Abide in Love
“I think you need to ask me for forgiveness.”
Alicia made that statement to the man that murdered her son. Michael sat on the other side of the glass in a tiny metal booth speaking to Alicia via the phone on the wall. They could not sit face to face since Michael was not only in prison for the murder but in administrative segregation, or ad seg. Ad seg is the section of the prison reserved for the most dangerous offenders.
Michael did not respond to her request. Instead, he dropped his eyes and asked a question in an attempt to change the conversation. Alicia answered his question and appeared to let it go.
As the mediator assigned to the case, I thought it was so strange that she was even asking him that question. She had told me many times in the previous months as we prepared for the meeting that she had forgiven Michael. During the victim impact statement, she read at his sentencing, she forgave Michael. And even this morning she reminded him that she had forgiven him. But oddly here in the cramped, awkward space, she was requesting he ask her for forgiveness.
After a few minutes, she said again, “I think you need to ask me for forgiveness.”
Alicia sat on the metal stool welded to the ground inside the booth. I sat crammed behind her with the metal door that locked us both in the booth on my other side. I could not see Alicia’s face. But I could see Michael.
When she repeated her statement a second time, he dropped his eyes again and breathed out the words, “I don’t feel I have the right.”
He changed the subject again and began talking about details of the crime. Alicia followed the conversation. She asked questions, and he gave answers.
Finally, a third time, Alicia said, ” I think you need to ask me for forgiveness.”
Realizing she was not going to let this go, Michael lowered his head. I wondered if he was searching his soul to see if those words were a part of his reality. It was probably only a few seconds but in that moment of his searching, time slowed to a drag.
He took a deep breath and laboriously pushed out the words, “Will you forgive me?”
Immediately she answered.
I watched the strong muscular and hard-faced young man melt. Tears burst from his eyes. Huge tears flooded his cheeks and fell into pools under his chin. His body heaved spastically with deep sobbing. Eventually, he regained some semblance of composure.
They spoke gently for the remaining minutes. They both stood to leave, and as a parting gesture, Alicia placed her hand on the cold glass. Michael raised his hand and set it opposite of hers. Then we left. The meeting ended.
Afterward, I asked Alicia about the purpose of her request for him to ask for forgiveness. Notably, in light of the fact she had already forgiven him. She quickly responded.
“I didn’t do that for me. I did that for him.”
I followed by asking what she felt when she made that request.
Timidly, she answered, “Love? Does that make me crazy?”
I replied to her question that I think what I just witnessed was the most beautiful demonstration of what it means to love our enemies. Here was a woman who had experienced the most horrific ordeal in the murder of her child. She had every right to hate Michael. But, she acted in love.
Alicia and Michael remind me of an encounter that occurred hundreds of years ago. A meeting that took place between the resurrected Christ and his disciple Peter. Peter displayed cowardice and betrayal to his Master, to Christ. Betrayed him not once, but three times.
Peter encountered the living Christ after the resurrection. When he did, three times Jesus asked him a question.
“Peter, do you love me?”
I reflect back over the times in my life where I have experienced hurt and betrayal. I wonder, can I follow the example Alicia demonstrated that day in a prison visitation booth? I know I have no choice.
“I forgive you” are hard words to speak. Even harder is to demonstrate love to the ones who hurt us. Some days, “I love you” are the most troublesome words to say. Nevertheless, they can be the most cleansing to our soul.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” 1 John 4:16