The Forgiveness Project

On the morning of 14 December 2012, a young man shot his mother and then walked into Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut where he shot dead 20 children and 6 staff before turning the gun on himself. It was the deadliest mass shooting at a school in U.S. history. One of the children who died was Jesse Lewis, the 6-year-old son of Scarlett Lewis. That morning when his father picked him up to take him to school Jesse had written “I love you” in the frost on the car door. His mother took a picture of him in front of it before kissing him good-bye. That photo is a very precious memory.

When, eventually, Scarlett returned to the farmhouse, where she’d raised her two sons alone, she found some words scribbled on a chalk board by Jesse a few days before he died. He had written “nurturing, healing, love.” These words were like a prophetic message for Scarlett to hold on to and which guided her as she struggled to come to terms with Jesse’s death. She says, “I found myself drawing on my faith for strength. Reaching out to others has saved me. People tell me that Jesse’s message of love and compassion has helped them to change some pain in their life; to be able to pass on Jesse’s legacy is very healing.”

Scarlett established “The Forgiveness Project.” She says, “Forgiveness is central to my resilience. A social worker came to my house shortly after the incident. Kneeling with her hand on my knee, she said, ‘I know how it feels; I’ve also lost my son and I’m here to tell you the pain will never get better.’ At that moment I thought, that is absolutely not going to be my journey. So, I chose the path of forgiveness.” Anger at the gunman sapped Scarlett’s energy but forgiving him set her free.

Jesus is the supreme example of forgiveness. He was unjustly condemned by a judge who knew he had done nothing wrong and was crucified. On the cross, surrounded by a mocking crowd, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He also taught his disciples to forgive others just as God had forgiven them. The prayer he taught his disciples says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Many terrible things happen in this world, but the example and teaching of Jesus teach us not to be overcome by evil but to overcome evil with good.