Sister Helen Prejean, the author of the book Dead Man Walking, was once being interviewed, and was asked a question about her own heroes, her own inspirations, in the Christian faith; who might she see as a “model” of faith and forgiveness?
“Lloyd LeBlanc,” said Sister Prejean.
Lloyd is the father of David LeBlanc, a 17-year-old who was murdered by Patrick and Eddie Sonnier. When neighbors started harassing Ms. Sonnier for her sons’ actions, Lloyd Leblanc came to her house with a basket of fruit. Lloyd told Ms. Sonnier that he was a parent too, and he understood that she wasn’t responsible for the murder.
The reporter was stunned with this story of parental forgiveness, and he asked Sister Prejean, “How does a person do such a thing? How does a parent do such a thing?”
Helen Prejean replied with the following story:
Lloyd told me how the sheriff had brought him to the morgue to identify his son’s body. David was a beautiful kid, 17-years-old. He had been shot in the back of the head, and when the sheriff pulled his body out on the cold tray … Lloyd—who was good with his hands and could fix things—looked down at his son and thought, I can’t fix this. And he began to pray. He came to the line in the Our Father about forgiving those who trespass against us. “I didn’t feel it,” he said, “but I knew that was where I had to go.” And that is where he went.
Lloyd embodies forgiveness—not just something we can do for others, but forgiveness … that says, I am not going to let this anger and hatred kill me. I’m going to remain kind and loving. [Forgiveness] is a path, not a single act. One’s commitment to it has to be renewed every day.
Source: David Cook, “And Justice for All,” The Sun (August 2010), p. 11
Now, I am unable to hold myself up against this kind of forgiveness that this father, Lloyd LeBlanc, was able to extend to the killers of his son or their family; as though such a response should simply be “second nature” for any professing Christian. And because I can admit to my own challenges in such regard, I cannot expect it of others. I have doubt that I would be as ready to see forgiveness as Mr. LeBlanc; but I do hope beyond hope that I might try.
I believe there is a kind miraculous mystery, a mysterious power of God, that sometimes enters our souls as the burden of our deepest pain is made clear to us. And when we see that pain more clearly perhaps we see God, ourselves, and others more clearly as well.
I used to visit inmates on death row in Mississippi, and occasionally would meet the family members of their victims, and I learned very quickly how hollow sentimental religious notions can sound in the ears of those who are suffering. And given that most of the men I visited were no more than 18-25 when they committed their crimes, there was usually some shred of pity, some crevice in the hurt and anger, that a few members of the victims’ families could feel for the perpetrator of the crime that took away their loved one; a crevice in their hearts where God might step in.
Such pity was never demanded, much less expected, however it occasionally became a visitor to those in grief; not unlike Mr. LeBlanc visiting Ms. Sonnier. There was a medicine for some of those who had been so hurt in trying to pray for the perpetrators, and leave the judgement of their souls in the hands of God. There was much to learn about love in the name of Christ from those family members.
One of the only ways that the Lord’s Prayer has ever become real for me, having said it probably thousands of times, is to try and slowly come to live the words that my mouth is saying. Sometimes sitting in the morning with a cup of coffee, simply saying these words slowly enough so that my life can hear them; so that my heart and mind can catch up to the place where Jesus is already walking.
If there is anger in my heart, if I have made a hobby out of my grudge, if my favorite vocation has become feeling aggrieved by the actions of others, I try to let these words from Jesus wash me clean. Saying the words slowly, recalling my “enemy,” as well as recalling the author of the Lord’s Prayer, knowing that the author is carrying me and my enemy into the places where we might fear to tread; the mysterious depths and presence of God’s love.
This is the season for admitting that we cannot make or unmake all things done “on earth.” We are often powerless in the presence of our brokenness and pain. However, Jesus is saying this prayer for each of us; and perhaps the best we can do is to “fall forward,” because we have already admitted that we are often falling down in life; trusting that the Son of God has medicine that is too great for each one of us, as well as those who are trespassing against us.
This medicine of forgiveness, which leads to hope, which leads to joy, that Jesus wants to give to us, He also wants to give to those who have taken away from us more than we thought we could live without. There is certainly life on the other side of loss.
If we would have Jesus us drag us from the fire and wheels that grind us into dust, He is simply asking that we might hope the same for each of God’s children.