Psychologist Viktor Frankl tells the story of a woman who came for counseling after experiencing a terrible tragedy. Because she had small children, the woman was always very careful when she backed out of her driveway in her family’s SUV. She would take extra care to look around the vehicle, to check all of the mirrors before she started to move, and to turn around and look behind her as she backed up.
One afternoon she went through her usual routine as she prepared to go to the market, even stopping to move a bicycle that had been left in the driveway by her oldest son. As she began to slowly back out of her drive, she felt a slight bump. Thinking that she had probably missed a basketball or skateboard, she put the vehicle in park and rushed out to remove the obstacle. To her horror, when she stepped around the back of her vehicle, she found the broken body of her four-year-old daughter lying on the ground where the tire had just passed. Not knowing what to do, she knelt down on the ground and placed the little girl’s head in her lap, staring deeply into her eyes and holding her close as the young child passed away.
For the next few years, she was unable to sleep. With the tears of a broken heart falling freely, she explained to the counselor that every time that she closed her eyes, all that she could see were the eyes of her daughter staring back at her pleadingly…wondering why this had happened.
The counselor quietly listened to the story. When the woman was finished, the counselor looked up at her and said, “What a tremendous gift.” The woman looked up at him with a confusion that was almost turning to anger. How could he possibly have thought that any of that experience was a gift?
“Forgive me,” he remarked seeing her face begin to sour. “It just occurred to me while you were sharing your story that while I cannot fathom the depth of your loss and grief, you nonetheless managed to give your daughter a wonderful gift in the last few moments of her life. You see…I cannot imagine a better way to die, then to do so looking up into the loving eyes of your mother.” The young mother went home that evening and slept through the night for the first time in years.
How long have you been punishing yourself for your past mistakes? At a very early age we are taught that our actions have consequences and that some of those consequences are nearly unavoidable. Those consequences very often represent the justice that we so fervently seek in times of great tragedy. However, while there certainly are consequences for our actions and decisions, it is important to remember that God’s justice is very different from our own because God’s justice is always tempered by forgiveness. That part of God’s justice is often the most difficult to accept…and certainly the most difficult to give. If you want to find more happiness this year, then accept the freedom that God gives you to stop punishing yourself for the wrongs of your past. Once you do, you might just find that it is easier to stop punishing others for their wrongs as well.