Forgiving Your Child’s Killer

(searching for source to credit)

One of the most common statements I hear when working with clients is “I don’t understand why this issue keeps coming up. I thought I’d resolved this already.” Almost always, the issue at hand is Fear.

  • We are afraid of success.
  • We are afraid of failure.
  • We are afraid of not having enough money.
  • We are afraid of having too much money.
  • We are afraid no one will notice us.
  • We are afraid everyone will notice us.

Obviously, these fears are irrational. But that fact doesn’t stop fear from creating resistance and stagnation in our lives.

Here’s the story I share when client’s are threatening to beat themselves up for having to deal with the same issue repeatedly:

On October 2, 2006 a milk truck driver walked into an Amish schoolhouse near my hometown in Pennsylvania. He had a shotgun, a stun gun, nails, lumber, wires, chains, duct tape and a tube of personal lubricant among other things. He ordered all the boys out of the school and locked himself in with the girls and female teacher.

Before finally killing himself, he had shot 10 of the girls, ages 6-13, killing 5 of them. For anyone close to the Amish community it was an unimaginable tragedy.

What followed in the hours and days after the shooting was almost more shocking than the massacre itself.

Immediately the Amish families banded together, including the newly grieving parents, and traveled to the home of the shooter’s widow.

They wanted to let her and her children know that they forgave her husband for his terrible crimes. They brought her casseroles and pies. They hugged her and cried with her.

Days later, Amish attendees flooded the killer’s funeral to show support for his family. They even set up a college fund for his kids.

Their capacity for forgiveness astounded the world.

When I finally was able to listen to an interview of one of the victim’s fathers (the Amish are not known for their love of media attention), his explanation floored me. I’ll never forget it.

He was asked how he could so easily forgive the man who killed his daughter. He smiled patiently and spoke softly.

It is anything but easy. Everyday I wake up with the same rage and grief for what I’ve lost. Everyday I am faced with the decision to forgive or to hate. Everyday I must begin the process all over again. It never gets easier.”

Every. Fucking. Day.

It’s not the answer I wanted to hear, believe me. But it still chokes me up when I think about it. And it continues to inspire me to carry on when things get tough. If this man can face his awful decision with such courage and faith every morning, who am I to complain when my issues of fear or resistance reappear in my life?

In his book Do The Work Steven Pressfield explains that fear must be faced on a daily basis, “The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

There is much truth in Mr. Pressfield’s words, but I would suggest taking a less militant approach. Fighting a battle implies resistance, and I strongly believe that what we resist persists.

Maybe we can try forgiveness instead.

Fear is a healthy emotion. It protects us from dinosaurs and fire-breathing dragons. It suggests we not walk down that dark alley at night. It keeps us alert as we’re doing 80 MPH down the expressway. It is not our enemy.

But we also have many irrational fears that interrupt our creativity and ability to produce anything meaningful. And we struggle with having to face these fears over and over and over again. We get angry with ourselves, and at fear. Then we sit in a corner and sulk.

What if you came from the space of forgiving yourself on a daily basis? What if the first thing you did in the morning was to give yourself permission to feel all those fears…then to make the decision to do those scary things anyway?

There is nothing special about that grieving Amish father. He does not possess any secret knowledge or ancient techniques. He is simply aware that there is a decision to be made each day. And he has made a commitment to himself to make the best decision he can as often as he is able.

Can you make that same commitment? What would change in your work if you did? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

 

50 thoughts on “Forgiving Your Child’s Killer”

  1. Other than just to say this is one of the best things you’ve ever written, I would add that if you think you’re putting off a decision, you’re not. You did decide, but you lied to yourself about it and refused to acknowledge the true decision that was made. It’s this funny way we have of doing the exact opposite of what we want to believe about ourselves.

    If that Amish guy woke up every morning and said, “I’ll decide about whether or not to forgive my child’s killer tomorrow,” we all know that what was really decided was that the killer was not forgiven, and that tomorrow will never come.

    1. From you, that’s quite a compliment! Thanks for making me blush and making my day 🙂 And what an excellent point. It’s so odd the way we do that, trick ourselves like that. I’m going to be pondering that one good tonight, I can tell. 

    2. From you, that’s quite a compliment! Thanks for making me blush and making my day 🙂 And what an excellent point. It’s so odd the way we do that, trick ourselves like that. I’m going to be pondering that one good tonight, I can tell. 

    3. From you, that’s quite a compliment! Thanks for making me blush and making my day 🙂 And what an excellent point. It’s so odd the way we do that, trick ourselves like that. I’m going to be pondering that one good tonight, I can tell. 

