I hadn’t spoken to my brother for 28 years. One morning before the Easter of 2006 I was seated at my computer when a soft voice whispered into my mind: “Forgive your brother.” No one else was in the room, yet I heard those words very clearly. I don’t know how others avoid unpleasant tasks. I clean. All day long I vacuumed, scrubbed and washed, re-organized computer files and created more excuses. I didn’t have his address, phone number and couldn’t get his contacts from anyone else.
In the evening I took all the trash outside, sorted through it and placed each in its correct bin. A narrow scrap of paper stuck to a flap of the box, so I pulled it out. Before trashing it I glanced at the line of handwritten text. It was my brother’s e-mail address. I had only ever had his business address. How could I now be reading his personal address? I had resisted the Lord’s will like a rebellious child. Gently, Jesus had simply swept away my excuses. I could choose to turn my back on his will, or start writing.
“Dear Brother”, I wrote. “I just want you to know that the only reason I’m writing this letter is because the Holy Spirit is telling me that I must forgive you. But, before I do that, I’m going to tell you everything bad that you ever did to me.” A list followed detailing each cruelty and offense, every injury that I had stored in my heart. They poured onto the computer screen like acid streaming from an auto battery. Instead of the relief I had expected to feel, I felt condemned. Intuitively, I knew the Lord expected me to take another step. “… and I need to ask you to forgive me, too,” I wrote reluctantly. “For 28 years I’ve cursed your name and condemned you. Can you forgive me?” As I wrote those words, this feeling of condemnation lifted. I clicked “send”, and waited.
My brother’s reply arrived the next morning. It started, “Where have you been? We’ve been praying for you for eleven years. I’m a believer now, too. I take the gospel to motorcycle gang members, and I have a prison ministry.”
This could not be the same violent brother who, in our youth, had slammed me into walls and cursed me for reading a Bible. “Please forgive me for not answering immediately. Your words were so shocking that, honestly, I couldn’t handle them. The Lord in his mercy has blocked many memories from those years. Some things I don’t remember, others I could not have done, and others I remember but not in the same way that you remember them.” Methodically, he responded to each accusation. As I read, each bitter and twisted memory unraveled.
At the close he added, “Many times I took beatings for you. One night when mother tried to go into your room to beat you, I blocked her off and took the beating for you.” Images from that night returned. I had been hiding and heard fighting outside my door. Then, I didn’t know which of us was being attacked. Now I did. As I read, I began to see him in a different light. He had been, like me, just fighting to survive.
Family wounds cut deepest and last longest, but forgiveness can heal those wounds forever. That day, he and I forgave each other. Through us, the Lord started a chain of forgiveness. Within weeks, we two were united with other brothers, a sister, and cousins. Warm conversations now replace decades of cold silence. Only Jesus could launch that kind of chain reaction.