It was announced in the news yesterday that Stephen Lawrence’s Father has forgiven his son’s killers. However, Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen, says she will never forgive the those who stabbed her son to death. She is on record as saying, “you can only forgive somebody when they have shown remorse and accepted what they have done – and they haven’t”.
The murder of Stephen Lawrence became a huge issue in the UK partly owing to the racist nature of the attack. Criticisms were raised at the police handling of the investigation and there were concerns that they were acting in a racist manner themselves. The controversy has raged for 25 years since the murder took place. It has been called “The Murder That Changed A Nation” in an upcoming BBC documentary.
Now 25 years on, Nigel Lawrence has announced that he ‘embraces Christian faith’ for anniversary of 1993 racist murder of his son and has decided to forgive them. “The fact that I had to lose my first child has been devastating,” he said. “I can’t begin to explain the pain and the anguish me and my family have suffered over the past 25 years.” However he goes on to say, “To be a Christian you have to forgive people for what they have done… So in order to be a Christian, I decided I am going to forgive all those people who were involved in my son’s murder.”
Even though he called the decision the “hardest I will ever make in my lifetime” he does go on to say: “It’s amazing how I feel now. I feel like I have let got a burden I have been carrying around for so many years.”
Such feelings of lightness and of being unburdened are not unusual in those who choose the path of forgiveness. Whatever means he found to enable himself to forgive we can certainly congratulate him on his choice. His decision to forgive does not mean that he no longer wants justice for his son; it just means that he can start to let go of the bitterness and pain which he has been feeling all these years.
The mother feeling that she cannot forgive them, “As they have not shown remorse”, is understandable. But, this is not the stance the father is now taking and he specifically says that he has let go of the idea that the killers had to show remorse before he could forgive them.
A lot depends on how we define forgiveness. In The Four Steps to Forgiveness we define forgiveness as, “Letting go of wanting to punish”. That is all. This does not say we cannot seek justice, or healthy changes in a society which caused an injustice. It does not even mean we need to have any kind of relationship with the person we are forgiving – that is a different, but related issue. All that forgiveness means, in our definition, is that we let go of the burden of hatred and bitterness which is involved in wanting to punish or hurt another person.
When we define forgiveness as “Letting go of wanting to punish” it allows us to forgive unconditionally. Forgiveness is then always possible whether the other person shows remorse or not. Whether they are still alive or long gone, makes no difference. Whether they are a changed person or still the same, it makes no difference. Such things do make a difference as to whether we would want, or are able, to create some kind of ongoing healthy relationship with them. However, that is ‘reconciliation‘, which is another issue. Reconciliation is not forgiveness as we are defining it. We can better make decisions about whether or not a reconciliation would be good or desirable after we have forgiven.
If Neville Lawrence can forgive his son’s killers, can we not attempt to become more forgiving too? If you are interested in learning how to forgive, please download our free ebook -The Four Steps to Forgiveness:
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Four Steps to Forgiveness
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William Fergus Martin