When feelings are hurt, or when one has been wronged, being upset and pained is a natural response. Experiencing chronic feelings of anger, guilt, resentment and other negative feelings can consume precious time and use a great deal of emotional energy. These feelings tend to bring upon discomfort; and when one tires, there is a motivation to “do something about it”, take action; even enact revenge. In some cases, there may be no action towards another that will ease the pain. Instead, looking inward to oneself, may be the only remedy to heal. The film The Shack, directed by Stuart Hazeldine, offers a father, Mack Phillips, performed by Sam Worthington as an illustration that hurts, even atrocities that cause one to wrestle with complicated negative emotions can be relieved by an act of introspection: forgiveness.
The Shack introduces Mack as a loving, engaging father. While on vacation with his three children, he sees his eldest children’s boat capsize, and does all he can to save his drowning son. Successfully saving his son’s life, he is relieved. At the same time during this event, he learns that his youngest child has been abducted; and later discovers that she has been murdered. Mack responds to his daughter’s death by experiencing debilitating grief and guilt that makes it difficult for him, even after time has passed, to engage with his family and interact with his wife in a positive way. When invited by an unknown person to revisit the site where he saw his daughter’s clothing soiled in blood and learned of her death, (the shack), Mack readily accepts the invite with the intent to enact revenge on her assailant. What he finds when he arrives are individuals who help him understand forgiveness and how to do so in a way that restores a sense a peace.
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, forgiveness requires one to pardon, even to let go of a past pain as defined as: 1a. to give up resentment of or claim to requital, 1b. to grant relief from payment of and 2. to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)”. The process of forgiveness can be easier said than done. Some individuals believe that in order to forgive, the offender must “acknowledgement, apology and [show] remorse” (Frommer, 2005, p. 36). In this case, the individual(s) who caused the pain must be a part of the forgiveness process in order for forgiveness to take place. Others have offered that forgiveness occurs within an individual and does not require the participation of the offender. Rather, Moody-Adams (2015) posits that the “morally praiseworthy task of forgiveness is always unilateral” (p. 162). He further suggests that in order to forgive, the victim must be willing to reject the story one creates after being hurt that one remains injured and be equally willing to let go of feelings of resentment and wanting revenge which is fueled by the story of loss and injury (Moody-Adams, 2015). Though these ideas are different in the way one finds forgiveness, most recognize that “one must be willing and ready to forgive and this process takes time” (Cooney, Allan, Allen, McKillip & Drake, 2011).
Mack articulated sentiments that “fathers are supposed to make everything all right, to make the world safe and secure for their children” (Khamisa, 2006, p. 15). When unable to save his daughter, he was left feeling that he had failed to meet these expectations. While cultivating relationships with Papa, (performed by Octavia Spencer and Graham Greene) as God, Jesus acted by Avraham Aviv Alush and Sarayu (performed by Sumire Matsubara) as “creativity” (The Holy Spirit), these figures engage Mack in discussions and actions of love that enable him to begin to conceptualize that “permanent, unabated anger is destructive and harmful to us. It fills us with hatred and tension and blocks out love and joy.” (Khamisa, 2006, p. 18). Forgiving when hurt can be challenging and “those who seek to avoid the pain, the shame, or the loss they have suffered can remain caught in cycles of revenge” (Wangh, 2005 p. 6). Actively feeling the hurt feelings and becoming familiar and comfortable with the act of forgiving can be a vehicle of self-care; as forgiveness can assist in building and restoring serenity in one’s life.
Cooney, A., Allan, A., Allan, M., McKillop, D. & Drake, D. (2011). The forgiveness process in primary and secondary victims of violent and sexual offences. Australian Journal of Psychology, 63, 107-118.
“Forgive.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.
Khamisa, A. (2006). A father’s journey from murder to forgiveness. Reclaiming children and youth, 15(1), 15-18.
Moody-Adams, M. (2015). The enigma of forgiveness. Journal Value Inquiry, 49, 161-180.
Wangh, S. (2005). Revenge and forgiveness in Laramie, Wyoming. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 15(1), 1-16.