Several months ago, actually it was in the Christmas Day edition of the Kansas City Star newspaper, I read about a man named Darryl Burton who had spent 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The headline read: “Former Inmate Defines Forgiveness.” I typically find such an article nearly irresistible and this piece did not disappoint.
The article revealed that Burton had been released from the Missouri State Prison system where he spent 24 years, after a judge ruled that Burton’s original trial had been unconstitutional.
I searched the writing for a glimpse of the promised definition of forgiveness and I want to share a little of what I found. To quote Burton: “If I hadn’t forgiven them, I would still be in prison, a spiritual prison.”
This quote reminded me of a book, I had read, entitled We Are All Doing Time by Bo Lozoff. Not because Bo spent a lot of time touting the virtue of forgiveness, but because he taught that we are all imprisoned by the way we view the world, which is often through a set of rules we learned as children and never challenged. I think Bo would agree with Burton that the failure to forgive those who imprisoned him, would keep Mr. Burton trapped in a spiritual prison.
Without constantly examining the belief systems, which can hold us in bondage, we may remain trapped in prisons which have no apparent walls. Every time we find ourselves reacting to some stimuli, in any type of negative way, we uncover an opportunity to examine our beliefs, to see where we are clinging to illusions; illusions which may keep us from being free.
Burton understood this truth. While many people would harbor a great deal of resentment for having 24 years stolen from them, this wise man decided, instead, to free himself of such obstruction. He decided to enjoy his freedom to the fullest, and now he travels the States sharing the wisdom he has gained from his experiences.
In addition to teaching, Burton is working on a Master’s in Divinity and plans to spend the remainder of his years serving his Lord and telling his story of hope and forgiveness. I contacted Mr. Burton through the Church of the Resurrection, in Leawood, KS where he is an associate pastor, and shared an earlier draft of this post. You can read more about his story on his website: http://www.darrylburton.org/
To recap, I shared this article because I think it is a very important lesson. If a man like Darryl Burton, who essentially had 24 years of his life stolen, can find it in his heart to forgive all those responsible for his loss, then surely you and I can choose to forgive the driver who cuts us off in traffic, or the friend who falls short of our expectations. When I think about how minor the indiscretions are, sometimes, which cause me so much angst, I find they pale in comparison to being locked up for years, for a crime I did not commit. It really puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?
Forgive everyone for everything, now. Don’t wait. Don’t allow yourself to spend even one more minute in prison. Yes, others have hurt you. Yes, others have done things which were inconsiderate and thoughtless; but do you need to continue to suffer. Whatever was done is in the ancient past. You can do nothing about it now, except love yourself enough to let it go.
Consider these words from the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” And also this thought: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.”
Darryl Burton understands this truth. Darryl Burton is a very wise man. He has chosen freedom. Each of us can make the same choice, right now. We owe it to ourselves to choose Love.
Article citation: Bauer, Laura. “Former Inmate Defines Forgiveness.” Kansas City Star 25 Dec. 2015: page 1. Print. Also here is a link to the same article with the title: “From the Pit to the Pulpit.”