Forgiving the Man Who Murdered My Mom
Such was the depth of my spiritual maturity at that time, I decided to test them. I thought, I'll open my eyes and look around. If any of them are peeking, I'll know they are not sincere. Gideon and his wet and dry fleece had nothing on me. I snapped my eyes open, and they darted around the circle. Every person was fervently praying for me. The absurdity of my spiritual test suddenly hit me, and I belly laughed. I couldn't stop. I experienced Jesus' joy for the first time. I must have laughed out loud for ten minutes.
I don't think I knew it, but for years I had been walking between conversions up that mountain in the invisible presence of the Holy Spirit. There were many trails up the mountain, but only one source of water and one narrow way winding to the top. I am still walking the twists and dips of that path.
At a New Year's Eve party, I met Nick, who taught me more deeply about that invisible presence. He said that he had been healed of an aggressive form of cancer. After reading about healing in James 5:14–16 late one night, he had phoned his pastor.
Nick said, "Do you know what it says in the Bible?"
"Can you be more specific, Nick?"
"In James, it says, 'If anyone is sick let him call for the elders and they will anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and pray the prayer of faith, and he will be healed.' "
The pastor yawned. "That's called the last unction. When someone is dying, we pray that."
Nick said, "That's not what it says. Read the verse aloud." Later, the pastor started rounding up elders, who anointed Nick and prayed. Nick was healed. Years later he stood in front of me. This was a man who was once declared dead by the Navy, yet by God's power working in the world, very much alive. I was once again converted, this time to know an active, powerful God.
Forgiving a Murderer
Nick went through storms, and so have I. But not all storms pass without damage. On New Year's Day in 1996, I woke up to the aftermath of my mother's murder. For years I had dedicated my professional life to researching forgiveness. As a clinician I had counseled many couples to forgive, and had written several books about the psychological and spiritual dimensions of forgiving. Yet my faith and my identity were tested severely.
Thinking no one was home on New Year's Eve, two teenagers broke into my mother's home seeking treasure. My mother did not drive (hence no car in the driveway) and had gone to bed early (hence no lights). She awoke and confronted one of the youth, and he bashed her repeatedly with a crowbar.
Trying to forgive my mom's killers was like standing in a storm on top of Mount LeConte. My instinct was to huddle down in pain. But that personal relationship with Jesus that had transformed me at the youth conference set me on a different path. I thought through the REACH forgiveness model my colleagues and I had developed and tested over the years. The model provides five steps that act like wooden forms a builder might use when pouring concrete. God pours in the substance of change. We appropriate it by recalling Christ's death on our behalf to open up the way to the Father's forgiveness of our own many sins.
The essence of the forgiveness model is taking the hard step of trying to see things through the offender's eyes. Through prayer, I could see the young man's fear of prison and anger at having his plans spoiled. Being able to empathize with him didn't mean I accepted what he had done. But it did help me forgive him.