My brother and I were born thirteen months apart. With identical blonde curls and mirror image faces, everyone thought we were twins. I sometimes wonder if that means I looked like a boy or he looked like a girl. But my mom blows off that question off with her motherly assertion that we were both beautiful so I just let it go.
When I close my eyes and think about my early childhood interactions with my brother, I picture us doing all the fun things kids do. I remember sledding down the side hill, the wind whipping our little faces into rosy smiles.We climbed trees and got into mud fights. We swam at the lake, my big brother teaching me to dive for rocks we’d companionably colored bright red. He gravely warned me against going past the first ladder on the pier because the water was too deep and would swallow me up whole. I recall fishing and my brother bravely taking the fish off the hook for me. Every time. And almost daily we’d bike to Bell’s Store for candy and treats, his protective eye making sure I didn’t ride too far in the center of the road.
But somewhere along the way, little fissures started to form in our relationship.
Our school was tiny and some classrooms were combined so my brother and I had the miserably sour luck of sharing a classroom twice in our elementary career. There was no embellishing any story or stealing the spotlight within earshot of each other. “That’s NOT how it happened,” one would interject if either of us tried to weave a tall tale. We grew increasingly cagey around each other. He resented my academic ability and I resented his athletic talent. I distinctly recall him glaring at me and mouthing, “I hate you.” when I walked into any classroom he occupied. And I believed him.
Then my parents split up – which did nothing to bolster my brother’s tolerance for anything, least of all me.
Throughout adolescence he was hurting and I became the target for all of his anger. Years of being pummeled with cruel words took their toll on my spirit and I developed a hatred deep and sure for this brother who had once been my twin, my number one ally, my best friend.
He went to college in the deep south. I went to college up north. And I was content never to have to deal with him again. Those fissures in our relationship had grown so wide they’d swallowed any hope of reconciliation between the two of us.
But then, God intervened.
One fall night I sat in my dorm room reading a devotional. Thanksgiving was around the corner and I had just found out my brother would be home from Florida. I dreaded it. The last holiday we’d spent together had ended in shouting and tears. I was wary of him, angry and contemplating not going home at all to avoid spending time with him.
It was in a moment of quiet reflection and sullen resentment that my eyes fell upon these words:
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20
It was one of those instants when the spirit of God directly takes aim at your heart and sears it with truth so unsettling, you worry it might stop beating altogether.
Surely God didn’t expect me to love my brother.
“But he hurt me, God.”
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. Mark 11:25
“But God, you don’t even know. He is SUCH a jerk.”
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22
“I don’t think I can forgive him. And anyway, he doesn’t deserve it.”
But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:15
Its always easy to think about how you have been wronged. You can hang on to the anger, find all kinds of worldly justification for doing so, and walk around carrying your hurt like a badge of honor. That’s what I had been doing. But to realize that behavior for the sin it is and to face the fact that YOU are a sinner, too, is an entirely different thing.
God and I continued this conversation … with me wrestling and God patiently answering with the truth of his word. And I knew. I knew within every inch of my soul that this was what I needed to do. To forgive him. To truly forgive him. It was time.
The night I got home, my brother and I eyed each other like the long time adversaries we were. Distrustful. Tired. Guarded. But I asked him if we could talk.
We sat at the table together and I poured out my heart. My hurt. My frustration. My resolve to be free of the years of hurt. But most of all, I told him I forgave him.
And that brother of mine, he listened to every word I said. He whole heartedly listened. And he apologized with a sincere heart.
A weight was lifted. Years of anger and hurt were literally washed away. In that hour. Poof. A relationship restored.
Forgiveness had bridged a gap that seemed impossible to cross. And it was only the Spirit of God that made it possible. In my humanness I would never have been able to lay down the years of pain, anger, and frustration. I had to trust God that His words are true and forgiveness is right. I had to come face to face with the reality that hating my brother was the equivalent of hating my God.
And what’s more, who was I to hate anyone? Being wrapped up in animosity towards an individual is a pretty convenient way to avoid looking at your own sin. God had lovingly reminded me that I was not perfect, either. And yet Christ had forgiven me.
I truly believe that if I had held anything back – if I harbored resentment, if I had chosen to “forgive but not forget” and kept track of the wrongs, the restoration of our relationship would never have happened. And you know what? I would have missed out.
Because it turns out, my brother is a delight. He is funny. He is smart. He is unbelievably talented. I have seen him lovingly care for his family, extended family, community, and even now the world through a foundation he set up. My brother is a gift. And I would have rejected a lifetime of friendship based on a few years of angst if I had chosen to hold onto our past.
Forgiveness is a gift God gives us to experience a taste of Heaven on earth. It is the Gospel expressed in our humanness to forgive one another as Christ forgave us.
Is there someone you need to forgive? Don’t wait. Forgive. Let it go. Ask Jesus to change your heart towards this person.
I promise, you will never regret forgiveness.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32