Rest for the weary – forgiveness illustrated

In 1984 a woman called Jennifer Thompson was attacked.  She later identified the man she thought was responsible. This man, Ronald Cotton, maintained he was innocent but was sent to prison because of her testimony. He remained there for 11 years, until DNA evidence proved he was innocent, and another man was convicted of the crime. For two years after Ronald Cotton was released, Jennifer Thompson felt ashamed. She thought, how could I have made such a mistake? I’ve taken away 11 years of this man’s life. She was the same age as Ronald Cotton, so she knew what he had missed during  those 11 years. She had married, graduated from college, worked and become a parent. Ronald Cotton had not been able to do any of these. For two years she felt weighed down, until she finally knew what she had to do.

A few weeks later she got in a car and drove to a church where she met Ronald Cotton and spoke to him face to face. She said to him If I spent the rest of my life saying how sorry I am, it wouldn’t come close to how I feel. Ronald Cotton was calm and quiet, the finally he spoke. I’m not mad at you, he said softly, I just want you to have a good life. For two hours they talked while their families waited nervously outside. Afterwards in the car park while their two families watched. Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson embraced.

Ronald Cotton later described how in prison he found out who’d really committed the crime, and he hated that man. He made a plan to kill him, until someone encouraged him to turn to Jesus. In Jesus Ronald Cotton found the one who could release the burden of anger and bitterness pressing down on him. Having received in Jesus the gift of forgiveness he needed, Ronald Cottone was able to give Jennifer Thompson the gift of forgiveness when she asked him.

The newspaper that reported this story carried a picture of the two of them sitting on a bench together, with the sort of smiles that could not be faked, the smiles of people at peace with one another, and at peace with themselves, free from the burdens of anger and guilt that had weighed them down.

Jesus invites us too, to come to him, to learn from him, and find our rest in him. Forgiving those who’ve wronged you can be extremely difficult. In fact true forgiveness is impossible without God. It is only through experiencing the grace that Jesus offers that we are able to then show grace to others.

(Other posts on Matthew 11:28-30: Part 1 Rest for the weary, Part 2 How is Jesus’ yoke easy? )

References: The above story is from Unpacking Forgiveness, Chris Brauns. It is also told in Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton.

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