Forgiveness. It’s a word tossed around in Christian circles left and right. We usually speak about forgiveness in terms of our relationship with God. “Forgive us our trespasses…” “I’m not perfect. Just forgiven.” We know that, in a general sense, we all are messed up and need to be forgiven from time to time for things we do that aren’t very nice.
Teaching children about forgiveness can be quite the challenge. We often don’t model asking for forgiveness very well or offering it when someone apologizes. I think forgiveness is hard to extend because we have learned to equate it with “it’s OK.” How many times do you hear, “I’m sorry.” “It’s OK.”????? But sometimes it’s not OK. Sometimes the hurt that has been inflicted is so deep and so painful that it is impossible to say, “It’s OK.” That’s why we’ve tried teaching our kids to say, “I forgive you.”
We are trying to teach our children that forgiveness is not saying that what the person did to you was no big deal. Instead, it’s saying, “I’m not going to hold this over your head. I’m not going to drag your name through the mud. I’m not going to bring it up to you all the time. I’m releasing you and I’m releasing myself from the grip of the hurt. There may still be consequences. There may not be. But I am choosing to wish the best for you regardless of what you’ve done to me.”
Every single day we have issues in our house with behavior and forgiveness. The boys get sassy and rude. They hit, kick, and push. Someone always ends up in tears. And it is really frustrating. Just tonight Middle Man was really sassy when we finished playing a game together as a family. He wanted to play another but we said it was time to go to bed. His response was to scream and kick me. We have been trying hard to teach him for the last four years that kicking and screaming is not the best way to get what you want, but it is a sure way to get yourself in a bit of trouble. He ended up in his bed in tears. As I was getting ready for bed I heard him calling my name. I finally walked back into the bedroom and sat down at his bed and we had a conversation about what happened and I asked him to apologize. We hugged and kissed, cuddled, and sang a song. We ended our evening on a happy, loving note. But it isn’t always that easy. There are days when I want to ignore his crying for me. There are days when I want to really drill it in that his behavior isn’t acceptable…that he has pushed the limits for the last time. (he is my sassiest one, after all…). There are days when I want to slam the door with all the lights off and just walk away.
But then I think about God. God has never left me to scream and cry on my own when I’m reaping the consequences of my own wrongdoing. He doesn’t say, “It’s OK.” He says, “I forgive you.” If I robbed a bank tomorrow I wouldn’t be let off the hook even if I sincerely apologized. I’d still end up with jail time. Negative consequences are always eventually a natural result of negative behavior. And it’s important to recognize the wrong and change it…just like we ask our kids to. But it’s just as important to model forgiveness. I want my kids to know that, no matter what wrong they’ve done, I am still their mother. I love them unconditionally. There won’t be a time when I will say, “You’ve worn me out. I will begin to withhold my love from you from this moment forward because of what you’ve done.” I want them to know that my arms are always available. My hugs and kisses are always going to be there for them even when they’re having to deal with the consequences of their behavior. My love for them will not run out just like God’s love for us has not run out.
Earlier today I was surrounded by ten rowdy two-year olds. I don’t know if someone was sneaking espresso into their sippy cups, but they were all pretty much bouncing off the walls all morning. It was a lot of fun to play with them, but as most people can imagine, ten rowdy two-year olds can get out of hand pretty quickly. Finally it came to a head when one sweet baby came up to me and grabbed my leg as I was trying to help another child with her craft. This sweet guy was really trying to get my attention and, “Just a second” wasn’t working. In his excitement he bit my leg really hard. I mean hard. Like, broke the skin slightly and left a welt through my jeans hard. It took a second for me to process what was happening and as I began to feel this horrible stinging sensation I let out a loud, “OWOWOWOWOWOW!” The room went from being at volume 10 to volume 2. My eyes began to fill up with water and I looked at the sweet guy who immediately knew what he had done. I said very calmly trying not to think about how much my leg hurt, “Biting is not OK. I need you to go sit down over there for a time out.” His sweet little eyes began to water. I finished helping the little girl with her project and came back to him, knelt down and asked, “do you know why you’re in a time out?” He nodded, “because I bited.” “Yeah. And biting really really hurts people. That really hurt me. Biting is wrong and we are not supposed to do that to our friends, are we?” He shook his head. I asked, “What do you think you should say right now?” He looked at me, eyes filled with little tears, “I’m sorry.” I looked back at his sweet face, “I forgive you buddy.” Then we gave a big hug and went on with the rest of our morning as usual.
