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Free to Forgive

Walter H. Everett

One man’s amazing journey from anger to forgiveness.

Last November I was the pastor who officiated at the wedding of a young couple, Sandie and Mike. It was a wedding like any other, except for one thing. Seven-and-a-half years earlier, the groom had shot and killed my 24-year-old son, Scott.

For almost a year after Scott’s death, I had struggled with my anger, bewilderment, grief, and the many other emotions that grip us at times of tragedy.

Beginning to fear that this anger would intrude into every experience throughout the rest of my life, I wondered how I could deal with that. But I then heard Mike, as he stood in court prior to his sentencing, say, “I’m sorry I killed Scott Everett. I didn’t mean to kill him. And I wish I could undo it. These words can’t bring him back, but I am truly sorry for what I did.”

I’m not sure if those were the exact words he spoke, but those are the words I heard and remembered. For the next three-and-one-half weeks I heard them again and again in my thoughts.

devozine Letter FTR TS 122567846Finally after much prayer, just one year after Scott’s death, I wrote a letter to Mike. I told him of the long struggle I had during the previous year—of the anger that had consumed me. Then I added. “Having said all of this, I want to thank you for what you said in court, and as hard as these words are to write, I forgive you.

When Mike received my letter, he was angry and refused to open it. He could not understand why I would write to him, unless I was trying to harass him. In his anger, he took the letter to his counselor and asked what he should do with it. The counselor said, “Do you want me to read it?”

Mike responded, “I don’t care. Do what you want to.”

The counselor read it, and then looked up and said, “Mike, I think you should read this.” Mike read the letter, and his eyes welled up with tears. That night he knelt beside his bunk and prayed to God for forgiveness. Today, Mike is a new person in Jesus Christ.

Two and a half years later, I appeared before the parole board to speak on behalf of Mike, and he was given an early release date.

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Many have asked me how I could forget what had happened. But to say this is to imply that forgiving is forgetting. It is not. As a pastor friend of mine has reminded me, “Forgiving is remembering and moving on.” For me to forgive was to make a conscious decision, with the help of God, to refuse to let anger control me any longer. As long as my rage had control over my life, I was a prisoner. But when God enabled me to let go of that anger, I became free to forgive him.

When Paul wrote, “Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1), I believe this is part of what he meant. Anger and resentment conspire to keep us in chains. But Jesus Christ sets us free to move on in newness of life.

 

DIG DEEPER

Read Jesus’ challenge to love your enemies in Luke 6:27.

Has anger and resentment kept you in chains? How does the reminder, “Forgiving is remembering and moving on,” help you in dealing with anger toward another? How can you take a step from anger toward forgiveness today?

Walter H. Everett was pastor of the Hartford UMC in Hartford, Connecticut, at the time this article was written.

—from devozine (May/June 1997) Copyright © 1997. by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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