Recently I read the dramatic account of a young woman whose story was told on a BBC broadcast in 2013. Natascha Kampusch, a ten-year-old Austrian girl was abducted on the way to school by a man in his mid-thirties. He locked her in a dark, dungeon-like room underneath his garage, where he kept her for eight years. After a while he would let her out to cook for him and do household chores, always under close guard, before locking her in the concrete room each night. At times he beat her so badly that she could hardly walk. He also raped her.
When Natascha finally escaped to a neighbor’s house, as an eighteen-year-old she weighed about the same (105 pounds) as when she entered. Despite the horrific ordeal, she came to a place of forgiveness. As she explained on the program, “I felt I had to forgive him. Only by doing so could I push it away from myself. If I hadn’t been able to forgive him then these feelings of frustration and anger would have continued to eat away at me and would have lived on—this entire experience would have continued to live on inside me. It is as if he would have won in the end if I had let that get to me. I didn’t want hate to poison me because hate always backfires, it comes back on yourself.”
What tremendous wisdom and courage this young woman possessed. She recognized that if she was not able to forgive the perpetrator, he would have defeated her. She would be trapped in her anger for the rest of her life.
We do not seem to realize, we are what we remember. The past and what our mind does not let go of, does not necessarily determine who we are, but it clearly shapes our lives. Furthermore, if we do not recognize the baggage in our life from the past and deal with it, it can sabotage our life now and in the future. Particularly our relationships. So many people I encounter are not even aware of how their refusal or inability to reconcile with the past has messed up their lives. Many who are aware of it refuse to deal with it. The thought of having to deal with the past can be so frightening. It can paralyze us.
Anger, bitterness, and hatred are all linked together, and they are all about the past. Past hurts in which people have wronged us, injured us, abused us, mocked us, or betrayed us – they can combine to create a ton of pain. But if people wrong us in any way, only we are responsible for how we respond to them. We all need to be aware that anger and bitterness in our lives does not harm anyone but us. Only we are harmed. In fact, unresolved anger leaves a real mark on our souls, and so I am unsure that we really understand how this impacts us and our abilities to enjoy our lives.
Anger, bitterness, and hatred can truly enslave us. There is really only one way to be delivered from it, and that is to forgive. However, forgiveness is counterintuitive. To hate is a more natural response when we are hurt or wronged by another.
I have come to realize that, if we are not able to forgive, then we will have a hard time relinquishing our anger and bitterness. Consequently, we are allowing those who have hurt us to ruin and poison our lives. We are allowing them to steal our joy, and our anger is doing nothing to hurt them.
I love the words of novelist William Young who says, “Forgiveness is for the forgiver to release you from something that will eat you alive, which will destroy your joy, and your ability to love fully and openly.”
Is there someone you need to forgive? Remember forgiveness will liberate you from the past and will enable you to live a full and joyful life now and in the future.