“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:8-9
This was going to be the most exciting day of her life. Her big dream had finally come true. She would be joining the high school cheerleading team as a freshman, making her the youngest person on the team. She knew she was made for this. She loved to encourage other people and cheer them on, so this seemed like a natural fit. She was also excited to get to know the other girls on the squad. She could already imagine what fun they’d all have together celebrating school spirit and becoming friends.
She walked through the doors for the first practice. Instead of smiles greeting her though, it was rolling eyes and snarled lips. Was it something she was wearing? Did she forget deodorant? Oh no, it must be her red shirt! Oh gosh she didn’t even think about wearing school blue. “I bet they are so upset because they care so much about school spirit!”
But it was none of those reasons. As she walked toward the coach, she heard the whispers.
“Who does she think she is? She’s just a lowly freshman.”
“I bet she thinks she’s better than us.”
“Did you see her hair? So plain.”
“I bet those skinny legs can’t even jump off the ground.”
Why wasn’t the coach saying anything? Maybe she couldn’t hear them. How could she not? This doesn’t seem right, how could this be happening? The day she had dreamed of for years was now ruined.
That was only the beginning of a year of torture. Every game and practice was an onslaught of ridicule and put-downs. And it didn’t stop there. All day, every day, throughout the halls of school, they kept it up. It was like they were determined to ruin her life. And it was working. Why though? Why were they doing this? What did she ever do to them?
The day came when she realized two things. First, she had to forgive them. She didn’t need to say anything to them, but she needed to ask God for forgiveness for the anger and bitterness she had been harboring toward these mean girls. She thought of the incredible power of forgiveness. I John 1:9 came to mind, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” She couldn’t control what other people did, but she could change her own heart and attitude. She knew God had already forgiven her so much, couldn’t she also extend forgiveness to others?
The second thing was also important. She needed to quit the team. Even though she had forgiven them, she had to remove herself from a toxic situation. After she left the team, they still kept up the attacks, but the distance meant the attacks were fewer and farther between. She did her best to avoid them at school, though she was always kind and respectful when she did run into them. She had given up her dream of cheerleading, but it was worth it to get healthy again.
Years later, when she was a mom herself, one of the mean girls came back to her and apologized.
“I’m so sorry for how I acted.”
“It’s okay. I forgave you years ago.”
“Here’s the crazy part. I look back on that and still have no idea why I acted that way. It’s like I was a different person, like I had no control of the situation. I wanted you to know that the way you responded in kindness really inspired me and made me want to be a better person. I think about you all the time.”
People who hurt others often do so because they have been hurt by someone else. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes that shapes a person to act unkindly. You also may not know how your example of responding in kindness, not returning evil for evil, might reach someone for good.
How would you have reacted in this situation? How did she find the strength to forgive them?
Jesus, we know that you were reviled, that you endured slander, lies, accusations. Yet you forgave your enemies. Thank you for forgiving our sins, even though we still sin against you. Help us to look to you for the strength to forgive others.