2017-10-12 / Milestones

The gift of forgiveness

By Allison Byerley

Allison Byerley Allison Byerley Editor’s note: All local church organizations are invited to contribute to this weekly column about faith. Send submissions to greg@mariposagazette.com.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest spiritual disciplines to practice. When I come to the part of The Lord’s Prayer that says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespassed against us,” I inwardly wince because I know that forgiving is something I need God’s help doing. Left on my own, I would carry those hurts and griefs I hold against others for a long time.

There are times when I hear a story that shows me the power of forgiveness and gives me a glimpse of what God has done for us. This is such a story.

“I started to cry immediately. And I looked at him, and I said, ‘Ron, if I spent every second of every minute of every hour for the rest of my life telling you how sorry I am, it wouldn’t come close to how my heart feels. I’m so sorry.’”

The speaker is Jennifer Thompson- Cannino, who had given eyewitness testimony that put Ronald Cotton behind bars for 11 years for raping her at knife-point. He was later exonerated by DNA evidence. Jennifer is describing their first meeting after Cotton’s release from prison.

“And Ronald just leaned down, he took my hands … and he looked at me, he said, ‘I forgive you.’”

Here’s Cotton’s take on that dramatic moment:

“I told her, I said, ‘Jennifer, I forgive you. I don’t want you to look over your shoulder. I just want us to be happy and move on in life.’”

“The minute he forgave me,” Jennifer continued, “it’s like my heart physically started to heal. And I thought, ‘This is what grace and mercy is all about. This is what they teach you in church that none of us ever get.’ And here was this man that I had hated. I mean, I used to pray every day of my life during those 11 years that he would die. That he would be raped in prison and someone would kill him in prison. That was my prayer to God. And here was this man who with grace and mercy just forgave me. How wrong I was, and how good he is.”

Forgiveness transforms us, both the one receiving and the one giving forgiveness. Jennifer could not forgive and lived for over a decade in a prison of hate. Ronald forgave and freed them both.

That is the power of forgiveness. It sets us free. That kind of forgiveness is beyond our ability alone, but God will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Who do you need to forgive? God will do for you what you cannot do on your own.

Allison Byerley is pastor of the Mariposa United Methodist Church and can be reached at adbyerley@gmail.com.

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