by Tim Patterson
PLYMOUTH, MI – In Bob Tasler’s work on restoration, he relates a story that I have heard many times and have read in various publications. It has been around for a long time and its origins are a mystery, but its message is quite apparent.
Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in their 40 years of working together. It began with a small misunderstanding, grew into a major difference, and finally exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning, there was a knock upon John's door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I'm looking for a few days' work," he said. "Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with? Yes," said the older brother. "I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my younger brother. Last week, there was a meadow between us, but he took his bulldozer and dug a small river between us. Well, I'm going to do him one better. See that pile of old lumber? I want you to build an 8-foot-high fence between us. Then I won't need to see his place or his face anymore." The carpenter said, "Show me the nails and the tools, and I'll do a good job for you."
The older brother had to go to town, so he left for the day. At sunset, when he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. The carpenter had built a bridge that stretched from one side of the river to the other, with handrails and all! And his younger brother was coming toward them, his hand outstretched. "You're quite the guy," he said, "after all I've said and done." The two brothers met in the middle and shook each other's hand. They turned to see the carpenter leaving. "No, wait! Stay a few days. I've a lot of other projects for you," said the older brother. "I'd love to," the carpenter said, "but I have many more bridges to build."
When you and I come to the end of our days, just remember this: God won't ask what kind of car we drove, but He will ask how many people we helped get to where they needed to go. He won't ask how big our house was, but He will ask how many people we welcomed into our home. God won't ask what neighborhood we lived in, but He will ask how we treated our neighbors. And He won't ask how many fences we made, but He will ask how many bridges we built.
Building bridges takes time and effort. They don’t just happen because we talk about them. Talking is a good start, but if that is all that is done it will have a bad ending. In the crazy, emotionally charged, politically divided and racially explosive day in which we live, how desperately we need to build lasting and loving bridges across the chasms that divide us. We were formed as “one nation under God” and there is only one race that matters and that is the HUMAN RACE! It’s time to stop hating and hurting one another and time to heal. But that will never happen until we learn to forgive.
Since moving to Michigan almost 6 years ago, one of the most difficult issues for me to grasp and understand is how so many in this great state of ours have such a difficult time with forgiveness. It is almost like there is some ancient code that has been written into the DNA of those who are indigenous to this state that if someone ever hurts you or offends you then you somehow have the right to hold an eternal grudge and never forgive them.
Not only do you resolve to be unforgiving to those who offend you, but if they offend or hurt any of your extended family then forgiveness is to be rightfully withheld from them as well. I even know some individuals who have the attitude that forgiveness is just not the manly thing to do. (Pride is a hard demon to deal with.)
Harboring hurt and feelings of ill will is an odious thing to do. It creates in the one who has been offended a bitter spirit that will eventually permeate and saturate every fiber of their being, and cause a hideous metamorphosis. A Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of transformation can take place. In many it will even change their physical appearance.
I personally know some individuals whose visage has been permanently marred by an unforgiving spirit and a root of bitterness. Just take a good look at some of the folks around you. There is a reason they look like they have been weaned on a pickle or baptized in lemon juice.
There is too little time and too little life left to hold on to and nurse our hurts. Yes, the hurts are real. Yes, the injustices are grievous. This does not in any way belittle or make light of what has been done. But it is long past time for us to build bridges, and restore those broken relationships. It is time to forgive.
Besides, some of us could really use a face lift and cannot afford any more facial damage. Time and age is taking enough of a toll. There is no sense in risking being hit with an ugly stick of unforgiveness.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Patterson is Executive Director/Treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Elected unanimously in May of 2015, Patterson formerly served for 9 years as pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. He also served as trustee chair and national mobilizer for the North American Mission Board.