I am nowhere near perfect in this area, but since kindness tends to be my default, it floors me when people ten, fifteen, or even twenty years after the fact thank me for being nice to them back in school. Some have even said that I was the only person who reached out to them. Can that be right? If so, that is tragic.
Here's an example: My mom, after being a single parent for fifteen plus years, remarried a wonderful man. This man had two children who happened to attend the same Christian school that I had, and while I remember them, I don't remember interacting with them. Maybe because they were younger than me? I don't know. At any rate, I was chatting with my step-sister on one of my visits up north, and she told me that we had been in the same Chemistry class back in high school. Really? I have NO recollection of this. Anyway, she said that I stuck up for her when kids in the class were being mean, and that she's never forgotten it.
I find this astonishing for so many reasons. Not only do I have no memory of being her advocate, but I don't even remember being in the same class. And yet, I apparently did something that had a profoundly positive impact on her. Can you imagine if I'd been one of those kids who'd been mean to her, and then years later ended up being a part of her family?! Yikes.
Sadly, there was a time that I wasn't only mean to someone, but down right cruel. I was a senior at the time, and dating someone who chose to cheat on me with an underclassman. As would be expected of a teenager, I found solace in my girlfriends, who were more than ready to commiserate with me. So much so, that they hatched a plan to teach the girl a lesson. I listened as they plotted to grab her at lunch, carry her to the Senior Lawn, and shove a burrito in her face.
Oh my goodness. I feel sick to my stomach just typing that last paragraph, because that's exactly what they did ON MY BEHALF. The idea wasn't mine, and the act wasn't carried out by me, but did I say anything to stop my friends from doing it? No. I just watched them do their best to show support and loyalty to me, by humiliating someone else.
Oh for a DO-OVER.
Fast forward maybe five years, and this awful scene is still haunting me. I knew that the only way I would ever get some inner peace would be to apologize to her, but how? I no longer lived where I grew up and went to school, and the Internet was still developing so Google wasn't a thing. I think I may have called Information (4-1-1, remember that?) Whatever the case, I got her last known address, and wrote a heartfelt letter apologizing for not saying something all those years ago to keep that terrible act from being carried out. I told her that I didn't expect her to forgive me, but that if she could find it in her heart to do so, I would be forever grateful. I mailed the letter and waited. In the days ahead, I couldn't help but notice how much lighter my heart felt. It's amazing how freeing an apology can be. I knew I didn't deserve a reply or forgiveness, but that was okay. I did what I needed to do, and any response from her would just be icing on the cake.
Well, I did get a reply and a thick layer of icing to boot! She was beyond gracious, thanking me for my letter and saying that I must have grown into a godly woman to have sent such an apology. She excused the cruel behavior as kids just being kids, but thanked me for my letter and ended it with forgiveness and well wishes. WOW.
The sweet smell of forgiveness.
There's nothing else like it. Especially when you don't deserve it.
Note: I've wanted to share this story many times, but kept having second thoughts. Thoughts like why share it at all? What purpose would it serve? I finally decided that if by posting it, you are encouraged to apologize or ask forgiveness for something, then that's a good thing, right? And on the flip side, if you have been hurt or wronged by another, and are asked by that person to forgive them ... please extend forgiveness. It will not only bring healing to them, but to you as well.