Have you ever been hurt by someone deliberately? Maybe it was a friend or spouse who betrayed you. Maybe it was a company that laid you off. Or maybe simply it was a person from your childhood whose pain inflicted on you stays with you to this day.
That was my case growing up.
I had grown up in a very violent, unstable home, and it had a profound psychological effect on me as I got older. I could not understand why the things that happened to to me behind closed doors were happening. Growing up I felt sad and all alone. As I got older, my sadness turned to anger and it burned powerfully against my father. After I graduated high school, I left home. I did not talk to my dad again for a decade.
The interesting thing about anger and hatred, is that it hurts the person who harbors it just as much – if not more – than the person it is aimed at. I didn’t talk to my dad, and closed the door to the source of my pain, but I continued the cycle of abuse: I was an alcoholic, I couldn’t hold a job or keep a healthy relationship with people I cared about, and I couldn’t keep a roof over my head. I would eventually cut myself and wind up in the hospital or institutions.
The things I am talking about here are not easy to share. I wish this wasn’t a part of my past. But today I share this with you for a very real purpose. You see, in the early morning hours of June 1st, 1998, I was shot in the head. I was an innocent bystander caught in the middle of a police chase. As I laid there bleeding in the street, I was certain I was going to die. I realized that my entire life truly had no purpose, and I despaired at how pointless it all was. My pain and hurts and anger would evaporate into nothingness.
But I didn’t die.
The surgeon who pulled the bullet from my skull told me days later that I was a miracle. Wait. What? I was a miracle?? What on earth??? Suddenly, the lens through which I saw the world, and myself, shifted. If I was a miracle, maybe there was a God. And if there was a God, then there is hope for me, and things could change.
Eventually I came to faith in Jesus and I was to be baptized in the Atlantic Ocean. My father was back in my life after I was shot, and I invited him to the event. It was an amazing feeling, being baptized in the ocean, and came out feeling exhilarated. I loved the powerful symbol of a new life starting.
I went over to my dad. He and I talked on the way back to his car. Small talk, nothing memorable. We stood by his car as we talked. Standing in front of me was the man I had been so incredibly hurt by. The man from whom I ran from for 10 years. The man I swore I would never talk to again. That man stood in front of me, talking to me—when suddenly, with no warning, I said:
“I forgive you.”
And then I hugged him with tears rolling down my face. It was a deep, beautiful, healing hug. Those three words set me free, and the healing of my own heart and my own soul began.
When I said those words, it was like fresh, pure waters washed my soul clean, and I felt a peace that I had not felt perhaps my entire life. For the first time, I was free from the bondage of resentment towards the very man who hurt me. And that made all of the difference.
My hatred towards my dad was toxic and was the source of a lot of my pain. You see, hatred is like a cancer in the soul. It colored how I saw everything.
By forgiving my dad, I could see that he had his own past and his own hurts and his own demons that caused him much turmoil. I began to be more compassionate and understanding as a person. Little did I know at that time that the compassion and kindness I showed my dad were the very seeds planted that eventually became Portraits of the Jersey Shore.
My entire life’s mission is that of listening to other people’s stories, without judgment, and showing compassion, kindness and hope to them. Many people I interview resonate with that mission. I am able to see the heart of Jesus in many people that I meet.
Thankfully, these past two decades have seen an incredibly strong and healthy relationship between my father and I. I didn’t know that would be the outcome when I said those three words. But I meant those words, and that opened up new possibilities of health between him and I. This past Sunday he celebrated his 70th birthday in Texas where he lives now, and I was thankful I could call him and tell him I love him.
(Above photo: With my dad two summers ago)
I do not want anyone to think that forgiving someone is a way of pardoning things others have done to us. It doesn’t mean you have to invite that person back into your life. Maybe you can’t tell them in person for whatever reason. But to be able to say in your heart, “I forgive this person for what they did to me,” will set you free to incredible healing and a fresh, peaceful way to experience your life.
I hope this has blessed some of you. Have any of you ever taken the bold step of forgiving someone who has hurt you? If not, has this article opened your eyes in any way to the possibilities of forgiving someone? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
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