How often do you forgive someone genuinely and from your heart? And what, if anything, has to happen for you to forgive? Do you need remorse to be shown? Does it need to be something "forgivable"? What if the damage that has been done to you is extreme, horrendous? What if, God forbid, someone recklessly causes the death of members of your family? Could you ever even get to the point of being ready to forgive? This true story will inspire you to re-think your own beliefs about your ability to forgive others and the very nature of "radical forgiveness."
Table of Contents
- Forgiveness: What We Received and Obligated to Give
- Love Is a Major Weapon
- How God Demonstrated His Love For Us
- The Power of Forgiveness
Forgiveness: What We Received and Obligated to Give
Bob: Forgiveness, it's what we as Christians have received. It's what we, as Christians are obligated to give. In fact, don't we promise that in the Lord's prayer? Lord, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. As we forgive others. And then when Jesus is asked, "Lord, how many times should we forgive? Seven?" Sounds like a good reasonable number. Jesus replies, "No. Try 70 times seven or limitless." But you know and I know forgiveness, it sounds so easy and yet it is so difficult. And one of the reasons it's so difficult is because of the circumstances surrounding the event in which we are required to forgive. I mean, what if the person who did the damage doesn't care, isn't remorseful? Isn't contrite or asking for forgiveness? What if they don't even acknowledge the damage that was done?
And then what about the nature of the damage? The extent of it? I mean, look, somebody bumps into you on the street. "Sorry. " "Yeah, no problem. I forgive you. " And there are all kinds of little insults and things that happen on a regular basis because we're human beings and we don't have a problem forgiving those things. But what if someone is slandering you, affecting your life? What if they're causing damage to important relationships in your life or causing you to lose your job or lose money? It gets a little more serious, doesn't it? It becomes a little bit more difficult to forgive. And what if someone recklessly causes the death of your mother and daughter. Think about that. Would it even be possible to forgive? I mean, we're human beings. How does one forgive that?
Introducing Our Guest, Cindy Griffiths
Bob: In the studio with me today is Cindy Griffiths. She is co-author of a book called The Road to Forgiveness: Hearts Shattered by Tragedy, Transformed by Love. The book is published by Thomas Nelson, Christian booksellers. Cindy's story is one of the most inspiring and edifying that you will ever hear in your life. And I want her to tell you about what happened to her, her faith, her family years ago.
So, tell our listeners what the story is. I know you've thought this story, you've thought through this tragedy a million times. You probably put it into so many different words and it's got to be difficult for you to recite again and again. But, it's so uplifting for people and they need to hear this because we're all challenged by your story. So would you mind telling our listeners a brief version of what you describe in your book and what happened to you years ago?
Cindy: It was back in 1996 when my children were all still living home and being children. My daughter and my parents were traveling cross country from New York to Salt Lake City, Utah, to the wedding of one of my brothers. I have two brothers out in Salt Lake. One was getting married and my daughter was 11 years old. She was offered the invitation to travel with her grandparents by car to the wedding and so they did. However, the day they were supposed to arrive that morning, there was a car accident. And my parents' vehicle was actually rear-ended by someone who had been drinking.
The Day Cindy’s Nightmare Began
Cindy: My mom and my daughter passed, and my dad made it through as did the driver of the vehicle that crashed into them. So that's the day the nightmare began. But because I know Jesus, I really feel like God put in my heart that it would be a really good idea to reach out to the lady who caused the car accident. To reach out to her with the love of Jesus in friendship and forgiveness. And to see what kind of amazing things that God might be able to do with that.
Bob: So, Cindy, in the midst of your grief, you decided you had to write her a letter. So tell us about that letter. This was the initial contact that started this relationship and your road to forgiveness. Although it probably started in your heart long before that. Bt tell us about that letter because to me it must've been extremely difficult to write. And what do you say and how is she going to receive it? So tell our listeners about that first communication.
Cindy: Well, I knew from the first day really that I wanted to reach out to her. Because I knew who my real enemy was. And to me, enemy, as a follower of Christ, my enemy according to the scriptures in Ephesians 6:12 says our enemy is not against flesh and blood. But against evil powers and spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places and this sort of thing.
Because Jesus Has Forgiven Us First
Cindy: So even from the first day, I just had it in my head. She is not my enemy. There's someone else who is, he just uses her. He used her, he uses people. And so it was about three months after the accident where I sent a letter off to her. It took me a little while to write it. I asked God to show me what to write. I fasted for three days and sought the Lord and would write intermittently. And I told her, this is killing us what has happened. But I wrote things like, "We've made mistakes too. I've made mistakes." Maybe not this drastic. But in God's eyes, against the Holy backdrop, a Holy God. I knew that we all make mistakes and I made a mistake.
