Game Change Nation

Power of Forgiveness: The James Jones Story

“My mom hadn’t ate in probably two or three days, so I went into a pizza parlor and I told the guy, ‘Can I just have a pizza? I promise you, man, I’ll pay you back.’” 

In the NFL, James Jones played nine seasons and he won a title with the Green Bay Packers in 2011. In 2012, he led the NFL for most touchdown grabs with 14, and, in 2014, he led the Oakland Raiders with the most receptions with 73 and touchdown catches with 6. The dude put up great numbers throughout his career. However, as a child, Jones had a different type of statistic. He was one of the estimated 500,000 Americas who every year experience homelessness. Jones and his mother spent many evenings in homeless shelters, motel rooms, and even sleeping on park benches. 

Jones’s mother struggled with drug addiction, as did his father, who had left them after the couple divorced when Jones was only 18 months old. With his father out of the picture, Jones stayed by his mother’s side during some pretty bleak times. In an interview with ESPN’s Michelle Beisner, he recounted one of the lowest moments when he had to resort to begging so they could eat. Jones told Beisner, “I stood in that pizza parlor for probably over an hour begging this man, and he finally gave me a pizza and I took it to my mom.”

At the age of 15, Jones finally found some stability when he moved into his grandmother’s house and he began to excel at football. Even though he no longer lived with his mother, she did not abandon him, attending all of his games (and later she was able to achieve sobriety). 

Jones always forgave his mother for the pain her addiction inflicted on his childhood. In an interview for the San Diego Chargers website, he explained his decision to move in with his grandmother. “My mom was doing very badly.  I kind of felt like I was a little bit of extra luggage for her (and that) she would be better on her own, trying to get back on her feet.  I was just a kid. I couldn’t help her and didn’t have the sense to (tell her) she needed to stop doing drugs.  I told my mom, ‘You need to get on your feet, and it’ll be easier if I’m not there.’” He later added, “My mom will tell you to this day, I never complained. I never really got down on myself because I truly never wanted my mom to feel worse than she already felt.”

It’s natural to wonder how Jones could forgive his mother after all the hardships her addiction caused him. However, it’s important to understand that people who cannot let go of the hurts caused by others will often have a very challenging time being able to appreciate all the great things that happen in their lives. The hurt blots out the joy and, until they let go, the pain always wins.   

However, people who have the ability to forgive and show empathy for those who let them down are far more likely to be able to experience greater joy in their accomplishments. For Jones, a wonderful example of this was the great joy he felt in being able to fulfill a boyhood promise to his mother of buying her a house after he signed his first NFL contract.  

Carrying hurts forward not only harms our relationships with the people that we cannot forgive, but it also makes it very difficult to have meaningful relationships with the people that come after. The resentment and bitterness that you cannot release may not appear at first. Still, when the inevitable disagreements that come in every relationship do surface, the inability to forgive or be forgiven can cause irreparable damage to the bond between two people.

So, how do we forgive? The first step is to simply be aware of the fact that you will be healthier and happier if you make a conscious effort to forgive and not hold grudges. Realize that it can sometimes be hard and so be fair to yourself. You can’t really forgive others if you don’t forgive yourself. Acknowledge the pain that you felt and work on releasing the emotions. This can be done by talking to others and considering getting professional help if it is required. 

Have compassion. If you understand what the person who hurt you was going through, or the stage of life they were in when they caused you harm, you will find it much easier to forgive them. Jones offers a great example of this. He understood that the inability of his parents to give him the care that a child deserves was rooted in the disease of addiction.   

Forgiving is not forgetting. It is simply a choice to look for a better path forward instead of holding on to the injustices of the past. For many people who choose to forgive, that choice also comes with the understanding that letting go of the past does not mean carrying those transgressions made against them into the future in their relationships with others. Just because you were harmed does not give you the license to hurt others.

Just like many other children, who were able to forgive their parents and turn the page to become much better parents to their own kids, Jones is passionate about being a great dad. He is dedicated to raising his two sons to be responsible and caring members of society. Knowing the pain of being homeless and hungry, Jones has made it a point to support shelters and serve food – and when he does, he often brings his wife and two boys to help. 

Jones’s story serves as a wonderful example that the painful struggles of our past can be used as fuel to help others in the future. That is the beautiful power of forgiveness.

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