Once upon a time there were two young men named Peter and Frank. Peter and Frank were friends. Not good friends, not best friends, just friends. They saw each other at school, occasionally played on the same teams in sports, and were generally friendly to each other. Peter never gave Frank much thought – and neither did Frank think much about Peter.
One day that all changed. On a beautiful day in July, Frank was riding his brand-new bike down the sidewalk – a little too fast. And on that same beautiful day in July, Peter came running out of his door because he was, once again, late for baseball practice. As fate would have it, Frank was going a little too fast down the same street as Peter’s house was on. And, as fate would have it, Peter burst through his front door seconds before Frank crossed his driveway.
Peter was still zipping up his bag as he ran out the door headed towards the sidewalk. Frank was changing gears to get more speed. This was Frank’s first bike with gears, so it was absolutely amazing to steal a glance at his feet to watch the mechanism guide the chain up and down the gears.
You can probably guess what happened next. WHAM! Frank hit Peter, Peter hit Frank, bags and bikes and baseballs went flying – and so did Peter and Frank. Frank landed on the grassy place near the road, but Peter landed with a CRUNCH on the sidewalk. The doctor would tell him later that he had fractured his wrist and got a concussion – nothing too serious, but it would mean a night in the hospital – and worse, no baseball for the rest of the Summer.
As Peter lay there in his hospital bed, he couldn’t sleep. He wasn’t really allowed to sleep much, since the nurses kept waking him up. With his head on the pillow some thoughts began to rumble around in Peter’s mind. “Why would Frank do that? I’ve never done anything to him. I’ve always been really nice to Frank! Frank could have gotten out of the way. And he shouldn’t have been going so fast anyway…”
The more Peter thought about it, the angrier he got. “Nothing even happened to Frank. Not even his bike got a scratch!”
Peter tried to sit up in bed, but when he put pressure on his wrist, it hurt – a lot. And when He finally did manage to sit up… it made his head feel dizzy and achy… and this made him remember that his baseball career was over for the summer. “Maybe forever!”, Peter whispered aloud, through his tightly clenched teeth.
His heart and his mind began to race his head filled with more and more thoughts. “Did Frank do this on purpose? Maybe he did! Wait a minute… I was the last person chosen for the team, and he wasn’t even on it! Maybe he wanted to be, but was jealous. Maybe he wanted me out of the way!”
All through the night, Peter thought of more and more ways that Frank had hurt him, more and more scenarios and plots that Frank must have concocted to stop him from having a good summer, from being a great baseball player, from having any future at all! And Peter began to think of how terrible Frank really was, and how Frank had always been like this, and how Frank had fooled everyone into thinking he was such a good guy, and how Frank would never even be punished for what he’d done because everyone was calling it “an accident.” It was no accident – and Peter was sure.
Peter left the hospital the next day with a cast on his wrist, a list of things he wasn’t allowed to do that summer, and a very big grudge. His clothes were dirty since they were the ones he had come to the hospital in, and his mouth tasted terrible because he hadn’t brushed his teeth since the morning before. The bitter, yucky taste in his mouth was really, really bad. He asked his mom for something to eat on the way home. She smiled and said, “I suppose we can!” They pulled into Frank’s favourite restaurant to get him an orange juice and a breakfast sandwich.
He wolfed down the sandwich and drank the juice – but it wasn’t nearly as good as it used to be. And the bitter taste in his mouth was still there – and it was even worse. He went home and brushed his teeth – with the wrong hand, since the right one was in a cast – and he thought of Frank. He spit out the toothpaste, rinsed with mouthwash, but the bitter taste remained. He brushed again – and it was still there.
No matter what he ate or drank or how much he brushed, his mouth always tasted bitter. Which made Peter even madder at Frank. “This is all Frank’s Fault! He’s why everything tastes bitter!”, Peter yelled at the bathroom mirror.
Then the doorbell rang. Peter’s mom answered the door and yelled upstairs, “Peter, honey, come here. Frank’s at the door!” Peter’s face was red and he had tears in his eyes. In his calmest voice he yelled back, “Ok, mom!”. He quickly washed his face, took a deep breath, and walked down to the entryway. He stood on the bottom step, not willing to come all the way down.
Frank stood there with his baseball cap in his hand, looking at the carpet. Peter took note that the picture on the cap was the crest of team that he would no longer be playing for. “He came to rub it in,” Peter thought.
Frank spoke in a quiet voice, “Hey, Peter. I’m really sorry about what happened. I didn’t mean to crash into you. I was going too fast and I wasn’t looking where I was going. I know you got the worst of it. My bike got a little scratched, but you ended up in the hospital! I just wanted to come over and say that I’m really sorry and that I forgive you too for the accident.”
Peter winced. “Forgive me?” he thought. “You forgive me?” Peter slowly replied.
“Yeah, well”, Frank replied, “I talked to my mom and your mom and they both agreed that it was partly your fault, but I still feel bad, so I wanted to forgive you too. Ok?”
