Forgiveness, Not Just An Amish Grace

How forgiving are you?   When someone takes your parking space, do you brush it off or does it infuriate you?  What if a driver cuts you off?  Do you forgive inconsiderate behavior or a betrayal?  If you learn of someone making nasty remarks about you, can you forgive or do you harbor a grudge?    Now, imagine the worst–what if someone shot a loved one, like your child.  Could you forgive them?  Does God even expect you to forgive such a heinous crime?

This Sunday, March 28, at 9 P.M. Eastern time, the Lifetime Movie Network will premiere a made-for-television film based on the true story of the October 2, 2006 shootings of ten Amish schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, PA.  Amish Grace is a story of forgiveness to the nth degree. It recounts the horror of the death of five girls, aged 6-13, during a school shooting when a non-Amish man drove to the school, entered the building and began shooting.  Known to all the children as the area milkman, Charles Carl Roberts, 32, shot and killed himself as state troopers prepared to storm the school.

It was a story that shocked the nation.  But perhaps even more shocking to many, was the public forgiveness the Amish parents gave to Roberts in the aftermath.  They even visited the home of the shooter’s distraught wife, Amy, (Tammy Blanchard) and their children, extending love and offering to help in any way they could.   However, there is one mother, Ida, (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) that struggles; unable to make sense of forgiving one that senselessly took their daughter Mary Beth.

When the Amish community extends forgiveness to “Charlie” Roberts and then visits his wife Amy to console her, she is astounded. But one Amish mother, Ida (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), tells her husband, Gideon (Matt Letscher) that she cannot forgive the man who murdered her daughter.  The issue threatens to drive them apart.

Although the conversations that take place during the movie are invented for the sake of a good script, the teachings are not.  They are the same teachings that all Christians are called to follow.  The movie explores both the teaching and human emotion on a level that shows the degree of forgiveness Christ calls us to and challenges us to do no less.

For instance, when Ida announces that she hates the killer and cannot forgive him, her husband, Gideon tries to help their youngest daughter who also admits feeling hate.

“How does it feel to hate?” he asks her.

“Not very good,” she admits.

“Hate is a very big thing; a very hungry thing with sharp teeth and it can eat up your whole heart with no room left for love,” her father says.

He explains further, “We are lucky.  God understands this so he is the one that will hand out the punishment so we don’t have to carry around this hate if we don’t want to.”

Later, when Ida argues against forgiveness with another women, the friend tells Ida, “We have suffered enough.  Our heart is a battle ground and we must choose love.”  Still, Ida cannot bring herself to forgive the man that shot her daughter.

The media too questions this level of forgiveness.  They wonder if it’s real or just an act.  When a reporter speaks with an Amish elder, she is told, “Forgiveness comes from an open heart and it comes without condition or it doesn’t come at all.”  He acknowledges that it is not easy to forgive but explains that it is only when our lives are falling apart that we have the chance to make our faith real.

During grief counseling for the parents, one grieving mother explains that forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting.  “We all know that Charlie will stand before God,” she says.  The woman admits feeling angry but then offers up that anger to God and accepts that He is the just judge.  Then, she finds the strength to forgive.  The woman admitted that an hour later, she will again feel the anger and again have to offer it up to God and forgive, repeating this exercise over and over throughout the day.

Amish Grace is a portrayal of how forgiveness can overcome tragedy.   Emotions are shown as very real but something that can be guided by Christian teaching if one has the desire.  It’s a movie both simple and complex in Bible teachings.  Ultimately, it shows how the Amish community of Nickel Mines evangalized a nation through their faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Amish Grace airs on Palm Sunday, March 28, at 8pmET/5pmPT on LMN. Check local listings for reruns during April and May.


Patti Maguire Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven and Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families. She has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband, Mark, live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.

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