When I saw the NEVERBEYOND poster for this week, I cringed and not because I have anything against Mike Tyson…I don’t. Despite all his wrong-doings and bad decisions, I don’t hold anything against him. He has shown in recent years that he is a different person and I have no reason to think the changes aren’t sincere and true. I am cringing though…because even as I type this, I am realizing that I am basing my grace & forgiveness of Tyson on his behaviour in recent years rather than simply giving it. That’s not grace or forgiveness. We don’t give it because it’s deserved…it is NEVER deserved! We give it because we have received the same from the ONLY perfect person able to truly give such a gift. We’ve been offered it and we’ve accepted it and in turn we are told to give it…unearned, unasked for, undeserving, freely and without strings.
But that’s not the only reason I have been gritting my teeth and cringing at this one. It’s for far more personal reasons. It’s easy to forgive Mike Tyson and not hold his past against him because he’s done his time, he’s made his apologies, he’s owned up to his wrong-doings and has in many ways suffered the consequences of them. He’s paid his debt and it’s easy to let him off with that knowledge in mind. But what about those who haven’t?
I have a personal connection with rape and domestic abuse. I was 15 when I was raped by a boy/man who I thought cared for me. He denied it…even moments after it happened. In fact, he bragged to all his friends how he had “scored” with me, letting it be known that I had given it up willingly and easily. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every time he told the story, every time someone ridiculed and shunned me as a result, I experienced the rape over again. My response to that at the time was to walk away with my head down, shoulders bowed under the weight of what I now thought to be true about myself- that I didn’t matter enough to be respected when I said no…nor did I matter enough for someone to stand up in defense of me. As you can imagine, that experience coloured much of my experience in the years following….it influenced my choices and my views of love and sex. And because I didn’t deal with that for so many years, it affected my ability to make wise choices in terms of future boyfriends and eventually my life partner.
Long before I began to work through and deal with the hurts of my youth, I met and married my, now, ex-husband. It was a dating relationship in which I dominated. He was “all about me”….showering me with gifts, special trips, allowing me to have my way whenever a disagreement or difference in opinion came up. I thought nothing of it…and that, combined with the fact that he talked a really good game, had me certain I was in love. We never talked about the important stuff (kids, life goals, our faith…we both grew up in the church, were both missionary kids, of course we both believed the same things). We never discussed how we would handle conflict, money or parenting strategies, nothing. Almost immediately after we were married the control and abuse began and for 8 years I lived in an environment of uncertainty, anger, mistreatment and disrespect.
Now one cannot live in an abusive environment without, at some point, exhibiting some of the same behaviours. I would be remiss to say that I was completely innocent of all wrong-doing in my marriage. However, the truth remains that I lived for 8 years in a home where I felt unsafe; where fights weren’t just arguments but almost always involved physical abuse or the threat of it; where no didn’t mean no…it meant torment until it was a yes.
In both of those instances the person involved has never accepted responsibility for their actions. They have never apologized. They haven’t done their time or paid their debt. They have simply gone on with life…in one instance totally hating me for having left and the other completely convinced that they did indeed “score”.
I have had to fight through and come to terms with what has happened. I have had to forgive both of these men despite the fact that, in the world's eyes, they really don't deserve it. I have forgiven them even though I have every right to hate them, to wish them dead.
But you know what? It’s one thing to say you forgive someone and have let go of the past and that you don’t hold those things against them any longer even if they haven’t asked you. When you imagine them standing in front of you confessing their wrong-doings and taking responsibility for their actions, asking for forgiveness, it's suddenly not so easy. When I replace the picture of Mike Tyson and put that of the guy from high school or that of my ex-husband…suddenly it’s a very different thing altogether….and I cringe. Because the truth is….I don’t know if I could, without hesitation or a struggle, tell either of these men that I forgive them if they stood in front of me. There are days when the reality of what has happened comes rushing back and I want to see them suffer and forgiveness is the last thing I want to give them because they haven’t changed. That is where the beauty and total incredibleness of the grace and forgiveness God extends to us through His Son Jesus blows my mind. HE HAS DONE THAT….HE has forgiven even the worst of us without needing to see that we have changed first. In fact, the changes most often start to happen AFTER we have accepted the gift He offers. And because of that, NO ONE IS BEYOND GRACE AND FORGIVENESS. It is because He has done that for me that I am able to extend grace and forgiveness, even in those hard moments when the memories flood my mind.*
I hope one day I have the opportunity to stand in front of both of these men and say the words “I forgive you” and I hope that one day they are able to accept the gift of grace that we have all been given. I hope that even today they are beginning to grasp the reality of what has been done for them on the cross and that they can begin to live out new lives characterized by that grace. I hope and pray that they have the chance to make things right in their lives before it’s too late. Because despite the things they have done that have caused me pain, I don’t want to imagine Heaven without them there. Because Heaven is home to those given second chances.
“Everyone needs compassion…a love that’s never failing…. Everyone needs forgiveness…the kindness of a Saviour…the hope of nations…” (Mighty to Save – Hillsong Live)
We are all NEVER BEYOND….
*Please, if you are in a relationship where there is abuse happening, TELL SOMEONE. Seek help. Get out and get safe. BREAK THE CYCLE. If you aren’t sure how to do that, or who to talk to, talk to me. Send me a message. Check out my “wanna get in touch?” page to see how.This post is part of the blog series “Never Beyond.” People of the Second Chance has launched the Never Beyond Poster Series: 25 posters representing well known historical, current and fictional characters who are believed to have harmed society. This campaign consists of digital and print posters and the full collection will eventually be displayed as a touring art exhibit. The campaign draws out themes of forgiveness, grace and what a pathway to a second chance looks like.