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.
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.
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!”