I thought I'd never forget that day. My English teacher accused a group of students of cheating - and I was one of them. I was sad and afraid - and angry! Our teacher had no proof. And I was a good student, a student she knew. In fact, all of us were. It was a class of kids who were especially good at English. None of us even had a reason to cheat.
But my teacher didn't seem to care. No matter how many times we protested or argued - or our parents did - she stood firm. She just seemed like a big bully.
This happened near the end of the year, and it made things go from bad to worse. I had never really liked this teacher, though I'd made some effort to find something good about her. The truth was, I didn't like not liking her. But after she called us "cheaters," I stopped trying to find anything good. It seemed OK not to like her after what she did. Why should I forgive her?
I guess I thought that, over time, I'd just become less angry, and then forget about what had happened. But I didn't. A year, even five years later, it still made me mad when I thought about what she'd done. It seemed too hard to forgive.
For a few more years, I ignored this growing feeling that I needed to forgive my teacher. But one day, I knew I couldn't hold onto my anger any longer.
What I needed, I thought, was a good example of forgiveness, and so I decided to read about Jesus in the Bible. What had always amazed me when I'd read the part about Jesus' crucifixion was that he prayed for the people who wanted to kill him. This was his prayer: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
I loved how Jesus had prayed a prayer of forgiveness right when it was probably hardest to forgive. But I wasn't sure if I could do the same thing. So I asked God: "What did Jesus know that enabled him to pray that way?" And here was the answer I got from God: "He knew that nothing those people did could change the way I made him."
I knew this answer was asking me to think about what makes us who we are as God's children. It's the qualities we express. Jesus, for instance, expressed a whole lot of good qualities. He was loving, wise, strong, kind, and fearless - just to name a few. This explains what you could call Jesus' spiritual identity. And Jesus knew that no one could touch or change or hurt that.
So then I had to ask myself: "Can anything your teacher thought or said about you change the fact that you're honest?" No, I realized, it couldn't. But somehow, that thought seemed empty. I was still mad about what had happened.
Then I had another thought from God, and this time, it was a question for me. God asked: "Why can't anything hurt your honesty - or any other quality for that matter?"
I realized I'd been thinking about honesty - and every other quality I expressed - as belonging to me. "But," I thought, "all these qualities such as beauty and goodness and the ability to be truthful actually come from God. In being honest, I'm actually expressing God, who is Truth itself. It's because these qualities come from God that they can't be changed or touched, no matter what happens."
Seeing these qualities as God's qualities changed the way I'd been thinking about the whole situation. I almost laughed when I thought of someone trying to change God. There was no one in the world who was powerful enough to do that, I realized.
This thought changed me, and suddenly, all my anger melted away. I knew, for the first time, that what my teacher did had never ever touched what was true about me. I could forgive her.
Forgiveness isn't easy. But the good news is that you can forgive. God will help you. He'll show you that He keeps you just the way He made you - safe from what other people think and say and do. Then, through His love, you'll find a way to forgive. Just as I did.
Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving
one another, even as God
for Christ's sake
hath forgiven you.