I have two stories I would like to share… Stories of change, stories of forgiveness, grace and mercy, stories of people who found that line of not being used or walked on, but learned to be the “better” person so to speak.
It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.
“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
And having thus learned to forgive in this hardest of situations, I never again had difficulty in forgiving: I wish I could say it! I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me from then on. But they didn’t…
Then, why was I suddenly awake in the middle of the night, hashing over the whole affair again? My friends! I thought. People I loved! If it had been strangers, I wouldn’t have minded so.
I sat up and switched on the light. “Father, I thought it was all forgiven! Please help me do it!”
But the next night I woke up again. They’d talked so sweetly too! Never a hint of what they were planning. “Father!” I cried in alarm. “Help me!”
His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.
“Up in that church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops.
“I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.”
And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversation. But the force–which was my willingness in the matter–had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at last stopped altogether.
And so I discovered another secret of forgiveness: that we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.
A portion of the story from Corrie ten Boom…
High School Senior Katrina wasn’t sure what hurt more: the slap across her face or the fact that it was completely unprovoked. From a troubled girl she had gone out of her way to be kind to.
Katrina thought about retaliating or reporting her attacker to the school authorities. Instead, she committed to keep reaching out to her classmate, just as she’d been doing for a long time – even though she knew that her kindness was probably what made her a target in the first place. The girl who smacked her had a reputation for being an emotional volcano; thus most students kept their distance from her.
But Katrina was serious about living as Jesus lived. So she returned violence with love, harsh words with kind ones, enmity with friendship.
Eventually, the school year ended and Katrina headed off for college, wondering if her kindness had left even a faint impression.
7 years later Katrina’s mother, Vicki, an author and speaker, was ministering at a church retreat three states away from her daughters high school. Among the women in the audience was Katrina’s one-time attacker. The young woman found Vicki after her speech and introduced herself. She confessed that she was an all-around mess as a teen – and that she was flat-out amazed that Katrina hadn’t rejected her or retaliated in some way.
Then she told Vicki that because Katrina continued to reach out to her, she eventually reached out to God.
Bestselling author Zig Ziglar asserts, “You never know when one act, or one word of encouragement, can change a life forever.”
Excerpt from TobyMac’s “City On Our Knees”
I want those two stories to soak for a moment…
If you were put in Corrie ten Boom’s situation, could you forgive the guard?
On a much lesser scale, if you were slapped in the face unprovoked could you still show that person love?
Be honest with yourself… How would you handle it? Would you give the guard or the bully a piece of your mind and shame them with “how dare they?”
Would you be able to accept the changed heart and forgive the guard?
Would you be able to accept that there may be no change but continue to show love regardless hoping that you’ll make an impact on that person?
Both situations called for these two to have mercy so they could give grace so they could forgive and act according to the will of God which is to show love regardless.
Recently I listened to a pastor who talked about inner vows… A very good teaching actually even though it was geared towards blended families… He talked about inner vows and how they become a dangerous game because you are always on guard, always waiting, watching, “I’m never going to let someone treat me like this again!” And by golly help whoever treats you like crap because you’ll stoop down to their level and try to beat them at their own game… Because we are all adults and that’s the mature way to handle things… By name calling and throwing punches… Or seeing who can be more vulgar in language…
I’ve never fully understood that mindset of retaliating… If my sisters were to get bullied, would I want them to answer a bully who’s calling them names by calling them names back? No! I would want them to return hateful words with kind words. Why? Because, not only does it allow them to walk out with their integrity because they didn’t stoop down, but it also allows them the opportunity to open a door for that person to change.
Now, if my sisters get caught up in a physical fight, yes, I would want them to defend themselves to whatever extent necessary, at best, hopefully they can back off and the person would stop. If they can handle it with some added force and safely lay boundaries through martial arts great! One of the reasons I’m a HUGE advocate for Jiu-Jitsu because you learn to detain someone without HAVING to hurt them unless they inflict the pain on themselves.
However! I would never want my siblings to take a physical altercation further than necessary. Not in child’s play arguments… They should not try to finish off a fight with the intent to hurt someone. It Defense for a reason. And no… This is not in reference to a threatening situation in which there is the potential for severe emotion or physical trauma… Just so we are clear.
With that said, a one-time slap in the face doesn’t mean you need to pick a fight. To be the person who can keep your head held high and love them anyway will get you so much further in life no matter what the circumstance is.
Some people get the thought in their head that people don’t change, or certain people need to have the crap beat out of them. And yes, I’ll agree, sometimes there are those people. However, biblically speaking, it is our job to love them, it’s our job to be the light of the world, the extension of Christ’s love. It’s not our job to seek revenge or justice or whatever you want to call it. New Testament over-rides the theory of “a hand for a hand and an eye for and eye.”
People are more likely to change their ways by you showing them love and kindness than they are to change if you stoop down to their level because that is the point where they can look at you and go, “How are you any better than me?” And really, if you are willing to stoop so low as to match them with name calling or cursing or an unnecessary fist fight or a fist fight gone too far, really, how are you any better?
Jumping back to the conversation of the inner vows and not allowing anyone to treat you bad again, I challenge everyone to look at that in ourselves. Because that inner vow is a sign that whatever hurt us in our past is still hurting us now. Still affecting us. Some say, “Well, I use to be peoples punching bag and I’m not going to let that happen anymore.” We essentially went from what extreme to the other… There has to be a happy medium.
Now, some of you may think that this is for all situations… There’s a difference between stooping down to child’s play and disciplining and an extreme Self Defense… If you are in a work field or are a parent or whatever and you have people under you that have jobs and responsibilities, YES there needs to be discipline. But it’s not our job to discipline a random person crossing our path… It’s our job to love them. And as stated earlier, if a situation is potentially emotionally or physically traumatizing, i.e. abduction, rape, someone literally beating the crap out of you. YES you have a right to use force!
It really can be a fine line of being a doormat and standing up for yourself in a way that is still kind and respectful. But it can be done. It is hard, I’m not going to sugar coat it and say it is easy… Am I perfect? No… I have a habit of getting mad and firing with verbal sarcasm… But where there is a will, there is a way.
Just so y’all know I’m in a huge brain fog as I’ve got a lovely sinus infection… So I feel like a rambling goober and I think it all connects but if not! You now know why… Have a good night!