Choosing Forgiveness, Choosing Beauty

There’s always a moment in a conversation with someone where you either realise they’re really beautiful, or not that good-looking at all. I’m not talking about first impressions or the golden ratio of external beauty – I’m talking about that magnetic attraction of a kind and warm soul, like the one that Jesus had.

I especially keep an eye out for those moments when someone reveals to me that they’re also a Christian after I’ve casually dropped the fact that I go to church or that I’d pray over something they mentioned.

I don’t await the moment because I’m ready to pounce on people and judge them, but because I know that who you are on the inside will always find a way to overflow onto the outside. 

There was an older lady in my bible study group who came from Russia and lived in New Jersey, so she would actually take the 1.5 hour commute to Upper East Side in NYC just to study the Word with other ladies. I could barely wake up for the 15-20 minute walk to a 9:30am bible study.

I respected her and all that she’s worked hard to accomplish, yet I sensed that she wasn’t fully grasping the whole heart of Jesus yet. I didn’t do anything about that little inkling about her because everyone’s on their own journey and I’m not the one to judge her heart.

I couldn’t really pinpoint how I knew her heart was hardened, until the one ladies’ lunch where she was sharing her immigrant story. It was really inspiring, until she said that she loves everyone, except for one thing she hates: illegal Mexicans.

She looked at me and said ‘you and I came to America legally, so why can’t everyone else do the same?’ 

She went on an hour long rant about Mexicans, Trump and the Wall, and everything about il/legal immigration. Her ugliness spilled out of her eyes, her wrinkles, all over her face, and looking at her sent chills into my soul.

I just sat there in silence the entire time because I was so angry and shocked that a ‘Christian’ would say all these spiteful things. How could you, in your broken English with a non-American accent, talk about how other people (that you don’t know) can’t speak English properly? How could you come in every week and talk about the grace, forgiveness and righteousness of Jesus in your life through the book of Romans when you can’t extend the same for the foreigner and stranger who is your neighbour?

In hindsight, I was not only weak but worse cowardly for not speaking up. I didn’t seize my moment to educate her, to illuminate the heart that Jesus has for refugees and immigrants regardless of legal status. 

What I did instead was leave the table after her rant, and came back the next week to Bible Study with my new tote bag that said ‘No Human Being Is Illegal‘ in protest. I made sure the slogan faced her side of the circle.

All that pent-up anger over that event begun to eat into my soul. At first, the bitterness completely warped my perception of just her. After her rant, I could not see her as a loving mother, as a devoted sister-in-law and family member, as a daughter of God. All I could see was her hatred towards ‘illegal Mexicans’.

The bitterness spilled out into other areas of my life slowly but surely.

I couldn’t stop bitching about this one incident in my Bible Study instead of focusing on all the revelations and miracles that were happening through studying Romans with an amazing group of ladies. I begun to develop a tighter memory for the small human mistakes of people around me, especially those that already wronged me once or twice. I fixated more on what was going wrong, instead of what was good and lovely.

The bitterness from my cowardice also reminded me of another time I got extremely angry at someone who was once close to me. During my sophomore year at NYU, my friend said went on a prejudiced rant against refugees, how they were stealing resources and why couldn’t they just fight their own wars. I remember I said something curt, then promptly left the room and never talked to him again. He apologised the morning after, and I accepted it, but deep down I hadn’t. I just repressed the anger deep down and continued to harbour it in my soul as I went about my life.

The problem with bitterness is that if you don’t give it up, it grows and festers. 

Bitterness turns the prettiest people into the ugliest creatures that don’t reflect who God create them to be. I was one of those creatures for a long time. Maybe it wasn’t apparent from the surface, but every time my ugliness showed its face, the bitterness grew from the shame of feeling ugly.

Then it wasn’t just me that was ugly, the world around me started becoming uglier too. Bitterness grows and festers.

It took me a few months but I eventually forgave her. It took me a few years but I eventually completely forgave him. 

I did it not just because I had to, because Jesus commands us to forgive seventy times seven (which is code for as long as we live, because no one can keep track of seventy times seven).

I forgave because forgiveness makes the world beautiful again. Not that it was not beautiful before, but the ‘again’ comes from a new set of eyes that stem from a clean, unburdened heart. 

The world doesn’t progress when we get angry and bitter towards each other. The world changed when Jesus died on that cross for all our sins.

I remember the moment I chose to completely, properly forgive. I felt free, again. I instantly felt a new wave of peace.

Forgiveness is an amazing feeling, but when it genuinely happens, it’s more than just letting go of a person or a situation that was hurtful – it’s surrendering to God again and saying ‘this bitterness is not a part of my identity’. After all, there is a ‘give’ in forgive.

You have to give up and give in, but the rewards of forgiveness far outweigh the burden of bitterness.

Forgiveness turns the world from broken and ugly to incredibly beautiful, and it changes you from ‘ugly’ to a kind and warm soul that is magnetically attractive – or might I say, beautiful.

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