused others. I had to come before God because of the serious condition of my heart.
Definition: The action of inflicting hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong suffered at their hands
I cannot write about Forgiveness without including my thoughts about Revenge. I wanted to hurt my rapist. In my heart, he deserved to hurt as he’d hurt me. However, no matter what plan for revenge I thought about, it was never good enough. Revenge backfired in my face, and if it is a plan you are considering, it would be prudent to learn from my experience.
God The Great Avenger
Romans 12:19 New International Version: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Vengeance delays God’s intervention. Vengeance delays Forgiveness, and it delays healing because it is a problem, deep in the heart.
Forgiveness can be immediate, yet it is your choice, but healing is a process.
Where was God?
Where was God? is always a question from survivors. “Why me? Why didn’t God stop him or her from hurting me?” For many survivors, it becomes a nagging, yet very important question. It connects to your belief in God, and this is critical because it questions the foundation of your belief system.
What I know is God is ever present, and that God was present at the time and place of my rape. He was my witness. God cried for me. God was angry. God felt everything I couldn’t feel and everything I did feel. God saved my life during and after the rape before I was forced to look at me and say,“Lord, I can’t do this by myself.”
Free will is a gift from God to you and me
Definition: Free will is the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.
Free will is what God gave to man at the beginning of time. God didn’t want to force a man to love Him. God wanted to give a man the opportunity to choose Him, to love Him, to worship Him.
In my story, God didn’t take away the rapist’s decision to rape. God could have stopped him. He knew the thought was there. He knew the plan and set on the sideline watching once again, as it were, for the purpose of testing my faith. Yet, God is true to His word, and will accomplish His plan, only to bring glory to Himself.
Romans 8:28 New International Version: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called, according to his purpose.”
I know in my heart this verse is tried and true. God worked anger, hatred, and vengeance out of me. When I tell my story now, my rapist has the beautiful smile he always had. The picture changed, and so did my heart. Forgiveness gave this to me, and my healing follows.
Where Am I Today and What drives me?
What drives me was quoted in the December 1995 Edition of the L.A. Valley Times and still holds true today: “I don’t want anyone to hurt like I did.”
Through my adversities, God has provided me a ministry. A ministry that includes a book project entitled,And He Restoreth My Soul.This book serves as a resource guide for those helping abused survivors who are struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together in the wake of abuse.
Above all, I have a life and a certain peace I would not have if I had not forgiven my rapist. # # #
When I immigrated from my home country to another that I thought was more free-thinking than mine, I was met with discrimination. Owners and even workers thought that I was taking jobs that should belong to those who already were citizens of that country. It is ironic that this new country of mine, from an historical perspective, had many, many immigrants come into the country in the last century. The people keeping me out of a job are the descendants of immigrants. Yet, they cannot see now that I have much in common with their own families. Their lack of sight is my occasion to forgive them. I may not have a job yet, but I do have my faith, my convictions, and peace of mind and heart. And with perseverance, I will land that new job soon.
Teaching can be a difficult profession—-the constant pressures to help students achieve, the layers of discipline from students’ inattention to downright disrespect, few breaks to prepare for the demanding instruction, and discouraged colleagues.
I struggled to get a doctoral degree so that I could try administration, but once I did achieve that educational milestone, the administrative door stayed closed for so long. There seemed to be an implicit understanding that I first take an administrative position in one of the rougher areas of town which was something I did not want to do. So, I stayed at my present job and did not climb “the ladder of success.”
I had to forgive the system for creating this expectation that was not at all clear until I earned the degree. I have forgiven and I am content serving the students as I teach rather than administrate. The entire experience could have left me bitter, but it did not. Forgiveness saved me from such bitterness.