Ironically, one of the most expensive gifts in the world doesn’t cost a cent. It is a gift we give ourselves, even though we think we are giving it to someone else. Hard-won and often years in coming, it is the gift of forgiveness.
Whether we recognize them as such or not, the words Jesus spoke on the cross, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing,” are meant for you and me, too. It was at the Maundy Thursday service at our church, the first Easter after our son died, that I realized God knew how I felt because he had lost a son, too.
In The Book of Forgiving, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that provided the means for the people to face the horrible truths associated with apartheid and then to move on. Despite the fact it is a tough topic, the book is an easy read, filled with critical information for coming to grips with the hurts we have experienced and then to put them behind us. The sub-title of this excellent book is: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.
The Tutus walk us through that process with practical steps and appropriate pauses for catching our breath and allowing our emotions to evolve before moving on. The four steps they lead us through are:
- Telling the story;
- Naming the hurt;
- Granting forgiveness;
- Renewing or releasing the relationship.
“Forgiveness,” they say, “is not a choice you make for someone else; it is a choice you make for yourself.” The person who has wronged you may never know you’ve forgiven them, but you will know and you will be different because of it. “Forgiveness,” they tell us, “does not condone an act,” nor does it “erase accountability.”
Before you start moving along their fourfold path, they ask you to get yourself a journal to write in and to find a stone that is “small enough to carry in the palm of your hand and large enough that you won’t lose it.” Throughout the book, there are instructions on what to do with this stone, the first of which is to hold it in your non-dominant hand for six hours without putting it down. As you read the text and hold your stone, you will appreciate how that exemplifies the weight you carry when you need to forgive someone or to be forgiven yourself.
Stones are a great symbol of our need for forgiveness. The longer we carry them the heavier they feel. When we give ourselves the costly gift of forgiveness, we give it to the world, as well through our own renewal.