Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Power of Forgiveness

A number of years ago, a small Amish community in Pennsylvania experienced international media attention in the wake of suffering the traumatic loss of a group of school children when a rural schoolhouse was invaded and attacked by a man from outside the community. Several people were assaulted, some molested and a number were killed. The scrutiny came when members of that Amish community immediately announced forgiveness for the attacker. More than that, they reached out to his family, particularly his spouse. There was sorrow, loss, mourning...and forgiveness. I am sure there was anger, frustration, fear and rage...and forgiveness. Jaws dropped around the world when the social networks began to digest this acknowledgment that the primary focus of this community of faith was first to forgive, then to grieve, then to seek recovery and healing.

Often, I find, in the regular world-even amongst the faithful who seek the reconciling power of Jesus Christ in their lives-the first impulse when we suffer a wrong is NOT to forgive. We see that as something we might attempt down the road, instead of making it a first action/response to being wounded and hurt by another. We seek healing. We seek recovery. We pull back from places where we have been harmed, and from the people who have harmed us, but so often we attempt to build protective walls that allow us to keep the offender at bay. Often, when we are safe, we also hope for  justice of the sort that brings to the wounder their "just desserts." It isn't quite a quest for revenge, vengeance or the arrangement of punishment for the transgressor; but it is close.

And yet, we are called by Christ to make forgiveness not just a priority in our lives, but THE first priority of our being in the world. His summary of the Torah is simple and direct: "Love God with your whole being; love your neighbor as yourself." His call to us is to surrender to a type of love that tenders forgiveness with abandon. It's not "forgive and forget." It's not "forgive and allow a person to keep harming you." It is, though, without a doubt, a succinct call to make forgiveness our core practice as people who would follow in the Way of the Christ.

How difficult to do that, when we are faced with opportunities great and small to withhold forgiveness. I know, I have done it again and again in my life. I find that when I am willing to forbear forgiving someone, the opportunity then inevitably arises for me to cultivate all sorts of dark and indulgent desires for the suffering of those who hurt me. Do you? That doesn't make us special, mind you-just human. Look to the Psalms. When the Psalmist isn't asking God for protection or mercy...the request very often is that suffering be placed on the heads of those who seek their life. This is the human spirit at its....best?!?

Still, from time to time, we get the chance to experience, and even to extend, forgiveness. We take the opportunity to let rage alone...to allow God to drain the abscesses of pain and hurt from our bodies and souls...and to allow healing to occur without the continued disruption that harbored resentments incur. What is the result? A better life for you and for the one you forgive, regardless of whether or not reconciliation is possible because with the act of forgiving you are releasing yourself from the submission we make to fear, resentment, hate, frustration and struggle that consume SO MUCH TIME AND ENERGY TO NO GOOD END....really, to no end at all. Without forgiveness we are simply and utterly locked into the pain and wounds of our past and its unresolved conflicts.

This is the hard part: Are you ready to let go of the person or people who hurt you? Are you willing to let them, and the wounds they inflicted on you, depart from you and your daily walk with God? Are you willing to forgive without expectation of justice, revenge or vengeance?

When you are, a funny thing happens....wounds close, spirits revive. You heal. In Christ, we are a new creation....right? Then why hold up that process? Time to forgive....

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