Forgiveness is unlocking the door
to set someone free and then
realizing that you were the prisoner.
What were the chances this could happen? Totally improbable, unless you realize that God has a plan and can do what seems impossible. This week a moment at school, orchestrated by God, taught me some very powerful lessons about forgiveness.
One of my students came into my class on Monday physically shaken. Tears were streaming down her face, her hands were moving back and forth, her body trembling like she had a high fever. It seemed as if she was having a panic attack, right there in class.
I knew something was very wrong. I asked if she was okay and she shook her head that she wasn't. Trying not to embarrass her I brought her outside into a private part of the hall. She still could not stop crying. I asked her to take a deep breath and slowly exhale. She did.
Then, after what seemed like an eternity, she whispered, "It's him."
I didn't know who "him" was, but I didn't need to know. Whoever it was she had seen, it had brought back horrible memories.
After minutes of keeping my arm around her and encouraging her to breathe, she started to get the words out. While it is her story to tell, and not mine, the lesson is one I can share. Long story short, some years back someone had broken into her home. She had come across the intruder as the person was taking her son's money. She looked the person in the face, and it was a face she would never forget.
She called the authorities, got a picture of the get away vehicle and the individual was arrested. They were sent to jail. The
entire time they were in there, my student felt safe. But now that they were out, she didn't feel safe any longer.
She had put her fear on hold, and then saw the person at school. Right there and it had all rushed back, like torrents of water breaking a dam. The violation and fear had returned.
As she told the story I wondered, what can we do? After all, our college is open and a healing place for many who have made mistakes. She had been wronged in the worst way, but the person who had wronged her had been held accountable, paid the price, and had the right to be in school to make a new life.
Yet all of that rationality aside, when you have been violated as she was, seeing the person who wronged you brings it all back.
All of it. Years and years of hatred and fear and pain.
Gradually as I talked to her I realized I had a pickle on my hands. I wanted to help her, and I wanted to help the person who had wronged her.
How in the world could this be made right?
So I did what I always try to do in situations that seem hopelessly mired in pain, confusion and fear.
I prayed right there in that hall, while I was holding her hand. I prayed off and on all day between classes. I asked God to ease the hurt and to let forgiveness and reconciliation flow. I told the good Lord God Almighty that I couldn't "fix this," but I knew He could. Finally, after praying, my own heart rate started to settle down.
The next day she again came to class. Again tears were streaming down her face. She could not stop crying. I knew
instantly why she was upset again, and I took her back to the private place in the hall.
Slowly, through sobs, she got the story out. She had seen the person again and just couldn't walk by, pretending not to know him. She had stopped him, asked if he knew who she was, and when she told him her name... his face fell and he looked down in shame. His own tears came as quiet sobs.
He was visibly shaken as he confronted the victim of his crime, Yet instead of being angry or defensive he said, over and over again, " I am so, so sorry. I was such a mess back then. I did an awful thing to you. Please forgive me. I am so, so sorry."
And there, in that hall in the college where I have taught for over forty years, she hugged him, and he hugged her back.
She said, "I forgive you. I am proud of you for being in school and getting your life together. You can show me you mean what you say by always being in class and living your life not hurting others."
There in that hall she forgave him. There in that hall, he apologized from his heart.
Forgiveness happened right there in that hall at SCC.
Profound forgiveness. The kind of forgiveness God asks of all of us.
Forgive one another as I have forgiven you.
It was not lost on me that this profound act of forgiveness
freed him of the shame of making a huge mistake, but it also freed her of the anger and fear.
It was not lost on me that this act of forgiveness took place
during Holy Week. It took place on the week when those of us who love God and Jesus mourn that He was placed on a cross, through no sins of His own, and was crucified for my sins. Your sins.
Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.
Forgive them as they are nailing you to a cross? Forgive them after they have dug thorns into your head and mocked you and
yelled obscenities at you?
Forgive them for turning their back on you and denying that they even know you?
Yes, after all of that, He still forgave us.
Just like my student in that hall, God puts his arms around us and hugs us when we are truly sorry for what we have done.
Jesus is my absolute model for forgiveness. For making the ultimate sacrifice. For taking the sins of the world on himself
so that I might have life and have it more abundantly.
And this young lady, who forgave her intruder, put her arms around him and asked him not to do this again, she is a role model to me of living her faith.
Really living her faith.
Today is Saturday, the day before Easter, the day before a resurrection, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
This morning as I share this lesson I learned about forgiveness from my student, I realize that she was my teacher about how to really forgive.
She had been a prisoner to anger and fear, and as she forgave she unlocked the door to set the other person free. Yet in all truth, in doing that, she also became free herself. Her forgiveness was the first step in her own resurrection.
What a profound lesson in forgiveness. What a gift she gave him and what a lesson in forgiveness she taught me.
As Easter approaches, may you know in your deepest heart of hearts that God loves you, just as you are. May you know
the gift of His deep love and forgiveness.
Happy Easter, dear friends! Amen and Amen!
"If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old." ...