Forgiveness is about winning. With the help of a sports analogy, this idea becomes clearer.
Some call the 400 meter dash the hardest race. It’s a full sprint, and it’s rare that a person can maintain that intensity for a full lap around the track. It’s grueling.
And so is the process of forgiveness.
The 400 has a staggered start, and staggered starts can be a bit disorienting. If you have an inside lane, you can’t help but be fully aware of the visual of other runners starting quite a distance ahead of you. It’s a psyche moment. The distances will even out, but when entering Turn One it can seem unjust.
In life, it’s also a bit confusing when we’re treated unjustly by another person. Wrongdoings committed against us don’t square with the belief that most people are good. In Turn One, though, we acknowledge that we’re now on the receiving end of injustice.
In his book, “The Sun Does Shine,” Anthony Ray Hinton describes the disorienting moment the black man was arrested for an Alabama murder he didn’t commit. “There’s no way to know the exact second your life changes forever. You can only begin to know that moment by looking in the rearview mirror. And trust me when I tell you that you never, ever see it coming.”
At Turn Two, runners are battling for the lead. It’s a race run by warriors.
We fight back at Turn Two. Forgiveness is never about being a doormat. Standing up against injustices has made our world a better place. The saddest people are those who give up way too quickly on pursuing truth and justice.
Hinton never stopped proclaiming his innocence, even refusing a deal that would have taken him off Death Row but kept him in prison for life without parole.
Entering Turn Three, runners are trying to keep competitors on their hip—the exhausting effort of holding on and not allowing any runners past.
Turn Three is where weariness sets in. The warring event has come and gone, but we’re still hanging on. Hanging on to feelings of bitterness. Time is needed to process what has happened. Depending on the harm done, it could be years before we’re able to move forward.
For the first three years of his incarceration, Hinton didn’t speak to other inmates or to the guards. His rage was seething and caused him to be lethally silent. He admits that if those who wrongly sent him to prison would have been placed in his cell during that time, he would have become the murderer he was accused of being and killed with his bare hands.
When runners reach Turn Four, the roar of the crowd helps them to pull away from their competitors as they enter the home stretch.
We know that forgiveness is required to reach heaven. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
In Turn Four, we can imagine loved ones who have gone before us in the stands, on their feet, cheering on our ability to forgive, and helping us get to heaven. We can choose to run toward them and pull away from the one who has harmed us, knowing that their sins—just like ours—are for God to judge.
Hinton lived in a 5-by-7-foot cell for thirty years before he was exonerated. It would be soul-breaking, if it was an honest mistake. But law enforcement added another layer of injustice when Hinton was told that it didn’t matter, “…whether you did or didn’t do it. In fact, I believe you didn’t do it. But it doesn’t matter. If you didn’t do it, one of your brothers did. And you’re going to take the rap.”
Pure racism cost him thirty years of his life, but he’s moving forward.
He won’t be inviting his tormentors over for tea, but he wishes them no harm. He does make a point of looking into security cameras when he’s in public, and he keeps every receipt—forever documenting an alibi for every single day of his life.
Surviving an injustice will change you.
But battle scars don’t have to be ugly. They can be beautiful. And peace-filled. Hinton is happy now.
“I chose to stay vigilant to any signs of anger or hate in my heart. They took thirty years of my life. If I couldn’t forgive, I couldn’t feel joy. That would be like giving them the rest of my life.”
He’s in the Home stretch.
Run the Forgiveness 400. It’ll make you a winner every time.