Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Postcards (08/29/05)
TITLE: Two Sides of Forgiveness
By Anita Neuman
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Four of them came in the first week. Five more the week after that. All of them said pretty much the same thing. Religious rhetoric about forgiveness and loving your enemy. All of it was bull, but at least it was mail.
They kept coming. One almost every day. Sometimes two on the same day. I kept them all. Taped them to the wall after I’d read them once. Same bull, different state flower. They added some colour to the cell.
After a couple of months, the postcards stopped. Instead, I started getting real letters. Now it was family news mixed in with the forgiveness garbage. Like I cared. I didn’t know his family. I didn’t need his news. I pitched the letters. No point in taping them to the wall.
He asked me to write back. I didn’t bother. Didn’t have anything to say, other than, “Screw off.” He kept writing anyway.
Then the gifts started. Stupid little things he thought I needed. Gum. A new toothbrush. A Bible. Wool socks. I kept the socks and traded the rest for smokes.
He asked to come and visit. Why? So he can offer his pious forgiveness to my face? So he can pray for me? Not a chance.
I’d tell him to go to hell, but it’s already too crowded here.
It started with postcards.
I’d only intended to write one. I thought that by offering forgiveness, I would be fulfilling my Christian duty and somehow I would get a sense of the closure I’d been so desperate for. Watching the trial and sentencing, and seeing him get sent away for the rest of his life hadn’t brought closure.
That first postcard said that I was willing to forgive. It was a lie, but I was hoping it would get me off the hook. I knew he wouldn’t write back with a gracious acceptance of my offer, so I wouldn’t have to go through with the actual forgiveness. I put it in the mail, and prayed that that would be the end of it.
The Holy Spirit was not so easily pacified, though. I didn’t sleep at all that night as I wrestled with what God was asking me to do. I had plenty of excuses, but the Spirit had an answer for each and every one. I’d never before been so torn between loving obedience and justifiable hatred. And I hated that man even more for putting me in such a position.
I determined to write another postcard, but it took me over an hour to write those three words: “I forgive you.” It still felt like a lie, but there was a part of me that desperately wanted it to be true. I mailed it right away, before I could change my mind. I must have looked like a lunatic, standing at the mail box, crying inconsolably.
I needed to write another one as soon as I got home. I didn’t feel any more forgiving, but I could not let that monster stand in the way of my obedience to the Father. I had to say it again: “I forgive you.”
I wrote a postcard every day for several weeks. Every time I found my wife weeping on our son’s bed, every time I saw our daughter staring vacantly out the window, every time I felt myself quaking with hatred and soul-deep loss, I wrote a postcard. I told him over and over again that I forgave him, that I was no better than him, that God was helping me to love him.
One day I realized that I meant it. My daily choice to forgive had changed from reluctant obedience to habitual therapy, and then to honest release of my hatred. There was a light at the end of the tunnel.
My explanation wouldn’t fit on a postcard, so I began writing letters. I told him how God had been working in my life, bringing healing to me and my family. I told him that I was praying for him every day. I sent him little things, hoping that he would feel touched by God’s love.
I’m still waiting for permission to visit him. Part of me hopes it never comes, but part of me is eager to test my new-found closure by exercising God’s love face-to-face. I know that I’m not up to the task by myself, but the One who calls me to forgive will equip me to obey.
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