After graduating from seminary, my first church ministry position was Minister of Youth and College at First Baptist Church Monroe, LA. In 1979, during my second summer there, I experienced one of the most embarrassing and humbling experiences of all of my life.
In the middle of the summer on a Monday morning, our youth group met up with youth groups from two other local churches to drive 3-4 hours into the Arkansas mountains for a week of summer camp. In the caravan were nine vehicles composed of two church buses and seven church vans. The decision was made that the bus from one of the other churches would lead the caravan, and I would bring up the rear in our church bus. The thought was that it would be easier to keep the caravan together with the buses serving as bookends. All went well until we got into the Arkansas mountains. That’s when it became obvious that the woman driving the van right in front of me was scared of her shadow when it came to driving in the mountains. I accused her in my mind of putting on brakes going uphill. I was constantly having to gear up and down to either slow down or build momentum.
As my frustrations built, I got on my CB and called the bus driver in the lead bus so I could vent. As we talked, I looked into the sky and saw a bunch of buzzards circling above us. I told him, “That van in front of me is moving so slowly that the buzzards think it’s dying.” We shared a big laugh, and then all of a sudden a thought hit me right between the running lights. Right before we had pulled out of the parking lot, the Minister of Youth for that church had told me that whereas her van was equipped with a CB radio, she would only be listening as we traveled. As far as I knew, the driver had heard every word that the other youth leader and I had said about her. Quickly, and without explanation, I ended the conversation with the other bus driver.
As the trip continued, embarrassment and guilt began to build in my spirit. At first, they centered around me being caught red-handed. But later, as my embarrassment and guilt matured, they centered around what kind of person my actions and words had revealed me to be. They revealed me to be anything but the fine, upstanding youth leader I thought that I was.
I knew when I got to camp, that as soon as I could, and if I could, I would need to make things right with her. Once we arrived I found Keith, the Minister of Youth for the other church. I told him what had happened, how embarrassed I was, and how I desperately needed to apologize to the driver. He told me that she had already told him about the incident, and that she was so upset she was ready to go home. He took me to where she was sitting with the other youth leaders from their church. Without excuse (because I had none), I apologized to her and asked her to forgive me. I knew that at that moment she held all the cards – all the leverage in our relationship. Only by grace – by a very undeserved gift – would I be forgiven.
After standing humbly before her for what seemed like an eternity, but in reality was only a matter of seconds, she extended to me one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever been given. She forgave me. Unconditionally.
I close with these thoughts, learned both from my experiences of being forgiven and forgiving others. There is no greater gift we can receive than being forgiven. But just as importantly, there is also no greater gift we can give ourselves than when we forgive.
About the Author
Jerry Long is a retired minister [38 years] living in metro Greenville, SC. He and his wife Lynne have two daughters and three grandchildren. He holds degrees from Clemson University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.