An Open Hand
Listen to “An Open Hand” by Fred Smith
In the middle of the crippling cold snap in Texas the store manager of the HEB grocery store had to make a decision. With hundreds of anxious shoppers lined up at check-out the lights flickered and then all the power went out. It was clear there were only a few options available. He could order customers to put everything back on the shelves. He could demand they pay in cash or check since the credit card machines no longer worked. His last option was what he chose: Let everyone leave the store with what they had in their carts without paying. One of the customers, Tim Hennessy, described it in a Facebook post later:
“They could just as easily asked us all to leave the store as soon as the power went out and asked us to just leave the groceries in the carts. But instead, they allowed people to continue to shop for another 10-15 minutes after the power went out and then let everyone leave the store without so much as a single dollar being asked for from the hundreds of people leaving the store.”
HEB forgave their debts.
But that was not all. The story gets better, I think. “Out in the parking lot on Tuesday, Hennessy could tell that other shoppers were touched, too. Carts were getting stuck in the ice and snow. Groceries were tumbling out. But people started holding on to other people’s bags. Watching an elderly woman nervously struggle to get her car moving — the wheels were spinning on ice — Hennessy says he and a couple other men pushed the vehicle ahead.
“Everybody started helping each other,” he said.
Too often we see forgiveness as simply wiping the slate clean or writing off a bad debt. It’s an isolated act that lets people move on with their lives and refuse to let revenge and bitterness consume them. There is nothing wrong with that but I think the story illustrates how a single act of forgiveness goes far beyond the act itself. There is a power in forgiveness that is infectious. Yes, everyone was forgiven their debt inside the store but that spilled out into the parking lot and beyond.
We miss a good part of the power of forgiveness if we see it as merely letting go and releasing our individual hurt and anger. Forgiveness is more than erasing the offense and starting over. It is more than subtracting something from our lives or avoiding the destruction of our souls. It is a seed that is planted and grows and with each act of forgiveness another seed is planted. Think of the image in Scripture of the sower and the seed. It is not just opening our hand. It is planting a seed that will sprout. Forgiveness can create – not just erase. For me, that is the supernatural part. It may well be possible for a non-believer to wipe the slate clean but only God can turn forgiveness into something new. Every single time we forgive we release a seed whose sole purpose is to spread and overcome evil. Every time we forgive we plant what is far more powerful and long-lasting than the hurt we have received.
It is not just forgiving and forgetting. It is coming together again as we saw in Rwanda and South Africa that has stunned so many. How did people living together in a village manage to forgive their neighbors for such atrocities? I’ve been there and asked the same questions. The most frequent answer is “We forgave because we had no choice. We had to find a way to live together. Otherwise, we would all be destroyed over time.” A photographer has captured the results in a book that poses the killer with the family of the ones who died in most horrible ways. It was not easy but they have found a way to come together again.
We hear a lot of talk today about healing our nation and coming together again. True healing does not start with civil conversation or working in bipartisan cooperation on legislation. It does not come from setting aside our differences and disagreements. It does not start with moving on. It begins with forgiveness. It begins with what all of us have the power to do. Forgive.
That is the power of opening our hand in a marriage, a family, a church, a community or even a nation. Remember the words of the people in Rwanda: “We forgave because we had no choice. We had to find a way to live together. Otherwise, we would all be destroyed over time.” I think that is where we are now. We have no choice but to forgive.
We need to plant forgiveness. It will grow.
Art by Oskar Martin Amorbach