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On (Unimaginable) Forgiveness

October 7, 2006

My brother builds houses in Southern Minnesota. For twelve months a year, he walks around a huge pile of lumber to a bare foundation with a small crew of guys and makes a danged house. He’s a man who knows a bit about hard work, perseverance, and getting stuff done.

My nephews are pretty tough kids, too. They live on an old farm, raise several animals, keep a garden, and generally take care of the farmhouse and outbuildings. They get up early to feed and water animals, then go to school and soccer and stuff, plus plenty of fishing and trapping and such. But when their resolve is a little weak, their dad will press them ahead with a particular phrase: “Boys, it’s time to Amish Up”.

After working with all kinds of laborers and carpenters, my brother has tapped into the local community of Amish people. He reveres them for their hardworking determination, their lack of consideration of bad weather, their careful attention to detail and quality work, and their general get-it-done attitude. They are folks who know that moving a stack of 3/4″ plywood or a bunk of studs is a simple matter of picking the pieces up and doing it. When others will talk or grump or complain, they just do. And when the whiners have gone home, the Amish will be out there still. When he needs to get stuff done, my brother goes to the Amish, and when he wants to paint a picture of resolute determination, he points his boys in the same direction.

After the recent, unexplainable massacre in Pennsylvania, I’ve been thinking about what it means to forgive. It was only hours after a shooting that left their children dead that family after family came forward to announce that they had forgiven the man who had killed their girls. I wonder, how is this possible? As folks from our church community talk about spiritual formation, and how we’d like to change– or be changed– from the people we are into the people we’d like to be, I wonder how is it that people can change? How can I become a person of grace, and mercy, and forgiveness? A person who talks less about such things and instead lives it.

I suspect that part of the answer is that these people have experienced a kind of progression in forgiveness– that they’ve grown into this new reality. I imagine that a person can learn to forgive smaller offenses so that they can one day forgive much larger ones. That living in close community would give plenty of opportunity to practice the discipline of forgiveness, until it became a kind of second nature. A new and perhaps supernatural nature to be sure, but one that might become a new norm.

At the same time, I wonder if there is an element of committment to a process– that once you are familiar with the process of forgiveness, you can commit to it. You might not know exactly how it will work or feel, but you know from experience that you can find grace and mercy as you go, and will (once again) free yourself and the other person from their offence. I wonder if in saying, “we forgive this murderer of our children,” that they are saying something like, “we’re committing to this long and difficult process. We’ll forgive today, and every day.” Like moving a bunk of studs, or a pile of plywood.

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2 Responses to “On (Unimaginable) Forgiveness”

  1. Lora says:

    i too, have been amazed at the forgiveness those families have demonstrated. if i even think about someone harming one of my children i’m ready to kill…revenge is my first response, i’m sorry to say. their comittment to forgive is amazing, inspirational, radical.

  2. dstavlund@aol.com says:

    Mike:

    Awesome analysis re:forgiveness

    Iowa Dad

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