“But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” –Matt. 6:15 (NIV)
I don’t remember how old I was when I finally exceeded 100 pounds on the scale, but I do remember that I weighed into my senior year in high school at only 111 pounds. To state the obvious, I was a scrawny kid growing up. This made me prime victim material for bullies in elementary school, one of whom was Danny. We were both in the 8th grade.
I’m not sure what Danny wanted to prove, but evidently he needed to prove it at the expense of the smallest kid in the class. Every day I managed to cross him in some significant way: my shadow fell on him, I raised my eyes from the ground accidentally meeting his, and so on. These crimes gave Danny all the reason he needed to challenge me to fight. For reasons that were obvious to everyone except Danny, I wasn’t interested. He tried to provoke me by calling me names, shoving me, and hitting me in the shoulders. I lived in terror of Danny.
Although I was skinny as a reed, I must have had a little hidden wiriness, because even though I didn’t fancy myself a fist-fighter, I held my own in wrestling matches. At evening Pathfinder meetings (a Boy Scout-style club) before the program got started, we would pull out the gymnastics mats and tag team wrestle.
Once, unfortunately for me, Danny not only showed up for a club meeting, but he was also chosen for the opposite wrestling team, which meant that I might wind up in the ring with him. We lined up on opposite sides of the mat and the first two wrestlers began their scuffle. The lines moved as new wrestlers were tagged and the tired wrestlers moved to the rear of the line. The rules were simple. No hitting or other such non-wrestling actions, and you won by making your opponent whimper, “I give!”
I watched Danny carefully as both of us inched toward the front of our lines. My heart rate increased the more it appeared my fears would come true. Finally, we were both next in line to enter the ring. Imagine my relief when Danny was tagged by his teammate while Ted, the biggest kid in the class and my friend, was still in the ring. At least I thought he was my friend.
When Ted saw who had been tagged he smirked and he reached out and tagged me into the ring. My jaw dropped in disbelief. Ted knew my issues with Danny, but he just whispered, “You can take him!” I didn’t have a choice with so many spectators, so I stepped onto the mats. Everyone knew this was going to be an interesting match given the history of the contestants.
Rather than describe the wrestling match itself, suffice it to that say that Danny said the magic words, “I give.” Everyone cheered and I jumped up triumphant. Our wresting tournaments were always conducted in good sportsman-like fashion, so I turned to shake Danny’s hand as I was supposed to do. But as I turned I met his fist full in my left eye. Blood spurted onto the mat. I was so shocked that I just stared at Danny as he screamed at me to fight him for real. I finally turned on my heel and walked to the bathroom to inspect my eye. Pretty noble of me, right? Unfortunately, that’s where my nobility ended.
Anger replaced shock as I dabbed at my eye with a wet paper towel. When I exited the bathroom Danny met me and did something for which I still admire him. In front of everyone he sincerely apologized to me. Unfortunately, I was so angry that I did not respond in kind. I faked an angry lunge at him and immediately he reverted to a fighting stance and challenged me yet again. Then I walked away. This time I had proven something, I thought smugly. I don’t believe I consciously remembered Matthew 6:15, but subconsciously I was plagued by guilt that someone had asked my forgiveness and I had withheld it. Graciously accepting his apology in the first place would have been so much easier than what I now had to do. I had to go and apologize to him. How would he react to my apology after how I had reacted to his? Thankfully, he accepted it graciously and we even became friends.
“But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
–Matthew 6:15 (NIV)