Thrive: Pay Attention to Forgiveness – Pam Durso

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For these days of Lent leading up to Easter Sunday on April 20, Christians around the world will participate in the spiritual discipline of “giving up” or perhaps “taking on.” The intent of Lent is not just to give up or take on. The intent is to pay attention. Lent calls us to be attentive to our relationship with God, to our connection with others. Lent also asks us to be attention to our own our bodies and to our souls. In these weeks of March—as we walk through Lent together—the weekly devotions will focus on what Matthew 7-9 has to teach us about paying attention.

Pay Attention to Forgiveness

“Boarding a boat, Jesus crossed to the other side of the lake and went to his own city. People brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a cot. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man who was paralyzed, ‘Be encouraged, my child, your sins are forgiven.’ Some legal experts said among themselves, ‘This man is insulting God.’ But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said, ‘Why do you fill your minds with evil things? Which is easier—to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But so you will know that the Human One has authority on the earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—‘Get up, take your cot, and go home.’ The man got up and went home. When the crowds saw what had happened, they were afraid and praised God, who had given such authority to human beings.” —Matthew 9:1-8 (CEB)

I met Carolyn in 2002, and I liked her immediately. How could I not? She was everything I was hoping to be when I grew up (and I was 41 years old at the time and still wondering if I would ever “arrive.”) Carolyn was a well-respected, published Baptist historian, a much sought after preacher and speaker, a long-tenured and well-loved professor, and a warm and caring wife, mother, and friend. Plus Carolyn spoke her mind, and I really liked her mind.

Then we discovered a common experience that sealed the deal on my love for her. Like me, Carolyn was the mother of an adopted Korean-born daughter. In 2002, Carolyn’s daughter, Kym, was a young adult. My daughter, Alex, was five years old. That discovery connected me to Carolyn in ways that there are no words to describe. And over the next few years when we were at Baptist meetings we talked about our girls—our two strong, passionate, amazing daughters.

A few years later a horrible, unbelievable nightmare unfolded. Kym was murdered. Killed in her own apartment. I was devastated for Carolyn, horrified by what had happened, and heartsick over the loss of this special young woman whom I had grown to love and admire even though I had never met her. I kept imaging what it must be like for Carolyn to travel on that hard, hard road, but it was just too terrible for me to even consider.

A few years later I sat with Carolyn one evening, and she shocked me with these words: “I am working toward forgiveness. I want to forgive the man who killed Kym. I am not there yet, but I am working my way there.”

Shocked by forgiveness.

Remember when Jesus healed the man who was paralyzed. The legal teachers were shocked because Jesus’ first words to the man were “Your sins are forgiven.” The legal teachers were horrified that Jesus spoke such words, seemingly putting himself in the place of God, who alone had power to assure forgiveness.

But Jesus came right back with “Which is easier—to say ‘your sins are forgiven,’ or to say ‘rise and walk.’” Jesus knew the right answer to his question. Forgiveness is the hardest, of course. Forgiveness is costly. It comes at a very high price. It requires selflessness, sacrifice, grace. Forgiveness takes work, intentionality, perseverance. Forgiveness is hard stuff.

To forgive requires us to pay attention. To forgive means being attentive to the hurt of our heart, the anger in our soul, the bitterness of our spirit. To forgive often requires us to work our way to that destination. But forgiveness is the way of Jesus, and it must be our way as well.

Thanks be to God for my friend, Carolyn Blevins, who has taught me, who continues to teach me the way of Jesus.

VBWIM Pam 4Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Her most favorite part of this work is walking alongside and encouraging women called by God to ministry. Pam also enjoys researching, writing, and teaching in the area of Baptist history. She teaches Baptist history as an adjunct professor at McAfee School of Theology, and previously served as associate executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society and as professor of church history and Baptist heritage at Campbell University Divinity School in North Carolina. Pam earned two of her degrees from Baylor University: a B.A. in religion and a Ph.D. in church history. She and her husband, Keith, live in Lawrenceville with their teenage son and daughter, Michael and Alex.

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Comments

  1. Beautifully shared, Pam, as always. A powerful reflection on the deep difficulties of forgiveness and its essential role in our lives. I don’t think I’ve ever met Carolyn, though I’ve heard her name often. I hope I get that blessing soon. Thanking God for you and all the ways you are helping women in ministry to thrive,

  2. Vicky McCullough says:

    Pam, I too have experienced the tragic loss of someone I loved at the hands of another person. My father was murdered in a robbery. Through that most difficult process of forgiveness I have come and reaching the point where I pray for the person who did that has been the most liberating experience of my life. We never knew who did it but I have lifted him up in prayer in the hopes that maybe he, too, would come to know liberation through our Savior.

  3. Janie McCullah says:

    When we were young students at Carson Newman College, we baby-sat for the Blevins family when Kym was brand new to the family. What a sweet reminder of the kind of people the Blevins’ are. God bless you for sharing. My thoughts and prayers to Carolyn and the entire family.

  4. Pam Durso says:

    Vicky,
    Forgiveness is a hard journey and so often a long and lonely one. God’s grace to you as you walk on that path!
    Pam Durso