The Truth about Forgiveness
We live in a world with a lot of pain and heartache, I want to promote love and forgiveness and help break that cycle of hatred. – Renee Napier
The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be enough time. – Rene Girard (The Scapegoat, 212.)
In the midst of pain and heartache, what does forgiveness look like?
Renee Napier knows about pain and heartache. She also knows the truth about forgiveness.
Napier’s daughter was killed nearly a decade ago. Her daughter’s tragic death was entirely preventable. The man responsible for her death, Eric Smallridge, lost control of his car and struck Meagan Napier’s vehicle, killing her instantly. Eric was driving under the influence of alcohol.
For Renee, as for any parent who loses a child, the pain was terrible, all the more so because it was preventable. As she told ABC News in this 2010 interview, “The wailing and crying that comes from the depths of your soul … you don’t know where it comes from … but the pain is so horrible.”
Faced with such pain and grief, Renee decided she needed to do something positive. So she made it her mission to talk with others about the dangers of drinking and driving. She founded the Meagan Napier Foundation, in part to “raise awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol …” For years she spoke with high school students and other groups willing to listen to her story.
But Renee’s story has taken a surprising twist. As she taught people about the dangers of drinking and driving, she felt that something was missing. That something was Eric Smallridge.
I could be angry, hateful, and bitter. “But I didn’t want to live my life that way. There was no way I could move on and live a happy life without forgiving Eric. – Renee Napier
So that’s what she did. Of course, Renee cannot forget what happened to her daughter, but she says she has forgiven Eric. Forgiveness has helped Renee heal as she moves past her anger, hatred, and bitterness, and forgiveness has also opened the door for Eric to heal. Part of Eric’s healing has come from joining Renee as they speak together about the dangers of driving under the influence.
The Huffington Post reports that, “Though they admit that their relationship may confuse many, both agree that sharing this life-saving cause has helped them heal.”
And here is where we see the truth about forgiveness. First, though, I think it’s helpful to distinguish between true and false forgiveness.  We often relate forgiveness with power. This is type of forgiveness is false because it’s really a veiled act of revenge. It says, “I forgive you, and you better accept my forgiveness or I will continue to think of you as the biggest jerk who has ever lived!” Or, we can use forgiveness as blackmail. “First, you must apologize, and then I will forgive you.” Both examples are not about forgiveness at all, but about a relationship of power over the other. This false forgiveness shows that we are run by anger, hate, and bitterness.
Renee shows us a truthful forgiveness. And the Huffington Post is right – true forgiveness is confusing to many because true forgiveness hopes for reconciliation. This truth about forgiveness leads us to the other mission of the Meagan Napier Foundation. The website states,
We have formed this foundation to raise awareness of the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and to promote forgiveness and healing.
A true offer of forgiveness tells a new story about ourselves. It is a story about a new relationship – a new “we.” Our story is no longer guided by anger, hate, and bitterness against the other. This new story is guided instead by forgiveness, compassion, and the hope for reconciliation with the other. Of course, not everyone is open to healing a relationship. In that case, we may need to move on as best we can. But Renee and Eric model for us what forgiveness, compassion and the hope for reconciliation look like. Indeed, they are both in pain, but the new story they are living together is beginning to heal their pain.
Does Renee and Eric’s relationship confuse you? Why/Why not?
Do you agree that true forgiveness hopes for reconciliation?