So in the letter, I said, "We forgive you. Because Jesus has forgiven us. And we forgive you."
Bob: Well, that forgiveness, you make it sound like it was a decision on your part and I know that it was, and it came from your Christian faith in your background. But boy, I'm putting myself in your position and, and I'm thinking I would be so angry.
I mean, how do you get past that anger? How do you get past that need to lash back? And I know this person went through the legal system, but still, how do you move past that? The flesh, right? The need to hurt back?
Cindy: Bob, it says in 1 Peter chapter 2, we should look at Jesus as our example in suffering. It says that while he was suffering he uttered no threats. While he was being reviled, he reviled not in return. So we can say, "Oh, but that was Jesus, man. He was God."
Love Is a Major Weapon
Cindy: But it's the next part of that verse that it all hinges on. It says, "Because he kept entrusting himself to him who judges righteously."
So Jesus kept entrusting himself to the father's care, to the father's wisdom, to the father's will. And we see this over and over in scripture. I was angry, but because of the biblical perspective that she's not my enemy, I let my anger come out on against the powers of evil.
How do I do that? Well, scripture says that we've been given spiritual weapons that are divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. I think it's, I don't know if it's 1 or 2 Corinthians, right?
And love is a major, major weapon that God has given us.
So I felt at the time I was angry that there was such a thing as death that could separate my 11-year-old daughter and my mother who I loved so dearly. That death, death itself could separate us.
Evil Is the Enemy
That there was something that whatever drove this woman to become an alcoholic, whatever problems were in her, I was angry at those problems.
So I took that anger and I thought, "Well, evil is my enemy. Satan is my enemy."
So to fight him, by golly, I'm going to show this lady friendship and I'm going to spit and Satan's face when I do it. So that's kind of where my anger went.
Bob: But boy, it's so hard. I mean, okay and I see that. I see that from a theological point of view. This is the way I get back at Satan. I use love against him, right?
But to do that from your heart, to express love for someone who really you didn't know and what you knew about her wasn't great. How do you encourage our listeners who hopefully never deal with the thing that you dealt with? That horrible tragedy, but do have people in their lives they have to forgive and they're struggling.
So is there anything that you've learned from your experience that you can point them to that says, "Look, here's a method." Surely there's scripture, but where there steps that you went through? Were there phases that you went through that you can tell our listeners, "Hey, this is normal." So you reached out to her, right?
Trusting in the Wisdom of Our Father in Heaven
Bob: Would you have been okay if you never heard back from her?
Cindy: I had to prepare myself. Yes. That could have happened. Because I think in all these, in everything, we need to be trusting in the wisdom of our father in heaven. Because things are just may just not go the way we want them to go. Whatever the situation is.
But first of all, as Christians, I think we need to be in the word of God. Because we need to know the way God works. We need to know what his promises are that are laid out in scripture. How can I trust somebody that I don't know?
Cindy: So even with me in the beginning, with all the emotions and the agony and the tears. I would continually go to God and cry out to God and wet my Bible with my tears.
It was nonstop in the beginning. So, and even scripture says in Isaiah, pour out your hearts before him, old people, in God you have an everlasting rock and he can handle it.
The First Step to Forgiveness
Bob: So, is that the first step? Is the first step to go to God, ask God for? Is the first step to offer up forgiveness?
Cindy: That's an interesting question. I would say the first thing is to go to God with just all your emotions, period. And get from God.
We can't give away what we don't have.
And so, because I know that God really loves me. I knew that I can go to the Lord with everything I was feeling. But when I looked at the future and I said, "Well, now what?" And I was praying that God would be glorified through this because you want it. Part of what I think what makes a tragedy so tragic is there's nothing you can do about it. You can't go back and change history. There's a lot of things we can fix in life, but there are some things we can't.
I think that going to the Lord with all those emotions, with all the disappointment, with all the hurt is good. And then to say, "Well, Lord, if I can't have them back." And I couldn't. "I want you, Lord, to use us for your glory." I want to see people in heaven someday because of this whole thing.
How God Demonstrated His Love For Us
Cindy: It's like, "Well, Lord, use this for good. As only you are able to do." In one of those times in prayer, I was just kind of crying before God and I was a mess. I just started to sense God loves this lady. She must be in a really bad place herself, with her life before and what she did. And this would be a great opportunity to show her the love of Jesus. And that next to having them back in my life, that's what I would want.