Peter’s face grew red. “Whatever. I have a headache. I need to go.” Peter shot back and stomped upstairs. Frank stood in the doorway for a moment and then walked out, closing the door behind him.
Peter ran up to his room, slammed the door, and grew angrier. The bitter taste in his mouth grew worse. “He forgives me?!“, Peter spoke allowed.
All at once, almost out of nowhere, a plan began to form in Peter’s mind. A plan of revenge. He would get back at Frank. And he knew just how to do it. But he knew he couldn’t be caught, and that no one would understand. His parents had told him to “get over it”. His coach told him “There’s always next season!”. His friends told him “it isn’t that big of a deal” and to “leave it alone”. But he just couldn’t just leave it alone. To Peter, it was a big deal.
The next day Peter laid his trap. His plan was to hide in the bushes outside Frank’s door with a pile of sticks and stones. His plan was to throw the sticks and stones at Frank and then take off as fast as he could. Then Frank would be hurt and they’d be even. Frank would never know what hit him! And so Peter sat there, crouched in the bushes, waiting, seething, with the bitter taste in his mouth getting worse and worse and worse. He tried to spit, but he was afraid the noise would give him away.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Frank came out of his house. He grabbed his bike from the garage and began to peddle down the drive. Peter grinned and grabbed his first stone, throwing it as hard as he could… and WHAM! it hit Frank right in the head – and it bounced off. Frank didn’t even seem to notice it! Peter grabbed another and threw it as hard as he could… and WHAM! he it Frank right in the chest! And again, it just bounced off… and Frank didn’t even seem to notice.
Peter was confused, and saw he had only one chance left before Frank would get away. He grabbed the largest stick, and from his crouched position in the bushes he aimed for Frank’s ankle and swung as hard as he could. WHAM! and this time something did happen.
Instead of Frank feeling hurt… Peter’s head started to hurt… bad! Peter reached up with his hand and touched the spot. He brought his hand down and saw blood on his fingers.
And then, out of nowhere, he suddenly had a pain in his chest! And then, just as out of nowhere, his ankle exploded into pain! His head, his chest, his ankle – all the same places that he had hit Frank, Peter was now bleeding and in excruciating pain. Peter let out a SCREAM of agony!
Frank heard the scream. He turned his bike around. It sounded like it was coming from the bushes by the driveway. He pulled his bike up to it, looked inside, and saw Peter lying there, surrounded by sticks and stones, looking terrible – like he’d been beat up.
“What happened, Peter?!? Are you OK?!?”, Frank asked. “I’m going to go get my mom!”
But Peter, rolling on ground, holding his ankle and his head, shouted back through his tears, “THIS IS YOUR FAULT! I DON’T WANT YOUR HELP! LEAVE ME ALONE!” and forced himself to get to his feet. On his way up he grabbed another stone and threw it at Frank’s face… it hit him right in the cheek, but bounced off… and immediately, a huge, painful scar opened up on Peter’s face. A trickle of blood ran down his chin.
Peter yelled again, “NOW, SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE!!!” And began to limp, as fast as he could away from Frank, cursing and trying to spit out the bitter taste from his mouth – which had never been worse.
And as he hobbled away, looking more and more pitiful with every step, he thought about Frank. “I hate him so much. He did it to me again. Why do I let him do this to me?” And he began to consider another plan. Tomorrow… when he felt better… he would get bigger stones… and bigger sticks… and really teach Frank a lesson.
And as Peter walked away, planning how he would get revenge on Frank, he noticed that he was actually starting to get used to the bitter taste in his mouth… it was still horrible… but he was getting used to it. And in time… he thought… he might even learn to like it.
This is a story – a parable about unforgiveness – and I hope it helped you learn something, because it’s something a lot of us have experienced.
People do bad things to us – sometimes on purpose, other times by accident – and it’s up to us to decide how we should respond. Jesus said that we are to forgive our enemies, just like He forgave us. Even though we are sinners who break God’s law, God loved us so much He was willing to send Jesus to take the punishment for our sin. In response, Jesus asks us to forgive others too.
That can be hard. Sometimes we want to have revenge, like Peter did to Frank. He thought that if he hurt Frank that he’d feel better – but that wouldn’t help, would it? No, in fact, trying to hurt Frank only made him feel worse.
In my story, the sticks and stones represent our words. Peter was trying to hurt Frank with words, but it wasn’t working. Why? Because Frank had already forgiven Peter. Frank wasn’t angry. Frank new Peter was speaking out of pain, so he wasn’t hurt by Peter’s unkind words.
That’s one of the greatest things about forgiveness. Not only does it show that we love God, but it helps us to love others and to rise above the evil they want to cause us.
Do you remember the bitter taste in Peter’s mouth? The Bible warns us in Hebrews 12:15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble”. Bitterness is what happens when we don’t forgive, and it causes all kinds of trouble for us. Holding onto anger and not forgiving someone is like chewing on an orange peel or a bitter root — it makes everything in life taste worse.
So, if you’ve been hurt, let me encourage you to talk to God about it and forgive the person – not because they deserve it – but because in Jesus God has forgiven you, even though you didn’t deserve it.