Tag Archives: Forgiveness

The Cost of Forgiveness

As any good capitalist will note, there is a price for everything. It is most often the emotional or relational price that we forget about,  that are the ones that cost the most. You pay the price in giving up the emotion or by giving away the relationship.

Saying goodbye feels like giving up.  Goodbye feels so final, like it is not even possible to see you again.  It feels like all the memories held in the object departing will be lost for good.  It feels like all possible outcomes I ever imagined and dreamed of were teases, and I should not allow myself to visit them because the knowledge that they cannot be is too painful.

We hear that sometimes relationships get to a point where goodbye is necessary because there is too much hatred and pain and it is better to just let it all go.  However, reconciliation is not about getting rid of the source of conflict (read avoiding the pain and heartache), but about restoring the lost dignity, humanity and even restoring the relationship.

Paying the price of a goodbye is costly in merely coming to that decision.  It is even more costly once decided upon, because sometimes goodbye doesn’t last.  After days, weeks, months, years of agonizing over the decision to say goodbye – analyzing what the leaving really means – to drag your heart through the process of saying goodbye only for the object of your goodbye to show up again makes the payment ineffective.  Why spend all the heartache on a goodbye if it doesn’t purchase a complete severance?

When the goodbye doesn’t last, or may not be possible, we will save ourselves great burdens of hatred and anger by allowing the other to not be the symbol of our salvation.  Lindsey and Steve fell in love so young, and dropped hard out of love.  But there was too much history and too much shared interest to allow a complete break.  For years, they projected all their hurts and heartaches onto the other.  Goodbye was a tall order, neither one was okay with the other finding new relationships.  But so was hanging around; speaking to one another was awkward, and hanging out with mutual friends made everyone feel uncomfortable.  This baggage was heavy, but the nature of their professional interaction made it impossible to put this baggage down.  They had to say goodbye, but not to each other.

The price of forgiveness is the crushed hopes and dreams and desire for revenge or harm to the other.  The price is the ability to say goodbye to the rights you feel the other has taken from you.  Saying goodbye to the need desire to inflict great harm on the one who hurt you means killing the hope that they would be the one to offer wholeness and a satisfying relationship.  This increases the cost of goodbye, and who wants to pay that price? Innate to human nature is a desire for satisfaction and a feeling of wholeness found in being in relationship with one another. When this desire is crushed by a broken relationship our gut reaction is to wish great harm upon the other.  The only way to forgive though, is to say goodbye to the desire to hurt the other back.

“Sometimes solutions aren’t so simple. Sometimes goodbye is the only way. Sometimes beginnings aren’t so simple. Sometimes goodbye is the only way.” Linkin’ Park, “Shadow of the Day”

Yes, sometimes goodbye is the only way.  Sometimes, however, goodbye is required of something other than the person/relationship/place.  Sometimes you must say goodbye to your dreams, to your pride and entitlement and revenge.  Sometimes you must say goodbye to yourself.

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Restorative Justice

Crime is costly. But so is true forgiveness.  This article proves just how emotionally costly this process can be. And yet, the freedom the family finds in the end is worth it all.


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It Doesn’t Make Sense

I moved to a foreign country with no solid contacts, no job, and no idea of where to live. People called me crazy. I don’t live by other people’s standards of success, but I am not crazy.

Honor and Dustin were best friends as children. D came from a more well off family than H, so he often brought extra food to school to share with H. D and H lived on the same hillside outside of Kigali, so they saw each other all the time. They laughed about giving each other piggyback rides to and from school, and the amount of time it took because of this game.

When H was 14 years old, both his parents and 5 cousins that lived at his home were killed in the Rwandan genocide. He fled into the hills surrounding Kigali and hid for two weeks, until the rebel soldiers gained control of the area and created an environment of safety. His home was torn apart, literally—his neighbors used their own hands to tear pieces of the roof and walls apart. His parents, his cousins (who were for all intents and purposes his siblings) murdered. H harbored hatred. H said that if the killers and thieves died, he would feel no remorse. As H grew up and matured as a human, he recognized the humanity in his neighbors, and realized that they were “not inherently bad people, they were the same people after the crimes as they had been prior.”

In 2006, H attended a community trial. The purpose was to exchange lesser punishment for statements of the truth. Accusations abounded, and when H heard other convicted genocidaires accuse D of killing members of H’s family, he was dumbstruck. This didn’t make sense; H could not fathom his best friend engaging in violence against his own family. D was prison, but so was half the country, so H didn’t think it was actually for murder. He went to the prison in-order to find the facts for himself. H said that he needed to see D in person to confirm that he wasn’t a monster. He needed to see that he was still human.

During the first of April 1994, D heard the sounds of a mob taking apart the neighbor’s homes. He ran to join in the destruction. After tearing a roof completely apart, some members of the mob took off to find the residents of the home and kill them. H and his entire family lived in this home. And D joined the factions that sought out the family. He was part of the group that beat and killed two of the eldest boys, H’s cousins. When the law swarmed back through the land, D was sent to prison with close to a million others, just another participant in chaos.

H naively walked into the prison, wanting only to reconfirm that his childhood best friend was still what his memory told him. When D saw H approaching, he was terrified that H knew what he did and was going to take revenge.

“Because I loved him very much, I wanted to forgive him. I wasn’t scared of him, but that he would be scared of me,” H explained of his purpose there.

H asked straight up, what D did. D openly admitted to participating in the deaths of H’s family. H merely said that D should ask for forgiveness. They did not speak again until D’s release one year later.

This is where H went crazy.

After D’s release from jail, H immediately called him up and said you need to come over and meet with my family and I, so we can work out our relationship from here.  The entire family sat and listened to D’s account of the murders. Then, they agreed to forgive him and invited him back into the family. He is treated as a blood member of the family, closer friends than when they were children.

That is crazy.

This story was part of the project I worked on with Jeremy Cowart through AWFRI. H and D were part of his photo series. This is them.

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Roughly ten months ago I boarded a plane for the middle/east of Africa with just inklings of what I was going to do.

I learned so much more than I feel I accomplished. You have dutifully followed what I learned. But I have little solid evidence to show for what I accomplished. (partly because I do not feel that it is worthy of being shared, partly because it isn’t mine to share.)

But here is some solid evidence of what I did.

AWFRI invited celebrity photography Jeremy Cowart to come down to Rwanda and take a series of photos that chronicled the reconciliation stories. The AWFRI team in Rwanda and myself sought out potential interviewees and stories before their arrival. I then acted as translator/guide to the photography team once they arrived. I had a blast with this. (Jeremy and Andres, it was awesome hanging out with you and navigating the ever so understandable cross-cultural work experiences.)

I recorded the stories of the couples we met with, and helped Jeremy put captions to the photos. These images are now part of the “Stories of Reconciliation” series displayed at CNN.com.

Guys, I love being able to share some solid evidence of my time spent in Rwanda. Enjoy!

P.S. Jeremy also wrote his own take on his time in Rwanda and the experience of finding these stories. Check it out.


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“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”  Anne Lamott

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