"I really believe that when someone else does us harm, we're connected to that mistreatment like a chain. So what if forgiveness...is actually a way of wielding bolt cutters and snapping the chain that links us like it is saying, 'What you did was so not okay that I refuse to be connected to it anymore.'" - Nadia Bolz-Weber
Breaking the Chains
We recently led a Confirmation class on the petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," and I was inspired by this video on forgiveness by Nadia Bolz-Weber, where she likens forgiving someone to breaking a chain that keeps us linked to what that person did to us. She says, "I really believe that when someone else does us harm, we're connected to that mistreatment like a chain. So what if forgiveness...is actually a way of wielding bolt cutters and snapping the chain that links us like it is saying, 'What you did was so not okay that I refuse to be connected to it anymore.'"
Bolt Cutter and Chain
In our continuing efforts to make our lessons more interactive and participatory, I thought we could enact this chain breaking, quite literally. I reached out to some of our handy folks at church and someone came forward with a bolt cutter, welding gloves, and safety goggles. He went to the hardware store and bought us some chain to cut. Importantly, he took his bolt cutter with him and tested to make sure which gauge of chain it would cut.
We started the lesson by watching Nadia's video a couple times. Afterward, we asked the class, teens and adults alike, to think about someone or something they would like to forgive. Then people came up one-by-one and snapped a link of the chain to symbolize that act of forgiveness. Everyone cheered as they cut their link. Each person kept their broken link as a symbol of that forgiveness. We played this Zach Williams song in the background as we broke the chain:
Once everyone had an opportunity to break the chain, we asked, "What was it like breaking the chain?" There were many responses. A couple in particular stand out. One of our adult leaders observed that as each person forgave and cut one link, the chain itself was destroyed. Collectively, each act of forgiveness helps to dismantle an entire system of hate and harm. Another person observed that sometimes people needed extra help in cutting the chain—just like we sometimes need the help and support of others to forgive.
Biblical Texts and Small Group Discussion
Following our large group reflections, we looked at three texts about forgiveness:
- Luke 6:35-36
- 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
- Matthew 18:21-22
We then transitioned to small group conversations at our tables using the following questions:
- Why do you think it is difficult to ask for forgiveness?
- Is it more difficult to ask for forgiveness or to grant it?
- Tell about a time when you were forgiven by someone. What did it feel like?
- Tell about a time when you forgave someone. What did it feel like?
- Are there ways of apologizing without words?
All of this filled our 90-minute class time, but if you need more content, this Nooma video about forgiveness is a good complement to the lesson:
What We Learned
This was the first time we had tried this approach to teaching this petition of the Lord's Prayer on forgiveness. Overall, it was very effective in thinking about not just what it means but how it feels to forgive someone. The feedback from our students and adult leaders was very positive. In the future, we would probably make two stations for chain cutting to move the lesson along, but we will definitely do this again.
Keith Anderson is a pastor at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church in Ambler, PA and is the Associate for Digital Content for Lifelong Learning at Virginia Theological Seminary.