How Do You Forgive When You Don’t Think You Can?
Terri Roberts told her story from the platform at the small church where I grew up. She told the story of how her son had become a perpetrator. Perpetrator—the word for a man or woman who commits a horrific crime against another person. The crime her son had committed was shooting ten Amish school girls. Five had been killed. Four recovered, but one of the younger ones remains wheelchair bound, unable to speak, and has to be fed through a feeding tube.
Terri’s son, Charlie, turned the gun on himself in the final moments, leaving Terri, her husband, her other three sons, and Charlie’s wife and three small children, left to deal with the rippling effect of his tragic actions.
Terri told us how she and her husband wept, buckets and buckets of tears. I can only imagine how the tears would worsen, as feelings of shame and guilt crept in.
Days after the shooting, the Roberts family gathered for Charlie’s funeral. It was a small turnout, I’m sure, given the circumstances. It’s hard for us, as humans, to understand how anyone would mourn the life of someone cab able of committing such a travesty.
But, as many of you know, if anyone mourns, it’s a mama.
Here’s where the story starts to transcend my understanding.
It was the Amish mamas who mourned with Terri Roberts. Almost half the people in attendance at the funeral were Amish. As the news crews from all over the world gathered, shining a spotlight of shame and pointed fingers on this family, the Amish circled the family to shield them from the media.
The Amish—the people who had lost five daughters at the hand of Terri Robert’s son—the people who had all the right to show up at that funeral with pitchforks and picket signs—showed up and FORGAVE.
And not only did they forgive, they shielded. They protected. Talk about ACTIVE forgiveness. Passive forgiveness would have been sitting at home, saying, “we forgive”, and then silently, or maybe not-so-silently, muttering something about how the media would give them what they deserved, for whatever reason the media wants to cite that they deserve it.
Mercy—not getting what we do deserve—is ACTIVE FORGIVENESS.
I don’t know if I have that in me, friends. I want to have it in me. I want to be like the Amish were to Terri. But I’m flawed and I’m human, and yes those are excuses, but if someone did something to my family—I fear I’d be the one with the pitchfork and the picket sign. Loud and angry. And I’d want to defend my actions in the name of righteous anger.
It’s a tough subject, for sure. What would you do? Can you share any thoughts about how we could all more actively forgive?
What a great and tough post Whitney! Forgiveness is something I think about all the time. My father was murdered when I was 8 days old in an armed robbery at my dad’s store. My life was torn apart and the man never ever admitted it or apologized. For the longest time, I wanted him dead and I wanted him to be forced to admit to it. I realized however, by not forgiving him (whether he wanted it or knew about it) was damaging who I was and was creating distance between me and my relationship with God. I stopped praying for him to realize what he had done and prayed that I could be strong enough to forgive him. It took years but eventually I did. It was like this amazing weight lifted from my being. I could talk about what happened without getting angry and share my story in a meaningful way. Granted, I don’t know what I would do if somebody did something to my kids but I know that unless you try to forgive, it will eventually tear you apart. We are forgiven so we should forgive. I pray for my dad in heaven but I also pray for the man who put him there and for his family and it gives me such comfort now. It’s a tough one, no doubt and takes a bunch of faith!
What a powerful story, Caroline. And great words. I’m grateful for the meaning that you’ve discovered, and I pray you’ll be able to continue to use your story in an amazing way! Love you!
Thank you for sharing this amazing story, Whitney…so very tragic but so amazing. It really does bring the point home though, doesn’t it. It is hard to forgive in most cases but something of this magnitude, impossible! It really does get your attention and puts my own experiences into perspective. Yes, I have had to forgive but really never on this scale and I am humbled by what the Amish did. I hope I am never tested in this way, but it certainly will impact the way I look at others that cause grief for me in a different way because of this post. Thank you again for spreading light in a dark world!
What they did is humbling to think about. Great thoughts, thank you for adding to the conversation!
I was sexually assaulted as a young girl (I’m 29 now) by a neighbor. I never told my mom (even to this day) in fear of her retaliation. I forgave him a long time ago, not because I wanted, but because God reminded me of everything HE has forgiving me.
My mom recently became a christian, she is growing and learning to forgive. Soon I will share with her what happened without fear. One day, my mom and I will seat, drink coffee, and pray for this guy with love and forgiveness. That is what I pray for, and I know God will grant us that opportunity soon.
Oh, sweet friend, what grace you have. Thank you for sharing–I’ll keep you in my prayers.
The subjects of grace and mercy have come up quite a few times in the last week for me (God sure has His ways of gentle nudging…right?!) I am going through an extremely difficult work situation, and I have let evil come into my heart and thoughts about the horrible, corrupt things being done. I know that I will be terminated, along with 2 other close colleagues who are being demoted (despite our roles being essential to the establishment). But we do not know when…every day could be my last. As awful and stressful as this is, I am learning that I cannot truly understand Jesus’ acts for me until I forgive, daily, hourly in the situations I am in. I can never understand His ultimate sacrifice and God’s forgiveness of my sins until I also do so. For me, forgiveness is seeing my own imperfections and not looking at others like they owe me something, or like I have been wronged. Because at the end of the day, I can’t control them. I can only control me, how I feel, the choices I make. Thanks to my 2 year old, I have watched Frozen daily for the month (!!!), but am learning, that like Elsa, until we love and stop fearing what we can’t control, things will be cold and stormy in our lives. Just wanted to share this in the abyss of the internet….I feel better already getting it out!! Thanks for this post and these words…I know they touched many over the last week.
This is such a beautifully written post about an amazing example of forgiveness. I am marriage and parenting coach and I would say that half my clients are working on forgiveness (themselves and others). It is so hard for some people to do but it really is a gift to your heart and to God if you can do it.
Whitney, what a powerful post. I personally have struggled with this issue for 6 years now. You see my daughter was killed in a motorcycle accident at the hands of someone she just meet that day just hours before. It was a brother to a neighbor down the street and he had been giving people rides all day long. My daughter thought nothing of it and went with him. Then after she dies I find out about the guys history. I am still angry to this day. I have prayed about this and prayed about this but honestly I don’t have it in me to forgive him or the car full of illegals that caused the wreck. My grandchildren were left without a mother, they were separated between two fathers and I have not seen them since because of my ex filling the fathers heads full of b.s. I wish alot of times I was more like the Amish but I am not.
Thank you for sharing. Oddly enough I heard my daughters voicemail last night that I have saved from her phone before it was turned off and it is on my phone under my play list. I was listening to my music last night and up popped her voice “Hi this is Heather leave a message” Then today it seems everything has been pointing towards her. So my post was going to be about the tragedy and how to move on.
For a couple of days, I’ve bee looking for answers and reminders. Answers on how to overcome offenses, even the minute, literally trivial, as well as remembering how much dirt the Lord Jesus has forgiven me. I have been a true believer since ’06 but before that, I was “so-called”. I have learned so much since my true commitment and know what to do, but I don’t do it. I struggle, immediately forgetting what grace and mercy I’ve received and it’s not right. It’s not fair. I am absolutely sure the Lord disapproves. I want to graduate from Pre-K stage to Senior, but I just can’t seem to get there despite my wisdom and knowledge. My built up walls are more concrete than my faith to forgive area. Please pray my strength to move on with mercy than to “say” I’ve forgiven. Thank u for your post,