Lessons of Amish forgiveness
This October will mark 5 years since the Nickel Mines shootings. The Amish forgiveness story was hugely powerful and quickly spread around the world, in part because it was so unusual. People just don’t forgive, so quickly, after a crime of such magnitude.
Five years on, one wonders how much the lessons of the Amish at Nickel Mines have stuck with us.
The Young Center at Elizabethtown College is holding a forgiveness conference this September 22. An excerpt from the Young Center website explains:
Using the fifth anniversary of the tragedy at Nickel Mines as a backdrop, this one-day conference will explore the moral dilemmas arising from violence and the potential power of forgiveness for personal healing and the restoration of relationships.
The conference is open to the public, and has a registration deadline of Sep. 8. There is also an open evening program following the event, entitled “The Enduring Power of Forgiveness.” You can read more here.
Last October we had a post on the continued healing of the Amish girls’ families as well as the mother of the shooter, Terri Roberts. The first part was an excerpt of an interview with Terri, taken from the paperback edition of Amish Grace. One of the questions:
Have you been able to forgive your son?
Unforgiveness leads to self-pain, and I believe the Bible commands us to forgive. There was no doubt in my mind that I would forgive Charlie. However, the anguish I experienced was not easy to deal with. Comprehending what he had done took days and weeks to absorb. However, I knew that his actions came from unforgiveness. And seeing what others experience without forgiving–I knew this was not an option for me. He was my son, so full of love but blinded to the love of our heavenly Father. I cannot comprehend how this happened and we did not see it. Yes, I forgave my son.
The second part of the post includes comments from Donald Kraybill. When I spoke with him, he had just met with two of the Nickel Mines girls’ fathers, and shares more on how the girls’ families and schoolmates are doing.
If you haven’t read it, highly recommended. The post is here.
To forgive or not forgive ...
“Rob” which was not his real name was a director, one notch down from vice-president, in the company I use to work for and has long since retired. We had a close nit, highly effective group of dedicated employees in the department where I worked. It was an isolated office, over 50 miles from the headquarters office and it performed a unique function for the company unlike anything that was done anywhere else in the organization which stretched from the Gulf Coast to New England. Within two to three years after Rob was brought in from an outside company to run our shop the close nit, cohesive & family-like feeling was gone to be replaced by jealousy, envy and paranoia. I soon had enough and moved on to another department and eventually to another company, but after 25 years I am still close friends with many of the people I worked with back then and it is amazing how many of them can’t stand the man to this day. Just the mention of his name will stir up old feelings of resentment and anger.
No comparison between what Rob did to me and several of my coworkers versus what Charlie did to the Amish children and their families that day at the Nickel Mines schoolhouse. However, I eventually figured out that as long as I dwelled on it, internalized the disappointment in and anger at him he essentially controlled me. Only after I could honestly say that even though I couldn’t understand his behavior, nor condone it, I did forgive him … that I began to feel better about the situation. In fact after I realized how small and petty he really was I began to almost pity him in a way. I have had a really enjoyable career since then, met some really wonderful people and had some fantastic work experiences. If he had not been the way he was I would have probably never left my safe little cocoon, so I actually owe him a debt of gratitude.
Interestingly and quite by accident I have run into people that have met several of his grown children in various settings and locations across the country and it turns out that those now grown children pretty much feel the same way about him that some of my former coworkers do. So, yes forgiveness is a powerful medicine. Un-forgiveness is too, it just happens to be bad medicine.
Oldkat, quite a fitting real-life example. Thanks for sharing this. It actually made me think of one or two semi-grudges that I’ve mostly let go of, but in fact have probably been hanging on to with maybe one finger.
Most of us, thankfully, aren’t ever going to deal with a situation like the Nickel Mines folks did. But the same idea applies.
Forgiveness as a long process
Forgiveness is one of the hardest things in life because the things that are easy to forgive do not really matter to you. The things that are hard to forgive is the real test in life.
Being a Christian is a hard religion at times.
For me something like that would be very hard and would be a process more than an either/or.
I do not blame anyone who does not forgive. They choose not to forgive, not because they are bad people, but rather out of pain. At that point you have to put your pain and despair in the Lord’s hands.
