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Letting go: The virtue of forgiveness

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” -Lewis B. SmedesDuring the occupation of Holland, an exemplary woman named Corrie Ten Boom and her equally amazing family joined the Dutch underground, and hid Jews from the Nazis. They did so by building a secret room at the top of their home, and for almost two years dozens of men, women, and children were sheltered from death there.Eventually, though, the Ten Booms were betrayed by a neighbor and imprisoned. Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to the concentration camp at Ravensbruck. Corrie would survive the hell, but Betsie would not. Corrie’s response? To preach about forgiveness...everywhere...especially in Germany.So it was not coincidental that Corrie was speaking at a Sunday church service in post-war Munich in 1947. She had just finished addressing the congregation and was leaving when she noticed a man headed directly toward her. She knew him immediately as one of the prison guards who had stood watch in the processing area of the camp, by where the women entered for their initial showers. In The Hiding Place she writes that the man smiled and thanked her for her message, and then reached out his hand and asked for her forgiveness. In that split second, all the anger, trauma, shame, fear, and memories of Ravensbruck came rushing back, and she froze. Naturally. Most of us wouldn’t have had the courage to even go back to Germany, let alone preach about forgiveness there. Corrie was already heroic, for God’s sake. But to be asked to forgive any Nazi, let alone one who had personally persecuted her and her sister? Are you serious?The former guard didn’t remember Corrie, but she couldn’t forget him. And go figure, she didn’t exactly feel like forgiving this particular man on this particular Sunday. But Corrie realized that the virtue of forgiveness is not about feeling, and does not pick and choose its recipients.Forgiveness is an act of the will, and it has to be offered to all. She knew that if she was not able to forgive this man, she would always remain a prisoner…free from Ravensbruck but not from the pain, the evil, the cruelty of Ravensbruck. So with tears running down her cheeks she took his hand in hers, and forgave him. And all the angels in Heaven bowed in admiration.“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”Forgiveness is a grace that can happen all at once, but more often than not it’s a process-miracle that happens in stages. And the more it’s practiced the more it becomes a virtue, and not just an isolated victory for good. Forgiveness does not ever ask you to forget, but it does ask you to let go; let go of any chance of sweet revenge on another, or just repayment by another, or proper response from another. Because in the end, forgiveness is not about the other…it’s about you. And you forgive because it’s good for you.Forgiveness is not easy. In fact, it’s arguably the most difficult virtue of all to practice, let alone acquire. But ask yourself how much you want to love, how free you’d like to be, and how prison life is really working for you? -Ross Porter, Ph.D.Questions for reflection: Are you good at forgiving? Who models the virtue of forgiveness for you? How? What is one thing you can begin doing to practice the virtue of forgiveness?

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