On Forgiveness

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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.