A young man sat, angry and alone, in a prison cell. The heavy door opened. An old priest entered the dank cubicle. Without ceremony, he greeted the prisoner with these words, “What did you do?”
“The police say I killed a man,” the young man replied.
“Was it premeditated?”
The priest listened patiently to the inmate’s brief account of having been convicted of murdering a member of France’s underworld. He explained how he had been sentenced to a life of hard labor. The kind priest was perplexed at the severity of the punishment.
“Do you want me to pray for you?” inquired the cleric.
“Father, Forgive me, but I never had religious instruction. I don’t know how to pray.”
The priest comforted the convict, “It makes no difference, my child. I’ll pray for you. The Lord loves all His children, baptized or not.”
The old man knelt on the cold, hard stones of the prison’s floor. The young man joined him. The priest prayed, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” The inmate wept.
The priest caught his tears in his cupped hand and touched them to his lips. He said, “forgive those who made you suffer.” His statement was both a prayer to God and instruction to the prisoner at the same time.
The convict leapt up, stood in the middle of the cell, and exploded, “Oh no. I’ll never forgive. I spend all day, all night, every hour, every minute plotting how and when I’ll kill the people who sent me here.”
Gently, the priest responded, “That’s what you think and say now, my son. You’re young, very young. When you’re older, you’ll give up the idea of punishment and revenge.”
Over thirty years later, that’s exactly what the inmate did. He forgave. (The preceding story was adapted from Papillon, Henri Charriere.) Christians pray, “Forgive us our trespasses (debts) as we forgive those who trespass against us (debtors).” I would venture to say that most of us in our prayers emphasize the first phrase over the second. We are more interested in receiving forgiveness than extending it to others.
Grudges are prisons in which we incarcerate our own souls. As we feed our resentments, our souls languish. In time, our souls starve and die. On the other hand, when we forgive, we are freed to live with grace.
Consider Christ on the cross. As He was tormented and tortured, He prayed, “Father, forgive them…” That’s grace.
If you are tormented by someone, pray for that person every day for two weeks. At the end of that time, I would bet (if I was a gambling man) that your grudge will have vanished. If it doesn’t, pray another two weeks. I’ve never known anyone who needed the entire twenty- eight days. It works. That’s grace – grace for the object of your resentment and for you.
Those who live in the Kingdom of God are those who are willing to forgive.
Christians are forgiven and forgiving.