“Jack!” my usually loving and soft spoken wife growled at me, “You are so bitter and so harsh, you can’t even control what you are saying and who you are saying it to.” She followed up this judgement by recommending that I quieten down and go to sit by the creek behind the house to meditate, think and pray.
She was right, as she often is, so I walked down the path from our mud-walled house in the Canela village to the small creek, thinking back over the past year. We, along with all other linguistic and educational teams working with Brazil’s indigenous people, had been under increasing pressure from the new leftist government. Numerous attacks on us “culture destroying missionaries” and “emissaries of multinational corporations” accused us of everything from being spies to exploiting the indigenous peoples for our own profit.
Since none of these accusations were even remotely true of us, we had prayed consistently that the unreasonable demands on our time would cease and the blockages and obstructions to the work would be lifted. Instead things got worse. I had not been reacting well.
I sat down on the log dock and thought of the names of individuals who were declared enemies and others who had hurt me. The Holy Spirit was quick to bring to mind ten people and situations that I deeply resented. I wrote them down in the notebook I always carried, while He reminded me that I was to forgive each one on the list and love them instead.
It took a long time. But I eventually did it. I underlined the first name and said aloud, “I, Jack Popjes, hereby forgive you . . . . . for . . . .” I said the name and the offence. Then I tore the name off the list and, further tearing it into small bits, I dropped them into the creek repeating, “I forgive you, I love you,” as the pieces floated down stream.
I then processed the second name in the same way, then the third. As I said, it took a long time. At the end, I prayed and thanked the Holy Spirit for bringing these people to my mind and helping me to forgive them. I walked back to the house, found Jo praying for me, and told her what I had done. I hugged her and whispered my thanks and sat down at my study table finally able to concentrate on work again. I had forgiven, but I didn’t think I would ever forget.
I was wrong.
A few weeks later, back on the mission centre, I told our colleagues at a prayer meeting what I had done to forgive. As I told the story, it dawned on me that of the ten names on my list I could only think of two. I had forgiven, committed myself to forget and God, who knows how to forget our sins, helped me to forget.
Decades later I came across a quote by Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, who, when someone reminded her of an earlier vicious verbal attack by an opponent, said, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
I know what she meant. I distinctly remember that forgiving-and-forgetting incident so clearly that I was able to tell you about it just now.
Jesus was very serious about our need to forgive, not only because we have been forgiven, but because God won’t forgive us our sins against Him, unless we forgive those who sinned against us.
What a relief forgiving brings! The air is fresher, the sun shines brighter, and the emotional load is lighter.