I suspect I am not the only person who thinks our society is a little short on forgiveness. I’m not talking about our propensity for “forgiving” the latest poorly behaving celebrity. I don’t think that is real forgiveness. Public figure/celebrity forgiveness seems to be more “We’re bored with this story, so resume your life”
True forgiveness, as anyone who has tried to forgive knows, is hard, difficult work. As a society we are much more interested in punishment often called “justice”. Calls for justice are all over the local evening news. A person has been wronged and “justice” must be done- meaning someone must pay, preferably by going to jail. What role should forgiveness have in all this?
Do you remember the terrible events that happened in Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania? What amazed most of us was the response of the Amish. There weren’t loud public calls for “justice” but rather quiet, sincere acts of forgiveness. Many of us wondered how the Amish were able to forgive. Many of us wondered at how quickly they forgave. Not a few of us wondered why they forgave. A few of us wondered how to create a culture that forgives.
I have learned quite a bit about forgiveness from reading these books. I suspect that is because I hadn’t thought very seriously about forgiveness in the past. So today a few comments about forgiveness.
First, forgiveness is difficult. I know that’s hardly news. But I am not sure we acknowledge it sufficiently. It is really easy to forgive and then find yourself nursing a grudge or reliving the past hurt in unhealthy ways. Which leads to the second point.
Forgiveness is a process. It takes time and it’s not linear. We don’t forgive and move forward. We forgive, move forward, then we wonder off to the left and then turn left again so we are moving backwards. Then we turn ourselves around the right way and inch forward some more. The Amish forgave soon after the shooting, but they understand forgiveness as a process. They knew forgiveness would take time, months and years of time.
Reconciliation is the goal. Ideally reconciliation and relationship is the goal of forgiveness. Not always- some situations call for forgiveness and the severing of a relationship. What amazed me as I read stories of Amish forgiveness was their commitment to restoring relationship. They don’t just say words of forgiveness to you, they invite you over for dinner. They don’t force relationship but they are intentional about encouraging and cultivating a relationship.
In Amish Grace, the authors point out that the Amish ability to forgive grows out of their culture and faith. Their ability to forgive is the result of a life time, actually several centuries of lifetimes, of the intentional practice of forgiveness. They practice forgiveness from the time they are toddlers, encouraged and taught by family and extended family who themselves were encouraged and taught by family and extended family. They grow up in a culture saturated, infused with forgiveness.Their culture isn’t perfect but it values forgiveness.
For better or worse, most of us don’t live in that world. Most of us don’t have that kind of support and encouragement to intentionally practice forgiveness and reconciliation. Most of us don’t live in such a grace filled community. But if we start small, with ourselves ( truly the only place we can start) perhaps we can create an oasis of forgiveness and reconciliation and grace where we are. And maybe if we keep at it for five hundred years, as the Amish have, the world will be changed.
Think No Evil, author Jonas Beiler writes that, “Forgiveness is letting go of hope for a different past.” (page 178). Then writing about his struggle to forgive his wife and save their marriage, he quotes a friend, “Jonas, the only chance you have of saving your marriage is if you will love your wife the way Christ loves you.” (189) The Beiler writes, “I decided that, with the help of God I would live my wife and my children the way Christ loved me. Life was never the same again. I could not look at my wife or my children, or anybody else for that matter, without wondering how Christ loved them.” (190)
So blog friends, I invite you this week to think about and share what this might look like. What are the particular and concrete ways we can love someone the way Christ loves us? How does that act contribute to reconciliation?
I’d like to know, what do you think?