Over the next few months, I’ll be contributing two reflections each month to a new-to-me online community called Life for Leaders. Life for Leaders is an online project of the Max De Pree Center for Leaders and Fuller Theological Seminary. I’m honored to have been invited to write for this publication which is led by Dr. Mark Roberts. Once each month in this space, I’ll share links to my reflections over at Life for Leaders. Today, I’m sharing the first reflection in full, with a link at the end to the companion post at Life for Leaders. Once you click through, be sure to subscribe to this thoughtful community for daily devotionals that focus on “engaging Christians in the marketplace so they may flourish in life and leadership.”
In 1994, the country of Rwanda experienced an upheaval from which they, and many of us, are still reeling. Beginning on April 7 of that year, and lasting for approximately one hundred days, the Hutu population rose up and slaughtered one million members of the Tutsi population. In many cases the murderers and victims had been friends and neighbors. Their children had attended school together, learning in the same classrooms and playing on the same playgrounds.
Tensions had been building between the two groups for decades. In some of the years leading up this horrific genocide, there had been conflicts and seasons of violence. But, nothing compared to the atrocities committed over the course of those one hundred days in 1994. Incited by the government and spurred on by what can only be described as the evil of crowd mentality pushed horribly and irreversibly beyond the brink, ordinary Hutu citizens armed themselves with machetes, swords, and makeshift clubs. They hunted down their Tutsi neighbors and former friends, and beat and hacked them to death, torturing them in the streets, burning down their homes, and mercilessly murdering their children — those born and unborn.
Immaculèe Ilibagiza, along with seven other women, survived the massacre by hiding in a small bathroom in the home of a Hutu minister. They lived there for ninety-one long days and nights of terror, fear, and grave uncertainty. Ilibagiza tells her story in the book, “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.” Of her six family members, only Immaculèe and her brother — a student in Senegal at the time of the genocide — survived.
It would be easy to choose sides, here. It would be easy to let our hearts become hardened and to label the Hutus “evil” in this story. But that is exactly how hatred begins. Setting up walls and drawing lines of division is an invitation to the influence of the next kind of evil, and then the next, and then the next.
Not long after Immaculèe was rescued and the genocide had ended, Immaculèe went to the prison to meet with the man who led the gang that killed her mother and her brother. While the Tutsi guard watched, the Hutu prisoner could not raise his eyes to meet those of his victims’ daughter and sister. The Hutu prisoner’s name was Felicien, and this is what Immaculèe writes of their encounter:
“Felicien was sobbing. I could feel his shame. He looked up at me for only a moment, but our eyes met. I reached out, touched his hands lightly, and quietly said what I’d come to say. ‘I forgive you.’”
After suffering so much grief and loss, it’s hard to believe this encounter. This was no cheap or quick forgiveness. A reading of Immaculèe’s story tells of her long journey to the grace of forgiveness. It is the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:44, in which he instructs, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
This way that Jesus teaches us to live feels backwards and illogical. But, he was serious. He didn’t say, “If you want to give this a try, maybe it will help to love your enemies and pray for the people who make your life difficult.” There is no way around the direction Jesus calls us to take. Love is the way of the cross and it is the pathway to hope, healing, and redemption. As Immaculèe writes, “The love of a single heart can make a world of difference.”
Some questions for you: When are you tempted to choose anger over love? What do you think of Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? How does this command apply to your life today?
Read the companion post at Life for Leaders: The First Step Toward Forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not a suggestion, you are right.
I have needed to learn how to forgive over and over. It a lifelong process, because there are always new situations that pop up. The most dangerous thing is believing we’ve finally arrived at a place where there’s nothing more to learn.
I have needed to extend a lot of grace and it is only through God’s grace that I have been able to do it. It is not a work of my own.
Forgiveness does not always look like what we think it will. A lot of the time we think if we forgive, it means everything goes back to how it was before. Not true. There may be a need for new boundaries in the relationship. That’s okay.
In recent years, I’ve needed to learn again how to forgive and I’ve needed to forgive myself. I am still waiting for someone else to forgive or at least be willing to, but I know some healing needs to occur first and I need to give healing all the time it needs and not expect others to move according to my time schedule. When God is in a thing, I trust timing and outcomes to Him, but I need to remind myself of that regularly.
Marilyn, I really like what you said about forgiveness not necessarily meaning everything goes back to normal and also mentioning the need for boundaries. This is where we are. The most helpful thing (to me) that I’ve read on this subject is a column by a local sportswriter: http://www.wacotrib.com/sports/baylor/mens_basketball/brice-cherry-should-forgiveness-also-include-a-second-chance-for/article_a31fdc35-6f58-57f7-9cac-94a8c0f01c0f.html
Yes… this truth has been the means Jesus has used to set me free to live and love since I was fifteen. I believe choosing to forgive is key to walking in the fullness of God’s love here on earth.
So often, it is easy to become angry when someone hurts you or your family over and over again. Prayer is the key to forgiveness. I am working on forgiving a certain person and this is a hard journey to forgiveness. I will succeed with God’s help. 🙂
Indeed, “This was no cheap or quick forgiveness.” Forgiveness like this can only be accomplished with the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.
Dolly @ Soulstops.com
hushed at this story…I just got Martin Luther King, Jr’s Strength to Love….to read…the title alone…
Your post gave me a deeper insight into Christ’s command to forgive and love our enemies. We should pray for them because hurting others hurts us, too. It pains our conscience, it causes spiritual unrest; we should pray for the offending party because we know they’re going to face turmoil for their actions, and we are called to be compassionate for the suffering of others. We can pray and forgive even without their repentance because we remember the pain of being lost ourselves. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of these difficult subjects.
I’ve learned that forgiveness can be a long walk through anger. Anger can be so big or chronic it can take years to walk through. I learned that you can say ouch and/or confront someone and still be forgiving. (In the tradition I grew up in, the standing up to the injustice got confused with revenge.) Learning that forgiveness has to do with not wanting the other to suffer like you was very freeing. Charles Stanley’s book on Forgiveness was very helpful and healing.
This is so powerful. I read her story of telling the man that killed her family, of her forgiveness, and tend to put myself there with ‘yes, that’s what I would do’ I think I read or heard somewhere about how we always see ourselves in the shoes of the hero or the ‘good’ one. But in my own life I can immediately think of a trivial thing that I am holding onto and not wanting to give forgiveness for. May Jesus change our hearts so powerfully as he worked in Immaculèe’s.