I’ve always been impressed by people who can forgive. When I was a kid, it was that friend at school who didn’t get back at others when they made fun of his awkward ways and pimply face. Later on, I had to learn to forgive when my boyfriend left me for no apparent reason and without explanation. Then followed marriage, which offered endless opportunities to forgive and be forgiven. Working as part of a team has also been a good platform to practice forgiveness.
The power to forgive is part of the nature and essence of God, and when you exercise it, you rise above the limitations of your human nature.
I generally consider myself a forgiving and “nice” person, but I had an experience in my sophomore year that tested my ability to forgive. My classmate Matt and I were paired up to do a presentation about modern English literature, and Matt got on my nerves from the start.
Jesus told a story about forgiveness that pokes at my heart and conscience every time I hear it.1 It tells of a good king whose accountant brought to his attention that one of his servants owed him an enormous amount of money, something to the tune of billions of dollars if measured in today’s money. An amount so huge that there was no possible way this servant could ever repay the debt.
I discovered the power of forgiveness on a July afternoon in 1976. It was during the Idi Amin regime, when Uganda had come to a standstill—careers, the economy, the infrastructure, education, everything. I was a student at Makerere University and also newly married and expecting a baby.
For years I monitored children during recess and playground activities. Between all the running, jumping, rowdiness, and good-natured play, someone would often end up getting run into, tripped, shoved, etc.
Often the child who had caused the accidents would immediately raise his or her hands and say, “It’s not my fault” or “I didn’t do it on purpose!” But of course, establishing guilt wasn’t the immediate priority. The most important issue is the welfare of the “injured” one.
Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes,1 which spoke of blessings for the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted. He was teaching what those who were part of the kingdom of God were to be like. Then He moved on to another topic:
I was going through a tough period. People who had offended me were frequently on my mind, and I found myself almost exploding with resentment and anger.
The only thing being angry and flustered does, though, is cloud my thinking and perspective. It never solves my problem. My natural reaction is to retaliate and set things right, but in the long run, this only makes matters worse.
There’s a story of a visit Pope Leo XII made to the jail of the Papal States in 1825, which goes like this: The pope insisted on questioning each of the prisoners as to how he had come to be there. As you’d expect, every man protested his innocence—all but one, that is, who admitted that he was a forger and a thief. Turning to the jailer, the pope said sternly, “Release this scoundrel at once, before his presence corrupts all these noble gentlemen here!”
It’s my 20th year living and working in the former Yugoslavia. I also lived here earlier, right after President Tito died in 1980. His pictures were still hanging everywhere, and though the country was going through a challenging economic crisis, it seemed like nobody questioned Yugoslav unity. Having lived here both “before” and “after,” it’s still a puzzle how a succession of particularly brutal and bloody civil wars eventually led to the formation of seven different countries.