I could have just ignored the bite and pretended like it didn’t happen, but he would not have learned that there are consequences to that behavior. I could have said, “it’s OK. I should have given you my attention immediately when you asked for it because, if I had, you wouldn’t have bitten me.” Alternately, I could have screamed at him and punished him for the rest of the morning and said, “No. You don’t get to do that because you bit me.” I could have withheld every good thing from him like snacks and the swings outside. I could have tattled on him to all the adults and passed the word around that he’s a biter so everyone had better watch out. I could have withheld my affection from him for the rest of the day…heck, for the rest of our lives. He hurt me. But would either of those things have been helpful?
I remember talking to someone about seven years ago who was sharing with me some painful memories of his father from their past. The son grew up in a home with an alcoholic father. He was mean and cruel to the children and to his mother. When the son was in college the father was finally about to lose everything he cared about. This forced him to get his act together. He went to A.A. and turned his life around. He helped others in the AA program and became a completely different person. Loving. Kind. But the son struggled with forgiving his father because he had 18 years worth of horrible memories. He didn’t understand how his mother could stay with him…he didn’t deserve it. While I couldn’t speak to the pain he felt as the son, I considered the feelings of the father. He knew he had screwed up and sought reconciliation with all those he had hurt. You can never take back the words you’ve spoken or the physical pain you’ve caused someone. But you can ask for forgiveness and change your life. The knowledge of the hurt you’ve caused toward others can eat you alive. My response was, “What motivation does someone have to turn his life around if he knows that everyone he loves will push him away?” The hope of forgiveness can be a strong motivator for those who live with guilt. Which is all of us at one point or another, right?
This idea of forgiveness has been going around in my brain for the last week or two. I realized that I have held onto things that have deeply hurt me for far too long. I’ve said I’ve forgiven, but I haven’t really. How do I know? Because I will still find words coming out of my mouth that repeat the wrong someone has done to me. Because I will hear the words come out of my mouth, “Well, just wait until he/she ends up in my shoes…” Instead of extending my forgiveness in my heart, I will pay lip service. I want to sound like I’m playing nice and fair, but in reality I hold onto those hurts and I pull them out when it is most convenient for me. I hold it over the “trespasser’s” head and say, “Well, you did…” Even if not in those words. I’ve allowed myself to dwell on and repeat to others constantly the hurt that has weighed me down for so many years. Sometimes I even think to myself, “Why am I telling them this????” as the words continue to flow from my mouth. This is not OK. This is not forgiveness. How would I feel if I found out that someone whom I’ve hurt in the past was still telling others about what I did to them? How would I feel if I knew that others were telling stories about me with the intended purpose of making me look bad and making themselves look good…or like a martyr?
Forgiveness is a lot easier to offer when we realize how much we have been forgiven. Just this week I had to ask God for forgiveness for my unforgiving spirit. As I was praying with Josh in the evening I asked God to reveal anything in me that was keeping me from Him and the words just came flowing out of my mouth: Please forgive me for holding onto these hurts…for choosing to have petty arguments and silly fights instead of choosing to be at peace… Unforgiveness can cause more damage than we could ever imagine. This is something I’m working on…something I will probably always need to work on. There may be days when an old hurt will come back in my mind and I will have to dismiss that thought and say, “No. That’s over. That was in the past. I have dealt with and moved on from that hurt. I have done what I am able, in my power, to do about that. It is finished.”
Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you need to spend some time in prayer asking God, “Who do I need to forgive? Who have I been treating differently because I’ve held onto this hurt? Who have I hurt? Who do I need to ask to forgive me?” Maybe you need to call someone or send an email asking for forgiveness. Maybe that’s a road you can’t safely walk down so you need to just acknowledge it in your heart between you and God. What I know is that the moment I realized this sin in my life I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I felt like I could breathe more deeply and rest more soundly. The weight of unforgiveness can make you sick…literally and figuratively. Today I am thankful for forgiveness.