An acquaintance of mine, Ben Madison, once told this story (names have been changed). He was at an airport waiting for a connecting flight. He noticed a man who seemed to be staring at him. He ignored it but the man kept staring. The man finally approached him and asked rather rudely if his name was Ben Madison. My friend said he was and the man angrily proceeded to tell him that he had ruined his life and his family. Ben was startled by not only the accusation, but by the man’s rage.
|"I can't believe you don't remember me or what you did to us!"|
Ben said, “Sir, I’m not certain that I know you, let alone ruined your life.” At this the man was even more angered. “My name is Dwight Ferguson. I can’t believe you don’t remember me and what you did to us!” Dwight went on to say that when Ben was the principal of a Christian school 11 years ago in another city, he had expelled Dwight’s son from the school. It hurt him and his wife deeply that their son would be expelled and he vowed never to forgiven Ben. Someday he had hoped and prayed to run into Ben and let him know the years of pain he had endured in being so embarrassed by having a son expelled and how he had hated Ben all these years.
That day had arrived and Dwight went on and on pouring his anger and pain on Ben. He was drawing quite a few stares from onlookers. Ben’s flight was finally called and he apologized to the man and quickly boarded his flight glad to be away for the man’s anger and ranting.
Ben thought and thought about this on the plane and vaguely remembered the incident that had taken place so many years ago. Ben remembered that the boy had been a problem in the school and had been given a number of chances. However the incident that required the expulsion was clearly spelled out in the student handbook and was of the type that Ben had no choice but to expel him.
Ben went on and said something that has stuck with me. He said that it really saddened him to think that for 11 years Dwight had been imprisoned by his own hatred and bitterness hoping for and wishing harm on Ben and waiting for the day that he could confront him. But every day for 11 years Ben had never thought about the incident.
That is the power of unforgiveness. It robs the person holding it. It steals joy, peace, and sleep. It eats away at our insides like an acid. Yet the person we are holding unforgiveness and bitterness towards may not even remember us or the incident. We are in prison and they are walking around free.
Ben said he was glad he always worked hard to forgive all who had ever offended or hurt him and he encouraged me to do the same. It has stuck with me. I never want to be in a self-made prison like Dwight was. But I have to work on it. Many things come my way that try to lodge in my heart and sometimes they succeed for a season. But when I realize what I am doing, I choose to work through them and avoid putting myself in a self-made prison.
It is said, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I also recently heard it said, “When you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free – yourself.” Good words to ponder.
(This post was also submitted to The Republic, Columbus Indiana's local newspaper and they recently ran it.)