Bob: So really, Cindy, your focused the whole time has been on scripture and on God and your relationship with God. Because I think for a lot of people, you get derailed right away. Because I can take my anger out on the other person or I can take my anger out at God. Why did you let this happen?
And it sounds to me that you really never went there and would you say you didn't go there because you were so grounded in scripture or because you really had a deep relationship with God and there was that trust?
Cindy: I think it was the trust thing. Because I came to know God in my life in such a profound way that what Jesus has done for us with laying down his life for us, that's where God demonstrated his love.
Jesus Bought Our Eternity
Cindy: If he did nothing else in our lives today, that seemed like a blessing. He bought our eternity, he paid a price that we couldn't pay.
Bob: So that is always your default?
Cindy: I think so.
Bob: That is always the thing you get back to. And that to me is the belief that perhaps sometimes gets challenged. Well, and again, not picking on anyone, this is just we're human beings.
And people who sometimes get really hurt can say, "Well, God, you let this happen. I guess you're either not as good as I thought, or you're not as powerful as I thought." So, therefore, I'm going to kind of ignore you for a little while. You never went there. That's just so encouraging. I think it's an incredible tribute to your faith and your character. That's why I think this story is so inspiring, but let's go back to that. So you sent the letter and she did respond.
Cindy: Yep. I sent it in a November, November of 96' and I heard back from her in the end January of 97'.
Bob: And she said that she appreciated you writing?
Cindy: She did appreciate my writing. She sent me, I think it was 26 handwritten pages. On large computer size paper, kind of like her life story in there.
A Story That Speaks to Larger Issues
Bob: Wow. A novel.
Cindy: Kind of. And she shared things about her. She said she was very apologetic, of course. But she also knew that her apologies, she felt were very shallow.
Cindy: Not that she meant them to be shallow, but compared to what we were carrying.
Bob: Right, it's going to come across that way.
Cindy: She did respond and I was thrilled, because I was kind of hoping that it could somehow continue.
Bob: So you started a relationship that way?
Bob: And that relationship sort of grew and without, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but you kind of became a mentor? And stoked her faith also. So God really used that. Of course then, and then your book, and then you're on the Oprah show talking about this as well and it was big article in Newsday, big Long Island magazine, New York newspaper.
So your story got out there and you feel it's a story that speaks to larger issues. Because it's not just about tragedy in our lives, but also about forgiveness in general. And the fact that it's a natural response of us to forgive our fellow human beings. Right? Our fellow servants who are under the authority of the King, who has forgiven us of so much.
Things People Struggle With the Most When It Comes to Forgiveness
Bob: I've heard you speak about it. You bring up scripture continually. So obviously, this response of yours was grounded in scripture. But when you're out talking to folks who hear this, what do you see as the things, and maybe you haven't had this question before, but what do you see as the things people struggle with the most when it comes to forgiveness?
Cindy: Two things come to mind. One is I find that people feel, people think that if I forgive this person that offended me, it's as if I'm saying, "It's okay." So that invalidates the damage that was done and the pain that was caused.
Bob: Sure. Which is very real.
Cindy: So I would say that's one big thing. And the second thing is that I think that when somebody has offended us, people want there to be some kind of retribution.
Bob: Right. I know I do.
Cindy: Somebody needs to pay.
Bob: Sure, of course.
Cindy: There's got to be some kind of justice somewhere. I would say those are the two things I hear from people the most.
The Power of Forgiveness
Bob: Right. And whose retribution? I mean, do I have the right to that? Do I leave this in God's hands? I mean, because what if I don't see that person getting the justice I think? So where do you go there? I think what I hear you saying is, it still comes down to your relationship with God.
Cindy: I agree with you 100%. I really do. Because and naturally speaking, it's like, "You hit me, I hit you back harder." Jesus came to brought an upside-down kingdom. It's so different than the way we normally respond and react to things. And yet he came to bring us abundant life.
That means we have to learn how to do things his way. God doesn't want us wrapped up in bitterness and have in our hearts and the real estate in our brains be filled with thoughts of revenge and plots and plans and just evil, just nasty thoughts. That's not abundant living.
God wants us free on the inside.
So when he says things like, "Forgive as you've been forgiven. As you've seen me, as I forgive you, now you go do likewise." It's not just with the person that you're forgiving. It's because it's going to free you up to have joy, to have peace, to enjoy life.
If We Didn’t Choose Forgiveness
Bob: So that leads me to another question then. I don't know if anyone's ever asked you this and I'm not sure if it's a fair question, but let me ask you. So you did something pretty extraordinary. Whether or not you'd want to say that or use those terms. I will. You did something pretty extraordinary and again, inspiring. What if you didn't? So here you are, years later, and you are speaking churches. You have a fantastic testimony, a witness, you have edified many, many people and have taught them a lot about forgiveness, about themselves. What do you think your life would be like now, if you had not chosen to do that?
Cindy: Wow. That's really hard to say. I can only go by what I heard in other situations. Because I think no revenge, if I ever even took revenge, I don't think anything would ever be enough. I don't think that that monster inside would ever be satisfied unless that person's child and grandmother were killed also.
Bob: So it becomes a never-ending cycle.
Cindy: I would think it would be a never-ending cycle. It would probably most likely affect my marriage or my other relationships.
Bob: So that anger, you would be holding on to.
The Parable About Forgiveness
Bob: That feeling of vengeance, revenge that you'd be holding on to would probably seep its way into other things.
Bob: And then you would see a lot of things that happened to you in that framework.
Bob: Whereas with you, you chose to love in the big things, right? I mean, this major event, I would imagine at that point, that becomes the template and model for you to love in other relationships, in other situations. And that then becomes your MO. That's the way Cindy Griffiths operates. She operates out of love. So to me, it's not just about this event. It's about the formulation of a character in Christ over course of one's life. So to get back to my question before, which is a tough question.
If I come to you and I say, "Cindy, I know you've been through this. I'm really having a hard time forgiving." What would you direct me to in scripture that would help me begin to see my role in a new light? If you could choose maybe one story of Jesus, one saying, one parable that I can focus on that really gets me thinking, "Maybe I need to rethink the way that I see myself being hurt here and what is owed to me." What this person owes me. So anything that comes to mind.
Cindy: I would say the parable that Jesus spoke about the slave, the servant, who was forgiven much by his master.
Looking to the Love of God
Cindy: And then that slave or servant turned around in the road, was on the road and saw a fellow slave that owed him a fraction of what he owed his master. And it says, Jesus said, "He took him by the throat and said, 'Pay me what you owe me.'" When the masters, other servants heard about this, they reported it back to the master who took him and threw him into prison and said, "How dare you?" "I have forgiven you much. And you turn around and you couldn't forgive for such a small thing?" Be gone with you, buddy.
So to me, the answer is always looking to the love of God and what Jesus has done for us on the cross because he paid a debt. He died for the sins of the world so that the world could be saved, but it's still that the world could be saved through him. And we only get to go through him one at a time. We have to come to him one by one, recognize that against the backdrop of a Holy God, I have sinned.
I, meaning I everybody, I have sinned. God, blood flowed, somebody, a human being gave his life for me. And for everyone who says "Me." Then when that love breaks our heart, then our heart begins to break with the things that break God's heart.
Our hearts begin to break for other people. My heart began to break for this woman in the midst of all my pain.
The Obligation to Pass on The Forgiveness
Cindy: Because of the love of Jesus in me. Not my love, but the love of Jesus in me and otherwise I would never have cared. I wouldn't care.
Bob: So it still comes down to your understanding of who Jesus is in your life, your relationship to him in the end. Because that's the context from which you see everything is that I have been forgiven. I, you, we have been forgiven so much. It becomes our obligation to pass on that forgiveness. It's like in the Lord's prayer. Forgive us our sins as we forgive.
Cindy: Right. That's scary.
Bob: Not if, it's as we forgive. And those two things are tied together, right? So I'm promising, right? I received your forgiveness father. I'm promising. I'm going to forgive too. So really it is, everything comes down to the context of, "Do you know how the price that was paid for you? Do you know the blood that was shed for you? Are you willing to accept that sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins, which was paid for you? Your sins past, present, and future." When you do and what I'm hearing you say is when you really get that, I mean, get it. I mean, you just don't stand up and recite it, but you get it deep in your heart. You feel a sense of, I have a return to make, your forgiveness for it.
The Road to Forgiveness
Cindy: And anything else. I think there should be such a responsive surrender to God for what he's done for us. That no matter what he asks, in my case, this is what was put before me. Somebody else, it might be, it'll be something else.
Bob: Well, Cindy Griffiths, God continue to bless you.
Cindy: Thank you, Bob.
Bob: The book is called The Road to Forgiveness: Hearts Shattered by Tragedy, Transformed by Love, Thomas Nelson publishers. You can get on Amazon, on Kindle and a great read, great chronology, like a diary of how you got to that point. It's just inspiring for everyone. On inspirational sermons.com, on the best preachers project page, even though Cindy's not a preacher, although I'm trying to get her to become one. There's going to be a box with her and some links to her website as well. Cindy Griffiths, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.