On Sunday afternoon our prison ministry group, with Brock as our leader, met at church to plan the first of six sessions on Forgiveness at the Women´s Federal Prison in Dublin, where we have had short services previously.
The very word “Forgiveness” is overwhelmingly hard to explain in a few words.
Here is one quote:
“Forgiveness means deciding not to punish a perceived injustice, taking action on that decision, and experiencing the emotional relief that follows”.
We had no idea how many women were going to join us on a Monday evening. There are many programs to choose from at the prison. When we had gone through security, we found quite a few welcoming, smiling faces outside the entrance to the chapel. Surprisingly a circle of twenty five chairs was filled within minutes! I had, secretly, thought that this was going to be a subject worthwhile attending.
Bibles were available and passed out to all of us, so we could read what Matthew writes about forgiveness in his 18th chapter and the unforgiving debtor.
“Then Peter came up to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times? ”
“No, not seven times”, Jesus replied, but seventy times seven!”
As we know the debtor, who was forgiven, in turn did the opposite, when he approached a friend who owed him money, sending him to prison, forgetting that he himself had been so generously forgiven.
When Brock threw out the question of what forgiveness meant to us, there were many eager hands up indicating a need to share, wonder and ask. Since we are sworn to confidentiality, I cannot tell what the many personal experiences these women revealed, but they were hardest on themselves. That is one thing we all had in common, to give ourselves permission to resolve our wrong doings with the help of the Lord. Should we give it all over to him, or do we need to work with ourselves? The consensus was that it is a” work in progress”. Some of the prisoners were repeaters, and had families that had given up on them, some were ready to be released and had to face someone who they tried to forgive. We all agreed that is easy to say: “I forgive you”, but to open your heart wide and enclose a person who had wronged you takes a lot of strength and courage.
It felt good to be able to tell them from my own experience that a mother, even though she won´t talk to you, will always forgive you and never stop loving you. That is a built-in we carry, for good and bad.
During an hour and a half, there were tears, smiles, nods and laughter. How well we understood each other and got an energizing shot to help us unload the heavy baggage we carry when we cannot forgive ourselves and our wrong doers.
We plan to be back for session # 2 in a couple of weeks, and it will be interesting to hear what had helped in the difficult process of forgiving.
One thing was certain, they are in our thoughts and prayers, and the end result will hopefully be that
some of us learn how to clean the slate, “get the monkeys of our backs” and support each other in the long work in progress.
So many “Thank you for coming” were heard, and that is the best reward anyone of us could receive after a Monday evening at the prison, where our sisters hopefully keep trying to help themselves , and we, who are free, can deal with all of life´s demands in society, family and occasional wrong doings. We are only weak humans, but stronger when we share and support each other.