Forgive, but never forget is what I grew up with. That’s what lots of us are taught about forgiveness, if we’re taught at all. Forgiveness is not a popular message. It’s hard. It seemingly strips us of our rights. It requires a mindset that few possess. It is, however, essential if we want to be happy.
Here’s a powerful story to illustrate.
Years ago, there were some Christian missionaries who were working with some natives in Asia. The missionary’s task, of course, is to spread the Good News. Well, they did this, and the natives did find God and were overjoyed. However, there were some problems.
The missionaries treated the natives like second class citizens. They wouldn’t let them borrow tools, or let them on their property, and generally made them feel they were less than. Why they did this (perhaps fear, prejudice, experience) is a story for another day. It certainly wasn’t living the Good News they were supposed to be spreading.
In more recent years, a different missionary was trying to team up with these, now seasoned, Christian natives. From the time he got off the plane, he could sense their hostility toward him. At a workshop he could see he wasn’t getting anywhere in trying to grow a partnership. Rather than continue, he stopped and spoke to his guide.
His guide told him that they were angry, resentful, and conflicted. That the people who brought them to God would then treat them so poorly was more than they could handle. They hurt inside, badly.
What the heck was the new missionary going to do?
He could have come up with a variety of reasons and excuses for the behavior of the previous missionaries – it ain’t easy you know! He could have prayed for them reverently and fervently. He could have read bible passage after bible passage on forgiveness. He didn’t.
Instead, he asked his guide to call them all together. He then instructed the natives to use him as a scapegoat – to pour out their anger and resentment on him. There were about 25 grown men.
Awkwardly and slowly, each native told his painful story (feeling excluded, unloved, unwanted, not smart) – all by the very people that “saved” them. The missionary leaned in closely to his guide who was translating their words and sorrow in real time.
After the men had spoken, the missionary didn’t quite know what to do – he hadn’t thought that far ahead. Before he knew it, he got down on his knees. He looked at them and asked one question, again acting as the proxy for the previous missionaries: Can you forgive me?
There are only two answers to a request for forgiveness – yes or no.
There was a stunned silence. In the next moment, the 25 men did what can only be described as a moan/groan/release when they said yes. One-by-one they stood up and put their hands on the missionary who by this time was down on his hands and knees. They all pressed into him releasing their anger, resentment, and hostility.
Moments later they were crying and praying. Then came songs of praise. Hugs, laughter, and peace followed.
This is a true story. It happened only 6 years ago. I heard it for the first time last night.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson