I vividly recall an incident that took place when I was in college. I am an extroverted person and so had many friends in college. I was in my second year and had one more year to go. There were about seven of us in our group of friends and we were quite close because we were not only in the same college as friends we were also part of the same ministry team.
Halfway through my second year I got into a huge spat with one of my teammates. My attitude was so bad that I moved out from that group, upset and sad that no one would support me. For many months I avoided her. I refused to go eat lunch with the "gang" and I went to college late and returned home early refusing to hang out with the them. All along I thought of myself as the victim. All along I kept questioning,"How could she do this to me? Why would she do this to me?" And all along something kept hardening in the core of my being.
Now I grew up in a missionary family where church was compulsory, Bible reading and family prayer were also not optional. But even miss goody-two-shoes, yours truly, had major issues with forgiveness. Yes during those months I went to church regularly and read my bible and prayed everyday but I had hardened my heart so much that the Word of God bounced off my head and slid down my heart with zero impact.
Right through those months my good friends tried to counsel me. My mentors spoke to me about forgiveness, but the more anyone tried the more hardened I became. I could not forgive, I would not forgive, for you see the scar was deep and the wound was raw. I held on to that grudge for dear life. Bitterness had its claws stuck in every crevice of my heart.
Finally at the end of 2001 we went to church on December 31st for the watch night service. I remember sitting in our traditional CSI church and praying about this incident that had taken hold of my life. During the service we usually say the Lord's Prayer and I have said it a million times from childhood but somehow as I sat there in my church and many around me were saying it from memory, like a ritual , I could not participate in it. I could not bring myself to say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
At that point I broke down and cried, I begged God to forgive me and help me forgive my friend. I remember crying as the church bell chimed twelve times to ring in the new year, I remember crying feeling so free, as a warmth spread through my heart.
And so when college reopened on January 4th I sought out my old friend. We were both on our way to English class. It was like a still from a movie, we were facing each other and there was no one else on that cement path. My other friends stood by the side in shocked silence to see what I would do, I had avoided every gesture in which she had tried to reach out to me, I had avoided every counsel that they had given me, I had avoided the very sight of her for so long.
Yet here I stood larger than life right in front of her. I stretched out my hand and gave her my biggest smile and said, "Happy New Year!" At that instant she looked into my eyes and smiled and held my hand in a warm grasp and at that instant I knew that forgiveness was given and accepted. Nothing more was said, nothing more had to be said, forgiveness was complete.
As I think back on this incident now, I realise that forgiveness is a choice. It is not easy to let go of that hurt or bitterness that has taken a hold of your very being. But you can choose forgiveness over bitterness. You might think that in forgiving you somehow lose the power you possess over the other person. But on the contrary, forgiveness is itself, more powerful than holding a grudge.
Even as you read this article and have been struggling with forgiveness may I encourage you to listen to the Spirit's promoting. Is there someone you need to forgive? A friend or spouse? Your parents or your child?
Pray and ask God to help because it is definitely not something that you do on your own. Talk to your mentor, or a person who is spiritually mature, who can encourage you in the right way. And lastly make an effort to approach the person who has grieved you. As I close, I am reminded of this verse:
"Love keeps no record of wrong. " - 1 Corinthians 13:5
May His love, Christ's perfect love, empower you today to choose forgiveness and freedom over bitterness.
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