I want to talk about forgiveness, again. Several years ago, my church was robbed. The burglar broke three doors, smashed a window, stole about $50 in petty cash, two rolls of stamps and a coffee pot. Kindly leaving his fingerprints behind and having once been fingerprinted as a child in case he was ever abducted, the police took no time at all in tracking him down and arresting him. He was sentenced to five years in prison for a first offense.
It turned out that he was unemployed with a wife and three children. He was only providing for his family in the only way he could at the time. The church forgave him and reached out to support him. Some of us even went to his sentencing to plead for leniency but that was for naught. Since he made a full confession, the DA and judge threw the book at him. There was no reason to offer a plea deal. Apparently the truth does not set you free.
His wife was not accepting of the church and blamed the church for what happened to her husband. Despite that, we wrote to him, visited him and even offered his wife financial and food assistance, which she refused. When he was released, since his wife didn’t drive, we even went to pick him up but she refused to go with us.
It was exciting to see him with his three children attend church every Sunday. Eventually he became employed as our sexton yet his wife remained distant. He and I became good friends and enjoyed each others company. I even saved the life of his daughter one day at a church pot luck. I was walking by just as she started to choke on a piece of chicken. I simply reached down around her stomach, hoisted her up and the chicken shot out of her mouth like a bullet. The dad was eternally grateful and the mom never said a word. It wasn’t a big deal. A dozen other people came running at the time of the event. I just happened to be there first.
The wife continues to blame the church for getting her husband arrested and consequently hurting her family. The fact that she blames us and can’t forgive us, and can’t forgive her husband nor herself, is something that is hurting only her.
There was a story on the TV show Inside Edition about a woman named Kathleen. She was date raped at the age of 16. She became pregnant and when she gave birth, she gave the baby up for adoption. She viewed the baby as a “rape growing inside of her” and she didn’t view it as “giving birth,” but “expelling the rape” from her body.
Fifty years later, the child she gave birth to, Elaine, managed to track her mother down. Kathleen refused to see her daughter and wants to keep it that way. Kathleen said the rape was traumatizing and when Elaine contacted her fifty years later, all the old wounds were ripped open. She didn’t even tell her husband of 45 years that she was date raped and gave birth to a child. Kathleen refused to forgive the boy who raped her, or, forgive herself. The only person still in pain is Kathleen. She refuses to let go, forgive and heal.
Elaine says she feels sorry for the woman who gave birth to her. She said, “It’s sad that there’s such vileness and such hatred.” Kathleen emotionally said, “I have been shadowed by this sinister shadow my entire life. I have been chained to this rapist my entire life and it is not over.”
I know that will sound impossible to some people and others will think it absurd, but, one of the most beautiful expressions of love is being able to forgive someone. I can’t tell you why and it will probably be the most difficult thing anyone will ever do, but, it is also the easiest. It is also difficult, yet easy to ask for forgiveness. Once done, you will be able to let go of wrongs that have been done and it will change everything. It changes your attitudes, relationships, emotional make up and your whole life. To forgive is to live and release burden. You don’t lose a thing. It is not a sign of weakness to love someone who wronged you. It is a sign of strength.