      1. This is such an intense example of replacing the fear with love. I have to remind myself daily, with trivial things such as public speaking and job interviews. This sure puts things in perspective.

  2. Before Mark and I got married we met with a marriage commissioner (like a JP here in Canada) and she shared this tidbit of wisdom with us:

    People think they choose each other, they choose to get married and then that’s it. Happily ever after. What they forget is they have to choose their partner every single day. When they don’t want to. When they don’t feel like it. When the other didn’t keep their word. and so on.

    Every. Single. Day. Many days I don’t want to, and then I do anyway. That’s tough enough. I can’t imagine how it is for the Amish father. 

    1. Oh my goodness, Sandi. This comment just made me cry. We just had a very close call here, with a week separation and a lot of soul searching. The one thing I kept coming back to, and was a part of both the separation and the reunion, was that no matter what, it was IMPERATIVE that we wake up every morning and choose each other. Every day. Thank you for being the part of the universe that just fed the importance of that back to me.

      1. I’m so glad. And posting it here and reading the comments has been a much needed reminder for me. It’s so easy to forget and take things for granted. But it is a choice. Every day.

    2. Sandi, my husband and I heard/learned the exact same thing in our pre-marriage counseling and it has been a wonderful thing for us. We tell each other “I choose you” as much as we say “I love you.”

  3. Yes and yes, JennyB!  I feel this with my own recent loss.  I felt so angry, in denial, hurt…still do to an extent, but it is the choosing every day.  It’s letting go of what I thought should be, every day.  It’s also not rushing it…like you said resistance isn’t the answer.  With my bud of a business, I choose daily to believe in my work.  It’s sometimes a real “holy shit-er” to take a step in a direction that feels like there’s no ground beneath…or that I’m laying the ground as I walk.

    Committing to forgiveness, I’d probably publish my blog posts faster…stop worrying that I didn’t say it right.  I’d stop worrying about a whole heck of a lot actually…This forgiveness peice is humungous.

    1. Ah sweet Jen, I was thinking of you when I wrote this. Did you know that? I’m glad you found it and it touched you…and you nailed it…the forgiveness piece really is hu-fucking-mungous :) 

    2. Ah sweet Jen, I was thinking of you when I wrote this. Did you know that? I’m glad you found it and it touched you…and you nailed it…the forgiveness piece really is hu-fucking-mungous :) 

    3. Ah sweet Jen, I was thinking of you when I wrote this. Did you know that? I’m glad you found it and it touched you…and you nailed it…the forgiveness piece really is hu-fucking-mungous :) 

  4. I read this headline on my Facebook news feed and came to the blog with every intention of disagreeing with this post. After reading it, I can’t. Great post.

    1. Thanks so much Jesse. Means my title and message both did their job…and that makes me happy. I’m glad you found it, however you did. 

    2. Thanks so much Jesse. Means my title and message both did their job…and that makes me happy. I’m glad you found it, however you did. 

    3. Thanks so much Jesse. Means my title and message both did their job…and that makes me happy. I’m glad you found it, however you did. 

  5. Powerful words Jenny. It’s not on the same scale but I guess I choose every day not to let the pain beat me. It’s so automatic that I suppose I don’t realise that I do make that decision daily. 

    One other thing; I don’t look ahead and think “How will I cope in 10 years?” I can’t; if I really thought about having pain all that time I’d tell you I couldn’t cope with it. But the truth is I’ve coped with it for the last ten years, by simply facing it on a daily basis. 

    And it is hard. There are days when I wish life didn’t demand this decision of me, that I could just give in. But then I wouldn’t be me.

    1. Thank you, sister. Pain is pain, and having the strength and courage that you do in facing it everyday is always an inspiration to me. But you’re right, anything that might change who you are would bum me out because you’re pretty f’n awesome <3

  6. Wow.  Powerful stuff.  Big stuff too.
    For me, I find that even forgiving myself sometimes is too resistant, and that I’m better off just deciding to accept that this is what I am experiencing right now, and it is ok.  That whatever I feel is perfect and I give myself permission to feel it.

    For me that is a very powerful thing.  Often even more powerful then forgiveness (though that’s very powerful too.)  It creates a spaciousness which allows lots of things to happen in a way that is gentile and loving and wonderful and powerful.

    1. Great point, Andy! Acceptance is such an important place to be. I love that thought…of creating spaciousness. To just let be what is.

  7. Brilliant post Jenny. I can’t help but be in awe. The writing, the raw humanity, and the challenge to stand on higher ground in my own life.  The challenge to make a choice, and honor it every day.  Hard, hard work, and the antithesis of the prevailing culture of instant gratification, and magical thinking … chant this affirmation and the world will fall at your feet.

