Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Power of Forgiveness

kimphucAbout five years ago I helped to arrange a couple of speaking engagements for a Vietnamese lady by the name of Kim Phuc. Kim is famous for a photo that was snapped of her which became an icon and earned a Pulitzer Prize. In the photo (shown below), 9 year old Kim is seen running from her village with others, her clothing having been burned off by napalm, as they had been mistakenly attacked as enemy soldiers.

Kim spent 14 months in hospital and had 17 surgical procedures. She was then used as a propaganda tool by the Communist North Vietnamese government. After being given leave to study in Cuba, Kim was married and, on their honeymoon, got off a plane in Gander, Newfoundland at a refueling stop and asked for political asylum in Canada. She has since moved to Toronto, and now speaks on behalf of child victims of war, having started the Kim Phuc Foundation International.  


The reason I thought of Kim was that I was preparing to write on the subject of forgiveness. I remembered her powerful words on the subject as she spoke at our local High School and to our church. She is one who can speak with authority on the subject, having endured horrible suffering as a victim of war. In 1996, Kim publicly forgave an American pilot who believed that he was the one who had dropped the bomb on her village.

The subject of forgiveness is a touchy one. Many people feel that forgiving someone is tantamount to letting them get away with what they've done. But what they don't understand is that not forgiving actually costs the victim more. As Kim said, "The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times." I've met many who have shared the same kind of sentiment. 

In 1982, Kim came to faith in Jesus Christ and, with that, found the capacity to forgive. She said, "God helped me to learn to forgive - the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it. Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed." 

Most people would not have the depth of emotion Kim experienced and perhaps wouldn't describe their feelings as hatred, yet the power of those emotions is real nonetheless. It keeps them from living life to the fullest; they avoid people and places; relationships are hindered and damage is done to the soul. What should we do when we find ourselves trapped by unforgiveness? Here are some keys.

Start at the Cross
The cross of Jesus Christ is the greatest symbol and example of forgiveness that we have been given. It was from the cross that Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." He prayed this for the soldiers who mercilessly tortured him. In the cross, we find forgiveness and mercy offered to all of us. Kim spoke of the power of this reality in her own life. She could forgive because she had been forgiven. 

Choose to Forgive
Forgiveness, ultimately, is a choice. It's a decision to no longer hold something over someone's head. It releases the forgiver to move forward with their life and let go of the past. Choosing not to forgive locks us in time at the place where we were hurt. It continues that person's power over us. As someone said, "not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."   

Forgiving Doesn't Require Forgetting    
We are human, and we don't forget much, except maybe where we put the car keys. What we can do is refuse to let the memory rule our lives. We choose to walk in a new reality.

Forgiving Allows Healing
Every one of us who has lived long enough has been hurt by someone in our lives. For many, those wounds are sensitive and anyone who brushes against them emotionally may pay the price - including friends and family. But when we choose to forgive, the power of that event is broken and healing can begin. It may take time, but good can actually come from the bad events in our lives. I'll give the final word to Kim. “Having known war, I now know the value of peace. Having lived with pain, I know the value of love. Having lost everything, I now know the value of cherishing everything I have that’s important and having known hatred, I now know the value and the power of faith and forgiveness.” 

Related Articles: 
Get Over It
Are You a People Person?
Book Review: "It Came From Within!"
Repacking the baggage of our lives
Looking Back

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