In past weeks, on one of the discussion boards I frequent, we discussed in great detail one day what would happen to the person who dared to ever hurt one of our children or grandchildren. We held back no contempt for such a one who would commit a heinous crime against a family member, nor did we hold back the description of exactly what we’d do to such a one. And then it happened—in a matter of two weeks, three killings at different schools in our country; a principal killed by a sick young man, a young girl killed by her abuser just as her rescuers broke through the door, and ten young girls tied together so they couldn’t run away from a deranged man who killed five of them and left the other five critically wounded. And the world watched in horror and revulsion.
All of those events were horrible, and family members lost precious loved ones. Yet my greatest focus has been on those ten little girls who were tied together and killed or seriously wounded. They were members of a peaceful, quiet Amish community—children who didn’t know much about the world’s events that weren’t shared by their parents or leaders and who, most assuredly, had no idea of the horrors being committed in schools across their nation. But then it happened to them, as they quietly held classes in their little one-room schoolhouse, on a quiet morning like any other in their community. There are surfacing stories of bravery shown by the girls and peace even in the face of sure death. In shock, I watched it all on the news—the outside world intruding into their lives with ambulances, police cars, crime scene investigators, news reporters and curious onlookers, myself included.
What has affected me the most about these losses, and I believe will continue to affect me for the rest of my life, is the complete and total forgiveness shown to the man who killed their children and that community's outstretched arms of comfort for his widow and his children. Wow. As I read the accounts of these gentle souls, who washed their own dead children’s bodies and prepared them for burial, yet taught forgiveness and compassion as they did so, I am confronted by my own lack of forgiveness. I am ashamed by my previous words of condemnation on such a one who would dare 'rock my world' with violence. I am also challenged to learn the lessons taught by this community and by others who have faced terrible losses, while all I have done is talk about the “what ifs” should I ever lose a family member in such a way.
Where did the Amish community find this ability to forgive? Why, the same place we all can find it—in the Holy Bible. Jesus told us to forgive others as we would have them forgive us. He told us that if we did not forgive others their sins against us, God would not forgive us for our sins. With His own dying breath, He forgave those who had conspired against Him and murdered Him. **
How many times have I held unforgiveness in my own heart? Too many. How can we, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, stand in our righteous indignation and decide that we cannot forgive one who hurts us? Certainly, some of the hurt is real; but much of it is pure pride. My husband, a pastor, was chided by a church member several years ago for constantly preaching past the noon hour. My husband smiled and told the member that he didn’t much watch the clock as long as the Holy Spirit had a message to convey through him, and that if the member felt he needed to leave exactly at noon, then he should feel free to do so, no hard feelings. The church member perceived my husband telling him he wasn’t very spiritual and quit attending church for a while, until my husband visited with him and apologized for any perceived affront to his character. Do you know what this lifelong church member told my husband? “Well, I’ll have to think about it—I may never be able to forgive you.”
Yet when one community suffered the horrifying loss and wounding of ten of their precious children, they took God’s Words seriously—they forgave, and they leaned upon God for their comfort. No threats of lawsuits, no angry words of recrimination, no raging at God.
How can I ever do less, now that such a standard has been set for me? May God forgive me for my past spirit of unforgiveness. May He renew my spirit with a desire to be more Christ-like, no matter the situation. May we all accept the challenge set before us by this community of people who refuse to hate.
**scripture references: Matthew 6:12, 14; Luke 23:34