“To refuse to forgive is like swallowing poison and then sitting down to wait for your enemy to die.” – Desmond Tutu
Coming from a prominent leader in South Africa, this quote is particularly meaningful. Archbishop Tutu, along with his friend and compatriot Nelson Mandela, are both known for constantly preaching forgiveness in a desperately divided and bitter nation. Mandela, South Africa’s President from 1994 to 1999, spent 27 years in prison, 18 of those doing hard labor. Mandela presided over the transition from minority rule and apartheid, winning international respect for his advocacy of national and international reconciliation.
Forgiving and forgetting quickly is a very noticeable trait of children. Even if they argue and fight, they become friends again within a few minutes. They might be shouting at each other one minute, then holding hands in play the next! Wrongs are not remembered.
Forgiving those who have hurt us is one of the disciplines that we need to practice regularly. Maybe I cleaned off my slate of those who I was holding a grudge against last year. Even so, I probably need to do it again. Life happens. We very easily collect hurts and wounds. But if we allow the wounds to fester, they become a dangerous poison in our own lives.
Forgiving someone who has hurt us does not mean denying that we were hurt. It does not mean denying that another person was wrong, or cruel, or evil. But to forgive is to remove the power of that wrong in our own lives.
Over years of interacting with people, I have noticed that the main hindrance to forgiveness is usually the feeling that the other person does not “deserve” to be forgiven. And often it is true. But more importantly, I (you) do not deserve to keep suffering from the wrongs committed against us! Yes unforgiveness is ‘poison’ in our souls.
Jesus forgave. Children forgive. I hope that we can, too.