I have found that once you start praying for the person that you have a hard time forgiving, all of a sudden, you’ve forgiven them. I was still very angry and hadn’t forgiven certain people in my past. And, I have to say, some of my first prayers were me telling God, “I don’t want to pray for so-and-so, but you want me to so please bless them.” Eventually, I did start to pray for them in earnest and now have no ill feelings towards them. The best part is, they don’t control my thoughts or my life anymore! It is a challenge and a constant battle and we certainly can’t forgive on our own.
I challenge everyone who reads this, pray for someone who has hurt you and see what happens!
On another note, “The Hiding Place” and “Tramp for the Lord” by Corrie Ten Boom are two excellent testimonies about the power of forgiveness.
Yes forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do in life but as a Christian it is essential. The bible tells us that if we do not forgive those who have sinned against us then we can not expect the Father to forgive us.
I have had to find forgiveness in my heart for some very rough things in my life, abuse from my family, mental, physical and sexual, rape and much more. Sometimes it took a while. But I did learn that the longer I carried this hate in my heart the worse I felt. And the people who commited those horrible acts did not care. Forgiveness is a part of healing not for them but for the victim. You only hurt yourself when you carry a grudge, hate and anger in your heart and therefore keep yourself a victim long after the original incident.
The Amish showed the world an awesome example by their willingness not only to forgive but to reach out to his family in love and kindness.
@Christina, I agree. If you pray for those who have hurt you this is starts to melt away some of the pain. Further, if you have the intention of forgiveness, even if you can not do it, this also starts to heal the pain.
I have also heard but not read it myself that ‘Unbound: A Practical Guide to Deliverance’ by Neal Lozano is good.
@Alice, You have great words of wisdom, I always like seeing your positive thoughts here. Maybe because you had so many challenges in your life is the reason you can shine your light on others.
As Christians, we have no choice but to forgive if we want to be forgiven by our Heavenly Father. Once I realized that forgiveness is NOT a feeling but a Choice, it was easier to forgive. Don’t wait to forgive until you FEEL like forgiving, but first make a CHOICE to forgive and eventually your feelings will follow!
Born and raised Amish, (am no longer).
My husband and I were walking down the street in Moncton when a stranger came up to us and said he was so sorry about what happened to those children in Pennsylvania. We were a bit mystified, thanked him. (He later got to know us a bit better – and was still okay that we weren’t Amish. He didn’t feel foolish to have approached us.) Later in the day I saw a newspaper headline and realized the full extent of the tragedy. I read Kraybill’s book when it came out. I still cannot talk about the shootings at Nickel Mine without crying.
Personally, though, the Amish response to horror made me think about who I had never forgiven. I spent one long sleepless night going through all those painful memories, and praying that I could forgive them. It took all night. It is necessary soul work, though. Forgiveness helped me to see how these people had maybe made mistakes, or were trying to help, or thought they were serving a greater good. I can’t reconcile with all of them now, but at least my heart is reconciled.
I always thought that it was challenging to be able to forgive people, especially the ones who really crushed my feelings. I have been recently retired and have found plenty of time to reflect on my life. I have come to realize that there have been plenty of times when I have unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) hurt others feelings.
Everytime I remember another old event in my life where I did the hurt I stop to pray. I admit my sin and repent and ask the Lord’s forgiveness, then ask a blessing on the person. I also ask that the person be granted the spirit of forgiveness that they might forgive me.
Since I started doing this a couple of months ago, I find it Reeeeeallllly easy now to forgive others. I don’t want the Lord to take vengeance on anyone because I fear he would have to start with me.
Thanks for the heads up on the conference. That’s a real possibility for me. I’m only an 1 1/2 hours from there.
I am penpals with 2 of the girls that were in the school during the shooting. I just got a letter from 1 the other day and was in complete *awe* at this girls faith. She is almost 13 now and the way she wrote about God and trusting in Him was just amazing. If she would’ve chosen to harbor anger or not forgive the man who shot her I honestly do not think she would be the same girl she is now.
