I was heartened to see a changed message in the most recent release of the movie "Cinderella." Like every version of this classic story, there comes the moment when the newly married, crowned princess, Cinderella, has to decide her attitude and actions toward her evil stepmother and stepsisters. In past versions, the treatment of the villains has varied from being banished, to being imprisoned, to being sentenced to a lifetime of servitude. In the newest version, however, there is a dramatic moment when Cinderella looks at her abusive stepmother, pauses, and with moral courage, kindly declares, “I forgive you.”
“I forgive you.” There is powerful healing in these three words. It blesses both the giver and the recipient. It relieves the regret, calms the desire for revenge, and even dissolves self-hatred. It cleans the slate and gives the relationship a fresh start.
While founding this newspaper and The First Church of Christ, Scientist, Mary Baker Eddy encountered much unkindness, even malice and hatred, from others. Yet, she wrote out from strength, “The Christian Scientist cherishes no resentment; he knows that that would harm him more than all the malice of his foes. Brethren, even as Jesus forgave, forgive thou” (“Message to The Mother Church for 1902,” p. 19).
Jesus often spoke of the value of forgiveness. When teaching his followers how to pray in his Lord’s Prayer he included, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). In the Sermon on the Mount, he instructed, “Bless them that curse you” (Matthew 5:44). He even prayed for those who crucified him. But how could he forgive such an atrocity?
A closer look at his prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), may be the key to forgiveness. Jesus referred to the evil actions of others as ignorance – “they know not.” His life’s ministry included teaching that God is divine Love, and that each of us is the offspring, the reflection, of this Love. Love’s child is not an evil mortal but an innocent, blameless immortal idea. Fundamentally, then, it would be ignorance of these grand spiritual facts that would underlie not only the evil actions of others but our willful reluctance to forgive them. Forgiving a person does not require us to love the evil act. It does, however, require us to separate the ignorant action from the individual and see him as God’s child – a child of divine Love.
Forgiveness is a normal and natural function for us, and this becomes more apparent as we understand that we are truly divine Love’s expression. After praying to understand this about myself as well as others, I committed to making “I forgive you” an instinctual response in my own thought. A couple of days later, I was driving with a friend when a young woman rear-ended my car. As I got out of my car, I silently declared to myself, “I forgive you,” and I prayed to see her as Love’s pure reflection. She quickly apologized and admitted that she was at fault. I thanked her for her integrity. There was no angst and no tension.
To feel absolutely no condemnation was healing progress for me. I have been the grateful beneficiary of forgiveness when I have made obvious mistakes through the years, and on this rainy day, I was able to reciprocate. In that moment, there was a feeling of mutual respect, warmth, and even a shared kinship between this woman and me.
I was also free from any sense of victimization or self-pity for having to go through the hassle of repairing my car. It was virtually effortless, and an added benefit was that when the bumper was replaced, the body shop offered to buff out a side door ding.
Imbued with a depth of spiritual understanding, my prayer showed that the message of forgiveness goes beyond fairy tales. It also goes beyond our own individual needs. Christ Jesus’ powerful lesson on forgiveness offers a way forward not only for individuals, but also for communities and even nations, during times when there often seems to be much to forgive. We can all learn that forgiveness is a natural part of our character as divine Love’s expression, and can become a natural part of what we do.