I had one of those surreal, insanely difficult moments this weekend. It is still processing in my head and heart. I was out for a night on the town with my wife and my good buddy Jason for my alma mater’s homecoming festivities. We had literally just sat down, and up walked a familiar face. I had grown up with this person both in school and at church – but we were never really close.
He came up and said, “Erik, I want to thank you for leaving First Lutheran Church.” (I worked at First Lutheran for the last 8 years after growing up in that very congregation. I recently took another call and am no longer employed there.)
I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
He continued. “Every time I saw you there it ruined my church experience…you were SO MEAN to me in church choir when we were in middle school…you picked on me…you got others to pick on me…and I haven’t ever forgotten it.”
He was teary eyed. He was shaking. My wife and friend thought he was going to hit me. I had affected him for close to the last 18 years, and he hadn’t let it go.
For 15 minutes he laid into me, amidst my profuse apologies. “I couldn’t ever worship when I saw you up front at church because it was like I was looking at the devil.”
That one hurt the most.
To be honest, I don’t ever remember picking on him. I always thought I was a pretty good kid. The reality of middle school for me is that I often felt like he did. I felt targeted – picked on – left out – and everything in-between. So when he accused me of these things, I was more than blown away.
But I know what he says to be true. He has no reason to make any of this up. I feel horribly shamed for the way I made him feel. I pray for forgiveness.
There are lessons to be learned from this experience, and I feel compelled to share them. So take them for what they’re worth. But I must confess that I’m embarrassed to share this story. It’s a difficult thing to share, but I trust that God is close to the broken-hearted (which I am and I know my former classmate is, too).
Lesson #1 – We never know when our actions or inactions will affect someone. Choose your actions wisely.
Lesson #2 – Even if we think that our playful banter is all in good fun, it can be taken a very different way by those that are the target of our attention.
Lesson #3 – God forgives. No matter our sins and shortcomings, God forgives. So stop beating yourself up. God forgives.
Lesson #4 – Holding onto grudges is toxic. If you hold anger against someone, just let it go. It will be more damaging to the one holding onto it. Hatred hurts the hater more than the hated.
Lesson #5 – Don’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of you and God.
Lesson #6 – Learn from those that criticize you (they’re sometimes the only ones not telling us what we want to hear).
Lesson #7 – Let go. Forgive. Pray. Repeat.
To my former choir-mate – please forgive me for the way I made you feel in middle school. I will be praying for you – that you might find healing and strength through our conversation. Know that the Jesus Christ I love is a man who forgives with his redeeming grace. And so I give to Him all my shortcomings and ask for the forgiveness only He can provide. Now, let’s go and do likewise. Erik Hatch