I think I’ll share a little bit of what she wrote about Rosanna, who was also involved in the shooting & did not recover well. She writes that she is in a wheelchair and cannot walk. She goes to a special school for handicapped children but she only says a few words. Her codition goes up and down and someday she iss saying a lot & doing great while others she may not even smile or say a word. She asks for prayer for her parents & older brother who are struggling a lot at this time. She saids in big letters GOD BE PRAISED!
Please continue to pray the families affected and take the lesson of forgivness & apply it to your lives! It brings peace with God & a great maturity as shown by my dear friend.
I remember that day, my father and I were coming home from Holmes county Ohio and we were in Ashland, when my mother called and was so upset. I could tell something was wrong, and I pulled over and she told me of the tragedy. I too cried and I still to this day, think of the people that lost their lives, and all the families that were affected. We will truly never know the impact, but their forgiveness is amazing. I wish I had their strength in forgiveness. God Bless them all.
Strength to forgive
Thanks everyone for sharing these responses. I think sometimes we simply have to ask for the strength to forgive.
And Katie, thanks for sharing that letter about the girls and families. I hope people will pray for their continuing strength.
Daniel, I am about 85% certain I will be at the conference. So if you come I will be looking forward to meeting you (and any other Amish America folks that decide to come!). I think it will be a good event to attend if you can make it. Or even just the open talk in the evening.
That’s awesome, Erik. Would love to meet Mr. Amish America.
I read something just today that I liked–and gave a great deal of thought to:
Without a “test”…where’s our testimony?
I would like to attend this conference as well. Maybe we could organize a “Amish America” lunch meeting.
I have come to realize that there have been plenty of times when I have unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) hurt others feelings.
I had a real issue in this matter a few years ago. Way too much to fully ‘splain here, but essentially I started feeling bad about a relationship that I let go with a young lady I had dated in college. We were right at the point where we were just beginning to talk about the possibility of getting married. Because of extremely close ties between her family and mine and a couple of other reasons I started thinking better of it. That was probably the right decision, ending our relationship without any sort of explanation whatsoever was not. While this caused a lot of hurt feelings, I convinced myself for years and years that it was still probably the best thing to have done under the circumstances. It was not and I knew it deep inside. Finally, after several decades had passed, it bothered me so much that I could not even get a good night sleep without waking up in a cold sweat over it.
After much reflection and prayer I finally accepted that I had to do something about it. Problem was I didn’t know what to do. One day I was driving back from delivering some horses to my Amish horse trainer friend and I had about 2 & ½ hours of windshield time to really pray over it. Finally it came to me; “You must apologize to this girl”. She is not a girl anymore, we are nearly retirement age now, but that is what came to me as clearly as if it was written on the inside of the windshield of my truck. How to go about this? Prayer time again. Two days later her brother, who I had not talked to in probably 10 to 15 years called to get contact information for my family so he could invite everyone to a 90th birthday party for their father. This served as the perfect segue way into a lunch with her and the opportunity to apologize.
Her take on all of this afterward? “Well, it really wasn’t necessary”. Maybe it wasn’t necessary for her that I apologize to her, but it was REAL necessary to me that I apologize to her & I told her as much. Apparently she had long since forgiven me, while I had not. Essentially I could not forgive myself for the way I had handled ending the relationship. I now have moved on well past this and it longer troubles me. This whole experience worked out so well and generated such a positive response from her family, especially her oldest brother that I resolved to identify other people that I owed an apology to and do just that. Fortunately the list wasn’t real long, but I have made a couple more fence mending visits since then. I also still have two more that I want to do, if I can just figure out how to locate the people in question. Without fail it has been extremely well received by the other person and left me feeling renewed. Maybe you are not in need of this final step in salving old wounds, but it has worked wonders for me.
Lunch at E-town
Tom–I would enjoy that! And maybe others would be interested in coming along. It would really be a blast to meet folks here on Amish America in “real life”. It’s certainly been enriching just being in touch online.
I’ll be posting something on this conference again later in the summer and maybe we’ll hear from others who plan to attend. Great idea.
Loretta, I like that. Welcome the tests, not run from them. Very true.
And Oldkat, what a great example you shared here, the second on this post in fact. Thank you. This story really made me think, too. Probably not the easiest thing to do. But I think pretty important.
