© 2012 Kebba Buckley Button. World Rights Reserved.
On October 2, 2006, a pickup truck backed up to the front door of an Amish school. It was the West Nickel Mines School in Pennsylvania. A man who was angry at God went into the school, shot 10 girls and then himself. Five of the girls died. This small Amish community could have been devastated and could have shouted about discrimination, invasion, and revenge. They could have been consumed by resentment and hatred. They could have written books about their pain and sold the movie rights. They could have sued their way around the court system. They did no such thing.
Instead, they forgave Charles Roberts, the gunman, who had been their milk delivery man. One of Roberts’ children had died the day she was born, and he could not forgive God for that loss. Amish leaders went to Roberts’ widow’s home, told her they had forgiven Roberts, and offered comfort for her and her children. Later, they took the widow toys for her children. Citing their faith, the Amish gave up any burden of hatred or resentment, embodied compassion, acted out their forgiveness, and fulfilled reconciliation. They went to Roberts’ funeral and stood with his bereaved family. They leveled the school and built a new one on a different site, calling it “The New Hope School”.
Roberts’ widow came to the dedication celebration, only 6 months after the shootings. The community had clearly declared a healing. A movie version of the story, “Amish Grace”, ran on the Lifetime Network, and Lifetime reported it was the most watched movie ever broadcast by their network. Clearly, people are interested in forgiveness, unburdening of grudges, and the grace of reconciliation.
The Amish story raises afresh the question of what forgiveness is. A great definition is “giving up resentment or any claim for recompense for the wrong that has occurred.” This doesn’t mean one has to forget the wrong ever happened. In the Christian faith, Jesus taught that no limit should be set on the extent of forgiveness (Luke 17:4). Also, an unforgiving spirit is regarded as a sin (Matt 18:34-35 and Luke 15:28-30). In teaching The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13, Luke 11:2-4), Jesus instructed the Disciples to pray, “…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” So one will be forgiven by God only to the extent one is forgiving to those who have wronged oneself.
In the modern program, Radical Forgiveness, author Colin Tipping says that ordinary forgiveness means, “You did that to me, but I’ll let you off the hook and forgive you.”
Tipping wants people to go a large step further. He believes in a loving God who has plans for all of us, and that God makes things happen that are good for us. So nothing is “bad”. No wrong has occurred. The Divine Plan has been unfolding for our spiritual growth. For those who make the perspective shift that no wrong actually occurred, Tipping says, their emotional release can be virtually instant.
Normal forgiveness commonly takes years, and research suggests it takes a toll on your mind and cardiovascular system. The field of psychology is not yet in total agreement on the exact definition of “forgiveness”. But many are promoting the practice for individual, community, and world benefits. If we can forgive personally and locally, can we forgive globally as well?
Are you holding any grudges? Would you like to feel better? Think of Amish grace. Try forgiving someone today, and notice how well you sleep tonight.
–Your comments welcome!–
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