Healing and Compassion

The definition of “forgive” offered in recent posts is active voice and transitive:  the forgiver releases something.  Often, though, we feel as though the offense has some kind of hold over us that we are powerless to release.  Have we ever felt beset by the same old chestnut, or thought, “I just can’t forgive him for that?”

As victims, we want to be released (passive voice) from whatever hold the wounds have on our psyches.  There’s hope for reclaiming the active voice.  The combination of taking responsibility for our own reactions that merit forgiveness and compassion for our offenders is our best hope for healing.

Having compassion for perpetrators may strike some as a preposterous idea.  They don’t deserve it.  Trailers for Dead Man Walking, the movie based on Sister Helen Prejean’s book about a death row inmate, posited, “The real question is not who deserves to die but who deserves to kill?”  Some would argue that death row inmates don’t deserve lethal injection but rather a death at least as tortured as the deaths they imposed on their victims.

Currently in Texas, the victim of a death row inmate is suing the state to stay the execution so that he can exercise his right under law to meet the man who shot him in the face.  The victim wants to a chance to reconcile with his wound-be murderer and to break the cycle of retribution.  Opponents say the death row inmate doesn’t deserve the stay and that the survivors of his murder victims deserve retribution.  As in Florida’s Casey Anthony case, public opinion has weighed in on the side of retribution.

This thinking puts the focus on the offender.  When we feel held captive by the wrongs committed against us, it can be a great liberation to take the offender out of the center of the matter and to put God there instead.  We don’t extend compassion because someone deserves it.  We extend compassion as an appropriate response to God’s mercy towards us.   When I think of all the wrongs I have done–impaired reactions to my woundedness, indefensible acts of willfulness, failing to act when I could and should have, and unthinking habits—I am deeply humbled by the grace God has extended to me.

Understanding the role our wounds play in our patterns of thinking, feeling and acting and understanding how those patterns harm others gives us insight on those who harmed us.  Buddhist monk and activist Tich Nhat Han observes, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.”  Survey your offenders’ patterns.  Who else suffered harm?  Is (or was) your offender equally unsuccessful in all her relationships, or do you observe a different pattern?  Do you know or can you surmise anything about the injuries your offender sustained that led to his wounded-wounding pattern?  Are there clear signs of brokenness?  Do you see anything of yourself in the brokenness of your offender?

Dutch Anglican priest Henri Nouwen wrote, “Forgiveness is only real for him who has discovered the weakness of his friends and the sins of his enemy in his own heart and is willing to call every human being his brother.”

Join the conversation.  How have you found compassion for someone who didn’t deserve it?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.