What does it mean to truly forgive someone? When someone hurts us deeply, it can seem easier to hold a grudge and be angry. However, this is not what God has intended for us. His desire is for us to forgive each other as He has forgiven us.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
On May 11th, 2002, Renee Napier received a knock on her door that every parent prays will never come. Her daughter had been in a car accident. Meagan Napier and her friend Lisa Dickson were hit by a drunk driver, Eric Smallridge, and both girls passed instantly.
Renee grew up with a childlike faith in Christ, and for the first time in her life that faith was shaken. In the few years leading up to the accident, Renee had gone through a divorce and experienced hatred for the first time. She realized that the bitterness, anger and hatred was going to destroy her. The day she found out her daughter was never coming home again, she forgave her ex-husband. Renee says, “When you truly mean it, God removes the burden instantly.”
During the darkest days of her life, Renee says that God taught her so much about forgiveness. When the drunk driver who hit Renee’s daughter’s car pleaded not guilty, she began feeling the hatred creeping back in. Every day, Renee recited the scripture, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).” Although she knew she was telling a lie, Renee faithfully recited that line every day, believing in Christ, and believing a day was going to come where she would believe it again.
On the day of Eric Smallridge’s sentencing, Renee had an opportunity to speak directly to him during the victim impact statement. Renee looked Eric in his eyes and said, “I forgive you.” She knows at that very moment, the healing began in her heart and in his as well. A year and a half later, Renee and Eric had an opportunity to speak on the phone. The first thing he said to her was, “I want you to know that I take responsibility for what I did.” Renee knew that he was remorseful, and at that moment her heart changed.
Mark 11:25 (NIV)
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Renee explains that the work that God began in their hearts continued to build because of obedience. She realized that forgiving Eric did not betray her daughter, it honored her. Renee also quoted, “If you hold onto a grudge, it’s like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” She knew that she did not want that in her or her family’s life.
Renee and her family realized the burden they would carry if Eric spent a full 22 years in jail. Knowing Eric could serve his sentencing side by side, Renee and Eric’s families went back to court. The judge agreed that Eric could serve his sentences concurrently, and he would be released after 11 years instead of 22.
Renee began traveling to different schools and sharing Meagan’s story. She realized a huge part of the story was missing, Eric’s testimony. Renee went back to the courts petitioned for Eric to join her on this new mission. In April 2010, the judge granted Eric to travel with Renee to give DUI presentations to prevent drunk driving. Eric was released from jail in November 2012.
Today, Renee and Eric travel together giving DUI presentations to a multitude of audiences. Renee has also founded The Meagan Napier Foundation, in memory of her daughter and her friend Lisa. She has found a way to not only forgive Eric Smallridge, but to turn her daughter’s death into something positive. Stories like Renee’s show us that through steadfast faith and obedience, even the deepest of wounds can be healed.
James 5:16 (NIV)
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”