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A Challenging Virtue

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Authored by Steve Hearts
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Forgiveness is undoubtedly challenging, yet it’s a fundamental facet of Christian living. Jesus not only taught much about this important virtue, He was also a living example of it. In Luke 9:51–56, Jesus is not welcome in a Samaritan village because He’s on His way to Jerusalem. The disciples are so mad at the villagers that they offer to call down fire from heaven to burn them, as Elijah did.1 Jesus reminds them that He did not come to destroy lives, but to save them. He also shows mercy and forgiveness to those who otherwise would have been punished, such as the woman from John 8:3–11, who had been caught in the act of adultery. Not least among such examples is the famous prayer Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”2

I want to tell you a few stories from my own forgiveness journey. I haven’t yet reached the end of this journey, and I will most likely travel its path until the end of my days. I’m rather sensitive by nature, and I must confess that the tendency to harbor resentment comes very easily for me. But recently, the Lord has given me excellent “ammunition” with which to effectively combat this problem. When I’m tempted to hold a grudge over things that others have said or done that offend me, I often reflect on the times I’ve needed forgiveness from others for having offended them.

When I was 11, I punched a classmate in the eye over a comment she made. I halfheartedly apologized to her, mainly wanting to appease my dad, who had seen the whole thing and corrected me. Inwardly, I felt the punch had served her right. Only once we’d both gone our separate ways did I own up to having reacted rashly.

A few years ago, without expecting it, I ran into this same girl and was nervous about how she might react to seeing me again. But she happily greeted me, as if nothing had ever happened between us. After a moment of catching up, I mustered the courage to give her the heartfelt apology I knew I owed her. It turned out she didn’t even remember my having punched her in the eye. Today we remain good friends—and I’m eternally grateful for her forgiveness and ability to forget what I had done.

It hasn’t been so easy when it’s been my turn to do the forgiving. When my mother passed away, I wanted to escape all reminders of her, so I gradually ceased all contact with relatives on her side of the family. I felt especially resentful toward one of my aunts who, only the day after my mother’s funeral, asked my dad for what seemed to be self-centered help. I couldn’t believe she would consider using this painful situation to her advantage. So much so that when I saw her at a family reunion a few years after and she asked me to stay in touch, I threw her information away.

When the Lord started changing my overall attitude toward my mother’s death, I renewed contact with my relatives—all except that aunt. I felt rather justified in this when I’d heard she’d had some disagreements with some other of my relatives. Why bother? I thought. But the more I entertained this attitude, the more uneasy I felt. I could hear my own mother’s voice in my heart repeatedly whisper, “Forgive her. Forgive her.” Unable to withstand this growing conviction, I finally called her. She was happy to hear from me, and to this day, we have regular and good contact. Best of all, I have the satisfaction of being grudge-free and knowing I did the right thing in choosing to forgive my aunt with the Lord’s help.

A drama story I heard as a boy tells of a farmer and his wife who sold their farm as they wanted to buy a new one. They are shown a run-down and neglected, yet good farm. Upon asking neighbors why no one lives there, they are told that it’s because of an ornery man named Grimes who plays dirty tricks on anyone who has tried to live on this property. One neighbor went as far as to call him “the devil incarnate.”

The farmer, to the surprise of his wife and neighbors, says with determination, “I think I’ll buy that farm. And if old Grimes tries to pull any of his shenanigans on me, I’ll kill that old devil.” When asked what on earth he meant by this remark, he simply says, “I have ways and means for handling a man like that.”

True to his word, the man and his wife buy the farm and move in. The trouble begins almost immediately. They wake up one morning to find their water supply cut off. They discover that this is due to their water pipe being dug up. Another day, when the farmer goes out to the barn to milk the cows, he finds them gone, and the fence to the field where they graze is cut.

The following days, the clothesline is cut and their dog gets poisoned. There is no question in the minds of the farmer and his wife as to the perpetrator of these deeds. But instead of giving in to anger, they study Jesus’ advice on love and forgiveness, and pray for the ability to put it into action. They decide to bake bread and leave it on Grimes’ porch, along with other food items. They also pray for an opportunity to meet the man and talk to him about the Lord.

One day, the farmer sees the infamous Grimes driving by on his way into town. His car gets stuck in some mud, and the farmer helps to free it. Grimes then expresses his frustration over the fact that every time he does something mean to the farmer and his wife, they do something good for him. “You’re killing me,” he says. “And I can’t stand it any longer.”

The farmer shakes Grimes’ hand and invites him to come to the house and meet his wife. She, overjoyed at the answer to their prayer, immediately invites Grimes to sit down and have something hot to drink. Grimes then tells them of having cursed God over the death of his wife and baby son, caused by a drunken driver. He asks if God could possibly care about “an ornery old cuss” like him. The farmer and his wife tell him of Jesus’ power to heal and forgive. Grimes apologizes for all the mean things he’s done to the farmer and his wife and accepts Jesus into his heart.

Now it became clear what the farmer had meant when he vowed to “kill that old devil.” Grimes’s former attitude, which had been controlled by the devil, had indeed been killed by love.

The story is told of a special-duty nurse who is called upon to care for a man who was responsible for the wrongful imprisonment of her father years before. She is reluctant to take the case—but does so knowing that her father, who’d been a minister, would want her to have a forgiving heart. In spite of the man’s grumpy disposition, the nurse exhibits a kind, patient attitude—and eventually has the opportunity to share her faith in God with him. In the end, so won over by her love and kindness, he finances a new addition to the hospital and names it after the nurse’s father.

Realizing that there are people in this world who have been hurt far deeper than I’ve ever been, yet who learned to forgive and overcome their hurt, motivates me to faithfully pursue this virtue for myself. As challenging a virtue as forgiveness may be, once it’s obtained and exercised, there is nothing more liberating and transforming.

1 2 Kings chapter 1
2 Luke 23:34 KJV

Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2014 by The Family International

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