by lloyd D. Newell
Life is a study in forgiveness. No one gets through life without needing to forgive. And no one escapes the need to be forgiven. Perhaps the central test of character, forgiveness brings out the best in us. It leads us beyond our own pain and suffering and helps us feel God’s love. Ironically, we help ourselves in the most profound way when we give the gift of forgiveness to others.
Charlotte Bronte’s literary Jane Eyre addresses the theme of forgiveness so well. Young Jane, orphaned and sent to live with a spiteful aunt, endures years of neglect and cruelty as a child. When Jane is old enough, her aunt sends her away to a substandard boarding school, where she is again mistreated. But Jane learns a vital lesson from Helen, a dear friend there. Helen explains to Jane one of life’s great secrets: “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity, or registering wrongs.” Helen teaches Jane to forgive: to forget wrongs, to love enemies, to “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you… and despitefully use you.”
Jane’s life is different ever after. It doesn’t necessarily become easier–Jane still has to endure injustices, hardships, and betrayals–but she is better prepared for all these things because she has learned not to hold on to grudges and ill feelings. She frees her soul from anger, bitterness, and revenge. In fact, Jane even returns to her malicious aunt and attends to her during her dying days. Ultimately, Jane finds true joy– and even true love–because she learned to forgive.
And so can we. It may be the hardest work we ever do, but it is also the most rewarding. Resolve now to let an old grudge go. Decide in advance to forgive any future offense that may come. Determine never to let a mistake get in the way of a meaningful relationship. As the 18th-century British poet Alexander Pope wrote, “to err is human, to forgive, divine.”