On Forgiveness

Source: modprintables on Etsy via Jo-Lynne on Pinterest

One day last week, we were having one of THOSE afternoons. You moms out there know what I’m talking about, I’m sure. I seem to have one of THOSE afternoons about once a month. Ahem.

Everything went wrong from one of the kids tracking mud into my freshly cleaned house to someone else making me late for an appointment to someone else being defiant and disagreeable. But instead of handling it all with grace and beauty, I went ballistic. It was ugly, people. Pure ugly.

A while later, we were in the car coming home from said lesson. It was quiet in the car except for an occasional sniffle from the backseat, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with a heavy guilt weighing on my soul. That balloon of righteous indignation that had been fueling my anger was slowly deflating, leaving me feeling like a cold, heartless shrew.

I had done the worst thing a mother could do. I had stomped on my child’s tender feelings and injured her self esteem. I know better than to lose my temper. I know that nothing fruitful comes from throwing a fit.

Struck with remorse and self-loathing, I silently prayed for forgiveness and then asked the same of my child. I explained that I do not want to be THAT mom, and that while I may have had a right to be angry, I had sinned in my anger by the way I had spoken to her. I said I was sorry and asked for forgiveness.

And there was silence.

No sound came from the backseat, except perhaps another sniffle.

I knew instinctively that my child was not ready to forgive. She was too hurt, and her heart was still hard.

Here is where I had a choice.

I could “make” her forgive me, or at least, I could make her SAY that I was forgiven, and assume the heart would eventually follow the words. Or I could let it go and assume that she would eventually get over her injured pride. In which case, she may or may not end up saying that she forgave me, but I could rest assured that there would unfortunately be plenty more opportunities for her to learn this bitter life lesson.

I chose the latter. I decided to let it go.

As the evening progressed, a tenuous sense of normality returned to our home, but I operated under a heightened sense of my own sinfulness and shortcomings as a mother. Later I tenderly tucked each of my little charges into their beds, and retired to my own, wearily thankful that I could start over fresh in the morning.

A few days went by, and nothing out of the ordinary occurred until one afternoon when I overheard a scuffle upstairs. It was the unmistakeable sound of my two daughters  locked in mortal combat, so I called them down. I didn’t like the way the one was speaking to the other, and I calmly told her so.

They went back up, and in a minute one daughter came back. She looked distraught and explained that she had asked forgiveness for speaking so harshly, and her sister had just turned away and given her the cold shoulder.

Aha! Opportunity knocks!

I hugged her close and said softly, “Well, you know. You WERE speaking very harshly to her just a couple minutes ago. She is only treating you the way you were treating her.”

“But I asked for forgiveness!” she exclaimed indignantly.

And there was my chance.

Snuggling her even closer I said, “I remember a day not too long ago when I asked YOU for forgiveness and you never responded. I knew you weren’t ready yet, so I didn’t push it. Give her some time.”

As I spoke, I saw the dawn of recognition pass across her features as she crumpled inside.

She buried her face in my neck as she said with total sincerity and remorse, “I’m sorry, Mommy. I DO forgive you.”

*cue tears*

With that, I knew that following my instincts that afternoon in the car had been the right decision.

See, forgiveness is a sticky widget. You cannot force someone to forgive you. If you are a parent, you can require the words be spoken, but that doesn’t mean the heart necessarily follows.

I like the way the Free Online Dictionary puts it:

Forgiveness means that you are willing to grant pardon without harboring resentment.

That is some seriously hard stuff, if you think about it.

Asking forgiveness of another person goes beyond a simple expression of remorse or saying “I’m sorry”.

When you say, “I’m sorry,” people tend to reply, “It’s okay” because they don’t know what else to say.

But it is often NOT okay.

It is NOT okay that I yelled at my child and hurt her feelings, but the act IS forgivable.

Forgiveness requires the relationship to be restored, and that can only happen when both parties are ready. While it’s not always easy, it’s totally worth waiting for.

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28 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing. I, too, have those days, and those moments can get ugly. I always feel like a terrible mother/person afterwards. I don’t like the feeling that my girls will have those memories of me. However, those moments can be lessons in forgiveness and understanding others’ feelings.

  2. Oh geez, for some reason you’ve got me tearing up. Thanks for sharing this. I have had too many occasions of asking forgiveness from my kids for losing my temper. It is so hard to not demand it of them, to force a reconciliation. But of course that is not true forgiveness. Again, thanks for sharing.

  3. Amazing post. Thank you for this. I think I needed a lesson on forgiveness…especially with what I have going on right now. 🙂


  4. I had a day like that this week. My intelligent, beautiful, ambitious daughter had not done everything to my “request” and I snapped at her. Once I was alone with the hormones and I could hear myself. I reminded myself that what she wished to take on is a big task and she is new to it. My job is to help her learn how to do it, not to make her feel bad about what she HAD accomplished. She got an apology note from me in her locker at school, because I happened to be there and another apology in person.

    Another things that I encourage is saying “Thank you” or “I forgive you” when someone says they are sorry. “That’s okay” reduces the meaning of the apology in my book. I like your point about not necessarily being ready to forgive. I had never thought of it but that is why the “Thank you” makes sense to me.

  5. “Cue tears” is right when my own started. You are raising amazing children who will have a deep respect and understanding for others’ feelings. You did exactly right by not forcing your daughter to forgive you, but waiting for the appropriate time to discuss it.

  6. Good job. So well said. I love how you can talk about something in this very everyday tone with everyday words and get it just right. Kudos, grrrlfriend!

  7. That is good stuff, going thru this with my 4yr old. It took her over a week to say she was sorry to her teacher last time

  8. You describe exactly what I learned some years ago about how families reflect the Church and how the Church reflects Christ. We sin against one another, we seek reconciliation, and we enjoy a restored relationship because of forgiveness. I was amazed when I realized that our families really ARE a reflection to the watching world of how Christ works in and through us. What a great story!

  9. It’s so important to teach them forgiveness and never to be to prideful to ask for it ourselves. What a beautiful example you set for your daughter. God will bless your faithfulness.

  10. Beautiful post, Jo-Lynne. I had a day like that on Wednesday. Even though we moms are only human and we know that this happens to *all* of us, it is such a low and lonely feeling. Thank you for sharing your experience. Teachable moment.

  11. This is SUCH a brilliant post.

    In recovery we talk about how forgiveness is like taking heavy stones out of your pockets and leaving them by the side of the road while you walk on. People rarely remember that withholding forgiveness means you have to carry those rocks with you, always.

  12. I’ve been in this situation quite recently, and I love how you handled. it. It’s so hard to teach kids about true forgiveness…. and even to practice it ourselves.

  13. Wonderful thoughts on forgiveness. However, I would challenge the idea that forgiveness requires the relationship to be restored, as you state in the last paragraph. Forgiveness can take place in circumstances in which the forgiver has no intention of continuing the relationship, sometimes no intention of even informing the person being forgiven, but the act of forgiving is no less challenging, important, and healing to the forgiver.

  14. In my home we respond by saying “I forgive you” over the small things and “I choose to forgive you, no matter how it feels right now” for the bigger or harder things.

  15. With a 2 year old and a 4 year old we’re just getting into these kinds of interactions between the kids – I love the teaching moment you shared here and your point that forgiveness can’t be forced. I’m having to remind myself as a Momma who messes up sometimes to go beyond “I’m Sorry” and ask for forgiveness too – thanks for the reminder!

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