Forgiveness, the Backbone of Teamwork

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CChrist's Team, Robert C. Frankrosses seen on garments and buildings all over the world have become the symbol for forgiveness. The two billion followers of Jesus worldwide have become Christ’s Team. Their task it is to teach forgiveness, relieve suffering and improve the quality of life for everyone. Any team has to function as a well coordinated unit if it is to achieve its goal. Lingering resentment weakens the structure of the team and reduces its effectiveness. It is the forgiveness that we receive from God through the death and resurrection of Jesus that makes forgiveness in human relations possible.

In the early years of my physics teaching at Augustana College, one of the students in my class was Ken Anderson who later became a star quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals football team. The story is told that with only a few seconds left in one of the games, Ken threw a game winnable pass right into the arms of one of his receivers in the end zone who dropped it. A reporter later asked Ken if he took the player aside and sharply criticized him for his clumsiness. He said, “No, I didn’t and I would hope he would be as charitable to me the next time I throw it over his head.” Team sports teach us a great deal about forgiveness. To be successful in team sports, you have to be focused on the present, so it is vitally important to learn from failures, practice getting it right and then move on. You not only need to forgive teammates, but also yourself to get rid of the baggage of guilt.

Scientific research is especially susceptible to failure because scientists are always working at the edge of the unknown. During most of my professional career as a research scientist, my experiments involved the use of large instruments and thus required teams of scientists and technicians to carry them out. Planning research was painfully slow because we had to constantly check and recheck everything we did. However, even after months of careful planning and preparation there were failures. Sometimes it was my fault and sometimes the fault of others on the team. However, as a result of our willingness to forgive each other and learn from our failures, we had great teams and a consistent record of successful research.

Happy families are those that have learned the importance of forgiveness. When first married, husbands and wives form the smallest of all teams, but it still takes time to learn to function as a team. The very large number of decisions required for home management often leads to mistakes, so forgiveness is needed for the two to learn to work together before children arrive. Forgiveness is also needed for each to heal the scars produced by conflicts with their parents in the struggle for independence during adolescence. Teamwork is easier to achieve if members of the team are at peace within themselves. Happy and peaceful husbands and wives create happy children and family gatherings are uplifting because the team members are cheerleaders for each other rather than critics.

Often lost in the Christian traditional understanding that holds forgiveness to be the key to eternal life is the fact that forgiveness is also the key to the achievement of a superior civilization on earth, the goal that Christ’s Team is working toward.

Robert C. Frank

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