Of all the biblical prescriptions and proscriptions Christians often feel they struggle with, the commandment to forgive has got to be in the top three. Who among us doesn’t feel even the least bit inadequate when considering these words from Colossians 3:13: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man has a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye”?
But if we are truly honest, we struggle with forgiveness. At least for me, I find hope and encouragement in great stories of forgiveness. One such story comes out of my youth.
In high school, a good friend of mine on the wrestling team, John, dated a girl named Cindy Nicolich. Nice girl. Never really knew what happened to her after high school.
A few years ago, I got an email from a high school friend that asked if I had seen Cindy on “Oprah.” So, I checked out the “Oprah” Web site and found that she is now Cindy Griffiths, and at that time she had a best-selling book. In fact, they have even been talking about making a movie based on the book.
Here is Cindy’s story: She and her husband Bill had a beautiful 11-year old daughter named Robyn. In the morning of June 28, 1996, Robyn and her grandparents – Cindy’s parents, Joe and Janice Nicolich – were driving on a remote section of Interstate 80 in Ogallala, Neb. Joe noticed a stranded car on the side of the road. Seeing that, in the car, were a woman and several children, he started merging across traffic lanes towards the shoulder of the road to offer help.
It was then that Verna Harrison, driving drunk at 7:30 a.m., hit Nicolich’s car at 85 miles an hour. Janice Nicolich and her granddaughter Robyn were killed instantly. Joe Nicolich had numerous injuries and several broken bones. I was reminded of Cindy’s story a few times over the past few weeks as we have dealt with vehicular deaths in Effingham.
As you might imagine, Cindy struggled terribly with this senseless tragedy. It began to eat at her. Here is an excerpt from her book: “I loved sharing things with Robyn. I loved giving to Robyn. I loved watching her become. I loved being Robyn’s mom. I didn’t want to stop being her mom. ... All these thoughts pierced my heart like a hot knife. My time to give to her had come to an abrupt end. No longer would we be able to get excited over a newly blossomed bud. No longer would we talk of flowers together. No longer would we play on the trampoline with each other. No longer would we sing our favorite songs, dance in the kitchen, bake or sew, read or laugh or argue, or do anything together.”
“I wouldn’t get to watch her practice ballet and see how graceful she was becoming. I wouldn’t see her snuggling with her three-year-old sister on the couch. I’d never see her riding her bike again, blowing out her birthday candles, or sitting at the table doing her schoolwork. I wouldn’t hear her clown around with her brothers or make my piano sing. I wouldn’t see her reach her sweet 16, graduate, get married, or hold her own baby. She was gone. My daughter was gone. She’d never be back. She’d never walk this earth again. I didn’t want to stop being her mom.”
The only thing that kept Cindy going was the thought of Robyn with God. She felt better when she reasoned, “God was alive. He had conquered death. And because He lived, I would live with Robyn and my mom again.”
One day, feeling completely exhausted from all the pain, Cindy says she prayed these words: “O Lord, I don’t want to think anymore. It hurts too much ... I am here, Lord ... I still walk in this place ... You let me continue to be here, but how can I go on with all of this raging in my mind? I can’t ... I don’t know how to think anymore ... Show me how to think ... Where do I go from here? ‘You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you,’” she quoted from Isaiah 26:3. “How can I be steadfast in You when I can’t see You through all of the thick, dark clouds? Direct my thoughts because I just don’t know how to think anymore.”
As soon as Cindy finished that prayer, she knew what she had to do to be set free: She had to forgive Verna Harrison, the drunk driver. And though it took time, she did. In fact, she appeared with Verna Harrison on “Oprah,” describing why she chose to forgive.
After all, forgiveness is at the very heart of the Christian faith. As Christians, we are not to hold grudges, carry resentments, harbor bitterness. Hanging on to resentments is self-destructive; it is like taking poison and waiting for the other guy to die. That is the price of unforgiveness.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.