In 1979, the Irish Republican Army ("IRA") placed explosives on a fishing boat owned by Louis the Earl of Mountbatten, and detonated them for the purpose of assassinating him. Mountbatten was killed in the violent explosion along with a number of his grandchildren.
Fast forward 19 years and the British-Irish peace agreement was signed on Good Friday, signaling the end of hostilities between the IRA and the British government.
At an art exhibit in Belfast in 2012, the Queen met Martin McGuinness, a former IRA Commander and then First Minister of Northern Ireland. The Queen offered her hand to McGuinness. It was a brief handshake between old enemies. The Queen could have been bitter and could have said she would never shake the hand of a person who had played a part in the murder of her cousin. The Queen later welcomed McGuinness to a state dinner at Buckingham Palace.
Why did the Queen shake the hand of a former terrorist who had played a part in the murder of her cousin? I'm sure she could have arranged to avoid him. But more was at stake than the personal feelings of two people. The peace between two nations that had long been enemies was strengthened by this simple gesture.
Elizabeth may have been born in the line of succession to the throne. That was an accident. In my mind, she became a true queen when she put the peace of two nations above her own injured feelings and extended a hand of forgiveness. Countless generations of British and Irish people will honor her name because of this singular act.
How many of us have gone through divorces and seen our families descend into bitter acrimony? How many of us continue to hold on to pain and bitterness and nurture old wounds? It is natural to do so. No one would have blamed Queen Elizabeth for snubbing McGuinness or even publicly embarrassing him. But more was at stake than her injured feelings.
If your former spouse put his porn addiction ahead of your family, left you for another man, left the church and started living another life, spent you into the poor house for a gambling addiction, or was otherwise abusive, you have an opportunity to be one of those people of whom Jesus said, ”Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9). If you forgive your former spouse, you can create peace between two families. You can help give your children peace, which will bless countless generations moving forward.
We are not asked to forgive only the small hurts and insults. We are called upon to forgive the things that hurt us most--maybe things we thought were unforgivable.
We often approach the subject of forgiveness by making the point that it gives us personal peace and allows us to move forward. That is very true and important. But it is bigger than that. In a divorce, other people are inevitably involved. Facilitating peace between them requires a lot of forgiveness on your part. It requires understanding and extending an empathetic hand to someone who may have grievously wronged us.
I have often heard the objection that, "I can't forgive because [insert name of other person] would just harm me or my children again." Forgiveness does not mean we lack boundaries. It does not mean we get back together with the person whose conduct triggered pain inside of us. It does not mean we become a doormat. Forgiveness simply means that we let go of the grudge we may be holding against the other person. It means we move on bearing the other person no ill will. It means we try to be empathetic and understanding instead of judgmental and harsh. Forgiveness means we see the other person as a human being and a child of God, rather than an impediment to our happiness.