Great Health Guide
IS ANYTHING UNFORGIVABLE?
Negative circumstances are fed by toxic unforgiveness.
Thirty years ago, Billy, a 50 year old man, sat on my couch with Jane, his girlfriend of one year. We had been having weekly couple’s sessions for about three months and had not made much progress. Finally, Jane lost her patience and said angrily, “Billy, you need to tell Matthew what happened when you were 18!” Billy replied that it was not relevant, but Jane persisted and he told me a story that ultimately led to an experience that changed his life. This is Billy’s story.
Billy said that one night, when he was 18 years old, he picked up his best friend and went for a drive. They drank quite a lot of beer and Billy got drunk. He crashed the car and his friend died. Billy’s father had connections with the local sheriff and no charges were filed. The accident and the death were never discussed again. I asked Billy to share how he dealt with this event over the years and he replied that he tried not to think about it. I asked why and he told me that he thought what he had done was unforgivable so, why try to discuss it. Over the next few weeks, as we explored this tragic event and its effects on Billy’s life, it became clear that Billy had suffered greatly from the experience. He had been divorced two times and was having major
difficulties with his current girlfriend. He was a talented artist with a Master’s degree but never sold any art work. He was highly educated but made his living as a handyman. In essence, Billy had been destroying his life as punishment for his crime and had no expectation of parole, let alone any forgiveness. One month later something incredibly wonderful happened to Billy that released him from his self-imposed torture. He attended a weekend personal growth workshop that I led with 30 other people. We began the workshop on Friday and continued all weekend. On Saturday night we had what I called a ‘forgiveness session’. I put a chair in front of the group and asked anyone who felt they deeply needed forgiveness for some past action, to come and sit. Billy was the second volunteer. I asked Billy to share his story about what had occurred when he was 18 and how his life had been ever since. He took a deep breath and talked about the accident, the death of his friend and how terrible he felt and how he had hated himself for being drunk and foolish. He also shared that he had recently learned how it had affected every area of his life since. He cried as he talked, as did many people in our group. When he came to the end of his story, I spoke briefly about the power of forgiveness and then asked the group to help me help Billy find healing.
Be aware that negative circumstances are fed by toxic unforgiveness.
I asked Billy if he would be open to receiving the love and forgiveness of this group of people. I told him that he may have felt that his crime was unforgivable but that was because he did not understand what true forgiveness was all about. I told him that forgiveness is never deserved. It is a free gift of grace that offers us the opportunity to heal and find a new experience of ourselves. I explained that all he had to do was open his mind and heart to something beyond his understanding and allow it to fill him. He agreed. I then invited anyone who felt ready to offer Billy forgiveness to come and stand around Billy and place their hands on him. Every single person in the room came forward. I placed my hand on his arm and said, “Billy, every person here has heard your story and your suffering. We all want you to be free now. We offer you our forgiveness as we place our hands on you. Open your eyes and look around and let the love of forgiveness in”. Billy looked up and began to sob. Many in the group did the same. After a while, we all sat down and just hugged each other. Three years later Billy was still with his girlfriend. He was doing art and making sales and he had doubled his income. I shared so many details about Billy because I am convinced his story is relevant to many of us. Maybe we did not cause the death of our best friend but if we look deeply and honestly into our own hearts, we will find that we have done things to others and to ourselves that we have not found forgiveness for and we suffer for all of them. We live under the judgment of self-criticism and even self-hate due to these unforgiven ‘crimes’. We limit our joy and depress our self-esteem. We practice self-destructive behavior and live too long in destructive relationships, jobs and living situations. And all the while we are unaware that these negative circumstances are fed by toxic unforgiveness. Our task now, is to learn from Billy’s journey and take the time to look into our hearts and identify the actions and attitudes that require the healing power of forgiveness. Once identified we can open ourselves to the blessing that it offers us.
Dr Matthew Anderson has a Doctor of Ministry specialising in counselling. He has extensive training and experience in Gestalt and Jungian Psychology and has helped many people successfully navigate relationship issues. Dr Anderson has a best-selling book, ‘The Resurrection of Romance’ and he may be contacted via his website.