ere’s a story (shared with permission) for all who have held a grudge—and even enjoyed it!
Last fall I asked my students in two sections of my “Life and Teachings of Jesus” class to participate in an experience called the 40 Days Project, modeled after Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. The assignment was to identify three areas of life in which they were already being challenged (they didn’t have to be spiritual areas), to work on them, and journal about them over the next 40 days.
At the close of the project students submitted a report. One girl, Kim Ford, wrote about exercising more, getting involved in spiritual activities, and resuming daily devotions, which had flagged recently.
“When I started doing devotions again this semester,” Kim wrote, “I honestly didn’t expect my life to change, but it did. I noticed a change in myself, and others did too. It was almost as if God gave me an instant desire to be kind to those whom I might not be very fond of, or who may not have been very fond of me.”
“I began writing anonymous notes of encouragement to a girl whom I played indoor soccer against during intramurals. My frustration toward her had built up over the season, and I knew it needed to stop. It wasn’t until I discovered that she had strong feelings against me as well that I finally decided to do something. The notes have helped me grow as an individual, a friend, and a Christian. This young woman and I are now friends. A few days before my 40 days were over, I told her that I was the one who had been writing the notes to her. Tears began to well in her eyes. She gave me a hug and told me how encouraging and helpful the notes had been to her.”
In my other class I received a report from a student named Ana Sremac. Along with sharing her own personal goals—exercising, avoiding sweets, avoiding media—Ana shared an unexpected experience.
“I first saw Kim on the court,” she wrote. “She was aggressive and knew what she wanted—the ball and to win. I easily got the idea into my head that since she was so mean on the court, pushing people everywhere, she must be mean off the court. When I saw her after that in the dorm or on the promenade, I cast mean, evil glances toward her. An onlooker wouldn’t have been able to notice as they were just short, quick looks, but we both knew, Kim and I, that we did not like each other.
“Whenever I would tell my roommate how Kim wasn’t a nice person, she would tell me it wasn’t true. She would say how Kim was a nice person—just that when she plays sports, she gets competitive. My roommate also said that I’m exactly like Kim.
“One Sabbath afternoon my roommate and I decided to take a walk. Well, guess who my roommate decides to invite? Yep, Kim. The first part of the walk was awkward, as we both knew we hated each other, but by the end we were talking, sharing stories, and laughing together. It was a start. From then on, whenever we would see each other, we would say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ and talk for a few seconds. It was getting better.
“I started receiving letters in my mailbox a couple of times a week. These letters were so encouraging and inspiring—I cannot fully express how much they meant to me. They touched on all the personal issues I was experiencing. Each time the letters said something different, and each time they were the exact words I needed. I truly felt as though they were coming from God’s messenger here on earth.
“One day Kim came and visited me while I was working. She got this big smile on her face and blurted out, ‘I’m the one who has been putting those letters in your mailbox!’ I was stunned. I felt tears rushing to my eyes. This girl—whom I had hated with a passion—found love in her heart for me!”
Sometimes the students become the teachers. Who can you find it in your heart to love?
Andy Nash teaches journalism and religion at Southern Adventist University. He’s leading two Israel tours next June, one of them with Clifford Goldstein. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article was published August 15, 2013.