First published in the Bridge Magazine, November 2018 edition.
On March 28 2010, 19-year old Conor McBride shot his fiancée Ann Grosmaire, after a horrible row that had lasted for two days. An hour later he voluntarily handed himself into the police.
Ann was so badly wounded she had no hope of recovery. As he sat at her hospital bedside, her father Andy longed for her to speak. And as he listened he became utterly convinced he could hear her say, “Forgive him.” But how could he forgive this?
After four days Ann’s parents decided to switch off her ventilator. As he prayed next to her bed, Andy felt God speaking to him, that it was not just Ann asking him to forgive Conor, but Jesus Christ. Andy shared this with his wife Kate, who next day visited Conor in jail.
It was an emotional meeting. Conor wept as he said how very sorry he was. And then battling tears of her own, Kate explained that she and Andy wanted to forgive Conor for what he’d done. Then murderer, and the mother of the victim, sat and cried together for fifteen minutes. When the visit was over, Kate returned to the hospital, where she and Andy turned off Ann’s life support. Conor later received a twenty year sentence for her murder.
Forgiveness is not easy, but it is better than bitterness. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats us up from the inside out, destroying our relationships with others, splitting churches and villages, hindering our prayers and blocking the flow of God’s blessing in our lives. The only cure for the cancer of bitterness is the chemotherapy of love and forgiveness. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Kate and Andy’s decision to forgive Conor set them free. Kate says,
Everything I feel [now], I can feel because we forgave Conor… Because we could forgive, people can say her name [around us]… I think that when people can’t forgive, they’re stuck. All they can feel is the emotion surrounding that moment. I can be sad, but I don’t have to stay stuck in that moment where this awful thing happened. Because if I do, I may never come out of it. Forgiveness for me was self-preservation.”
So how do you forgive? One simple way is to get a blank sheet of paper, and write down who needs to be forgiven and for what. Write honestly about how the wrong made you feel, and how you want to let go of those feelings. Then try to imagine the benefits of forgiving and write those down too: for example, how you long for sadness to become joy. Then at the bottom write “I forgive X” where X is the person who has wronged you. Then when you’ve written it all down, turn it into a prayer, seeking God’s help to forgive, saying sorry for how hard you find forgiveness, and asking him to help you change how you feel about that person. Finally, share the news with someone. If it’s the person you’re angry with, so much the better!
And as you do that, you’ll discover something wonderful: freedom. As counsellor Lewis B. Smedes puts it,
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
You can read the full story of Conor and Ann’s families here.