Choosing not to be a victim
And Alice, I wanted to say the same thing to you…somehow I missed your comment first time through(!)
This struck me: “…when you carry a grudge, hate and anger in your heart and therefore keep yourself a victim…” Lot of truth there. We basically choose to give and maintain victim status.
Not that the forgiving part is easy, but like with the Amish, or with any of the other examples here, the choice to begin to forgive is within our power. At least it seems so to me.
The thing about forgiving Erik is the other person who sinned against you in some way, really doesn’t care if you walk around carrying a grudge, if they did, they would not have done whatever they did in the first place. So by not forgiving you are only hurting yourself.
No, forgiving is not easy,,, and there is nothing that says once you forgive someone for something they did that you have to start associating with them again. Sometimes you would be putting yourself in danger to associate with them again, but you can still forgive, let go and move on with your life. Yes Erik forgiving is a choice and it is within our power. If we do not make the choice God can not help us to forgive, we must be willing.
As for the busy, no its not the business taking off its all the other jobs around here, yard work, gardening, taking care of Frank. But that is by my choice, I have decided to give up the craft shows this year due to health reasons, both mine and Frank’s. But I sure am still busy, LOL
So many great responses. As Alice said, “forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do in life but as a Christian it is essential.” And “not a feeling, but a choice” as Mary said.
Here is an approach I have used when trying to forgive a person like Charles Roberts at Nickel Mines (only a few miles from our Lancaster home.) I think of this person when he was a small child. In almost every case this person was abused either mentally or physically. How sad it is for a small innocent child to be assaulted by a parent or guardian, or attacked by other children because he may be a little different in some way. You can’t altogether excuse his actions as an adult, but early childhood abuse can have a very strong mental effect on an individual causing this person to become resentful of the world.
I realize now that my post was very offensive. I am very sorry to everyone. I wish I had not spoken.
Sydney, not at all. I thought your post was perfectly un-offensive, and in fact a great contribution to the discussion. It made me, for one, think.
Sydney. I didn’t think anything you posted was offensive. You gave some good examples of what can be done, and no one here is judging anyone…we are just all good friends.
I wished I lived in an Amish community. I would love to learn their ways. However, I have a few questions. Did they really forgive Charley just like that, because honestly, I am a mother, and I know if someone murdered my children, I would not be able to forgive just like that. It would have to take time. Another thing is, they shun their family members if that member wants to live in the English world. Also, if a member is a widow they shun that person for marrying an English person. God has each person on a different path than others. How do they know God did not have intentions for that person to marry an English person? Plus, divorced and remarriage. They don’t allow people to join the church when they are d & r. If that couple got remarried before they were saved, where is the forgiveness for that? After they got saved, that d & r is erased. What happens after they got saved they are held accountable.
Erik, or someone who knows,
Do you have answers for these questions, or isn’t there any? On the divorced and remarriage. In my observation, and research, we are all born sinners, however, we are given a chance to be forgiven by the Most High, and noone can say other wise. If the couple has be reborn after they got remarried, then they are forgiven. I know churches hold being divorced and remarried against that couple even after they have been born again, which that has been erased from their past. So that is one church rule that needs to be changed, and if they have a problem with it, then they need to go to God about it.
C.C. — I don’t know the answers to your specific questions, but if you want to understand the faith that underlies Amish practices, I can’t think of a better place to start than “The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World,” by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher. It’s an excellent overview of Amish spirituality by three respected experts.
I have learned a great deal from reading your insightful posts. I too do not know the answers to the questions that C.C. poses but it is very important that they are brought up for discussion.
I agree that forgiveness is necessary for your own mental health but I think takes a long time to achieve.I have a problem with forgetting. Even though you may put an issue in the back of your mind it is still there. A friend of mine says that if you still remember the hurt you have not forgiven. I don’t agree with that idea since some of the greatest hurts to humankind such as the holocaust must always be remembered to prevent it happening again. I just think that forgiveness is necessary to take the hatred out of the wrong and to be able to try and understand the motives of the aggressor and move on with your life. It is a healing and liberation for the self.