"The magic didn't happen to him. The magic happened to me."
Amazingly, these were the words of abuse victim Ben Bosinger after letting go of years of resentment toward his father.
So what happened?
One day, fed up with pain he'd been carrying around for so long, he paid a visit to his dad. The "magic" occurred while they were looking at Ben's motorcycle in the driveway.
"In that instant, when we both were bent down looking at that greasy engine, side by side, I forgave him," he recalled.
He added: "It was something bigger than me that made me forgive him."
This really resonated with me, based on what I know from a book key to my own spiritual practice -- that "the divine energy of Spirit" helps us progress and see things anew.
Ben's story is from a different book -- it's just one of many moving stories in the Book of Forgiving, recently published by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and daughter Mpho Tutu. They're certainly qualified to discuss the subject. Besides experiencing the everyday hurts of the injustice of apartheid, they also had other struggles. He suffered from an abusive father, and she and her family experienced the devastating murder of their beloved nanny.
In humility the Tutus disclose how they have to continually learn about forgiveness, sometimes in dramatic ways. But they also make it clear that when we've been wronged we can use these opportunities to transform ourselves by changing how we think about others.
"No one is bad, and none among us should be defined as the sum total of our worst actions," they said.
This is another idea I'm familiar with from my own spiritual practice, but I didn't find it easy to carry out during a recent experience.
I'd just sat down in a cafe next to two young guys. At first, I didn't mind hearing their pleasant conversation, but out of the blue they started talking about women in a derogatory way. I couldn't believe it. I thought, "How can these American, hipster guys feel it's okay to even think like this, let alone voice it so publicly?"
I was angry about the injustice of their ideas, and three things went through my head. First, I considered saying something. Then I realized confrontation probably wouldn't make things any better. Finally, I wondered if I could actually love and forgive them.
Led by this deeper desire, I leaned back in my chair, and a few lines from a friend's song came to mind: "Where there is hatred, let me sew love. Where there is injury, pardon."
This helped me quiet the reactive feelings of self-justification and get on with more solution oriented thinking. As the Tutus said, I knew I needed to see these weren't bad people, but they'd been taken in by bad ideas. From my own practice, I knew there was a deeper, wiser point of view of who they were -- so much more to what really defines each of us than our worst actions.
"Material sense does not unfold the facts of existence; but spiritual sense lifts human consciousness into eternal Truth," wrote Mary Baker Eddy, my favorite author on how best to connect with that "something bigger than me."
As I yearned for this even deeper view, and contemplated the divine source of that presence of good in each of us, I felt a kind of mental and emotional shift. My anger and feelings of injustice drained and I suddenly thought: "Their sense of God must be very small, if that's how they're thinking."
My heart went out to them. It occurred to me these guys had probably just been taught a different worldview than mine.
In the larger scheme of things, this was a modest spiritual awakening. But the revised view gave me a palpable sense of peace, which had seemed impossible just minutes earlier.
In their book, the Tutus refer to Dr. Fred Luskin, the director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects, who has seen the effects of forgiveness on health. In an interview, Luskin said:
There are billions of people telling themselves that somebody was a real [jerk] all day long. That's really easy for human beings to do. That's swimming with the stream. To create peace, you need to swim against the stream sometimes, in fact, often.
Indeed, it can be hard to "swim against the stream" of our reactions to injustice. But heading down the path of forgiveness can be as simple as knowing we each have this spiritual sense that can identify the good that's present even where it seems far from obvious.
As we do that, we shouldn't be surprised if we have our own Ben Bosinger moment and feel the joy of freedom that can overtake us when forgiveness takes root in our lives.
This article was originally published in PlainViews, a publication of the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network.