I remember the incident like it was yesterday. The news captured national attention when a Lancaster, PA man ambushed an Amish one-room schoolhouse and shot 10 elementary-aged girls, five fatally, and then turned the gun on himself. Charles Roberts, a husband and father of three children, lived only a mile from the school. His actions that morning in 2006 brought grief and upheaval to a community known for its peaceful lifestyle. With the media spotlight on this small tight-knit community, the world quickly witnessed the love of Christ through an extraordinary act of forgiveness. Within hours of the tragedy, neighbors from the Amish community visited the perpetrator’s family to offer their condolences. In the days ahead, the community rallied together and continued to comfort and support this grieving family. Many even attended Robert’s funeral services! Their response of deep compassion and grace warmed the hearts of many, including my own.
Forgiveness. It’s easy for someone to advise us to “just forgive them”; but it’s quite a bit harder when you’re the one who has to choose to do it, especially when you’ve been deeply wounded. Yet, Jesus commands us to forgive 70x7 times (Matthew 18:22); to forgive our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). The gospels are filled with examples of those who experienced the compassion of Jesus. Even as He hung on the cross, He asked the Father to forgive those who crucified him. It’s because of the cross of Christ, his bloodshed, that our sins are also forgiven. We forgive because we too are forgiven (Colossians 3:13).
Harboring unforgiveness is toxic to our souls breeding sinful behavior like anger and resentment. When we forgive, it frees us from dysfunctional and sinful behaviors that prevent us from living out our God-given potential. Forgiveness can be life-giving!
The Amish community of Nickel Mines had plenty of reasons to resent the man who brought this tragedy to their family and friends. Yet, they choose to practice their faith for the world to see by offering the love, mercy and grace of Christ to his family. In the days and years following that heart-rending day, this extraordinary story of forgiveness continues to be re-told with many practical lessons on how to forgive.
My sweet sisters, are you harboring resentment, anger or unforgiveness towards God or another person? Take a moment to sit in quiet reflection. Notice any feelings when you think of forgiving ____ (fill in the blank) and bring them to the Lord. Ask the Spirit to heal your wounds and fill you with compassion, grace and God’s peace that transcends all understanding.
- Deneen McDonald (US Director, COBI)