    I also enjoyed the great and thoughtful comments. And now, it’s time for a heaping helping of choosing my stand and recommitting to that choice daily.

    1. Anne you make me blush…but I LIKE it 😀 Thank you so much for your kind words. And for sharing your re-commitment with us here to help inspire and light fires.

  8. Thank you. This stops me dead in my moments of self-pity. This gives real, flesh-and-blood meaning to the words “take up one’s cross daily” or “A long obedience in the same direction: discipleship in an instant society.” ( the title of a book by an author I respect, Eugene H. Peterson).

    1. Ah yes, self pity. My good and long-time friend. Yes, this is the kind of thing that can truly demolish it. I’ll have to check out Mr. Peterson! 🙂

  9. Fan-fucking-tastic post! Brilliant. I was in the process of writing a similar type of post on my blog, albeit not as daring LOL, but you said it so well, I think I’ll just point people here instead.

    My first visit to your blog (came by way of your recent Remarkablogger guest post).

    1. Thanks so much Annie! I’m so glad you found me through Michael’s site (you obviously have great taste to be one of his readers 😉

      I’m thankful, too, that you found this post and were moved by it. Welcome and I hope to see you around~!

  10. Fan-fucking-tastic post! Brilliant. I was in the process of writing a similar type of post on my blog, albeit not as daring LOL, but you said it so well, I think I’ll just point people here instead.

    My first visit to your blog (came by way of your recent Remarkablogger guest post).

  11. As if reading this post weren’t enough, I had to go and read some of the comments, and now *I’m* crying. Good grief.

    Jenny, thanks for this. I remember the news reports about that horror. I was living in Germany at the time, so I didn’t see as much coverage as you surely did…but still, that’s not something one forgets even if there’s just a single report. I very much appreciate the message of that Amish father and your manner of sharing it. I’ve struggled for years to forgive myself for hurts I’ve caused others. It really is a decision I have to make every day. If I don’t decide to forgive myself every day, it’s an automatic choice in favor of guilt. And guilt always, always turns into fear, which leads to retreating from life and from love.

    Thank you for the reminder that I don’t have to live like that.

    1. You know, I think we all privately believe we’ve committed terrible (unforgivable?) crimes against other people in our pasts. And I’m not sure how much of that is even accurate…but if we are to forgive anyone else for anything ever, we have to begin with ourselves. 

      I don’t know you too well (yet 🙂 Courtney but I can say with confidence you are very much worthy of that compassion and forgiveness. 

      So glad to see you here. Thank you for sharing that!

      1. Jenny, I’m sorry I didn’t reply sooner. I’ve been sick and am only now getting to answer blog comments (on my own blog and elsewhere!).

        But thank you so much for your response. It makes me cry all over again ; ) but in a good way, if that makes any sense. My struggle isn’t that I believe my “crime” is unforgivable…it’s just that the relationship was so completely destroyed that I’ll never even have the opportunity to ask forgiveness. So even as I am healing by choosing to forgive myself, I can never know if that other person has chosen to heal or chosen to hate. And that just makes me sad, because I know what choosing to hate can do to the human spirit over time. And I would never want that to happen to her.

        But I also recognize that her choice is not my responsibility. I did the very little I could do to make amends. And now, I work on forgiving myself. You are very right in saying that we can’t forgive others unless we forgive ourselves. It’s very easy to hold a grudge against someone if we’re already accustomed to holding a grudge “close to home.”

        Thanks for your kind words, Jenny. They make me smile and give me hope. : )

  12. Wow oh wow! I would love to show off my writing abilities and say something incredibly profound, but I have no words. So glad I found this! I will be a regular reader. By the way, so needed NEEDED to see this TODAY! Thank you!

    1. Thank you and welcome, Teresa! I’m glad the post found you and made an impact. Looking forward to seeing you around :) 

  13. Fear is nothing but a feeling in your stomach! Really…ask someone to tell you what ‘fear’ feels like. You can’t really describe it, yet we let it control our lives so much. 

    Once you get over the silly feeling of fear, a whole new world opens up to you.

    Of course, we should be a little fearful standing on the edge of a 30 story building with no rail, but we should all be less fearful to take chances at work, in life, etc…

  14. Oh my God, this is just something else.I mean sure, we should forgive everyone for everything, and it really is the only way to inner peace, but MAN.

    To forgive your child’s killer, and to go to their funeral and visit their window… That is just incredible. There is definitely something to be learned here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *