Them. And us.
That’s how we sometimes think about forgiveness, isn’t it?
Jesus looked down from the cross and forgave his tormentors. Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin. A father of a child killed in the Sandy Hook massacre offered forgiveness to the families of the killer within hours of the killings. Mothers have been known to pardon the men who shot their sons.
As a writer, I covered the tenth anniversary of the horrific killings of the girls at the Nickel Mines Amish school last year. In that process, I spent time with a few people in the Amish community. Normally reticent about publicity, some of the men were willing to talk to the media to get their perspective across.
A longtime, non-Amish friend of their community said this: “The Amish aren’t all perfect. The first thing they tell me is that they are human, just like everyone else. But they have led the way in this sense: they showed that a 500-year-old subculture has been able, for a long time, to hold on to nonviolence and nonresistance. It takes practice and discipline.”
It’s easy to believe that the act of forgiving, or the many acts it takes to forgive someone who has hurt you or taken away something or someone that you love, is reserved for the especially holy (or that it takes 500 years to get it right, which would be a real bummer).
But if we do we might forget that the Amish, and many of those we now honor as worth of memorable examples of extraordinary behavior, are ordinary people like you and like me.
They didn’t stumble unthinkingly into forgiveness. For them it was a choice.
Maybe they knew that pardoning someone who has wounded you is also an act of mental as well as of spiritual health. How many bitter men and women have you met, still holding on to anger over incidents that happened years ago?
That’s not in any way to diminish the potential seriousness of an offense. Pope John Paul II’s assassin did jail time. The man who shot Mary Johnson’s son served more than 17 years of a 25-year sentence. Forgiveness and justice can sometimes, though not always, move on different tracks.
It’s not easy. And it sometimes takes a very long time. But very often it’s an act that heals you as much as the person who wronged you.
Forgiveness—an extraordinary act for ordinary people.
People like me and you.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!