As her Counselor, I sat talking to a most troubled but beloved little girl about the fact that 3 other females had told a whopper of a story to their Physical Education teacher, accusing “Emily” of biting each of them. Our School Administrator did a marvelous job of unraveling this heinous little plot and vindicated my little scapegoated girl. Emily and I went on to discuss other topics and she excitedly began talking about one of her 3 little accusers and the fun times they were going to have. I marveled at her forgiving attitude! Minutes ago she was going to be suspended by this little backbiter and here Emily was talking about this child so positively that you would never know such treachery had occurred. “Emily,” I said “Something very unkind just happened to you and yet you have already forgiven the other little girl. I sometimes struggle with forgiving others. And yet you have done it! I’m so impressed with you!”
“Mrs Gnage,” Emily said………”you stick with me and I’ll show you how to forgive!”
“And so you have Emily…………so you have!”
How easy it is for a child to forgive, right? Their worlds are so simple and small. Oh, wait……….I struggle to forgive even the “simple and small” offenses sometimes. On occasion, I’ve angrily held onto a grievance against someone who hurt me and nursed the grudge until it shrieks from overuse. There is a certain attitude of pride in my lack of forgiveness. Deep in the ruminations of my mind, there is the single thought of, “How dare you treat me like that!” There is nothing wrong with asking and expecting to be treated with love and respect, but then again, there needs to be a healthy dose and understanding of my own human depravity. When I recognize how frail and sinful I am, then my, “How dare you treat me that way,” turns into, “How dare I treat God and His beloved children in such an unloving way!”
I will always remember, as a child, being with my favorite cousin, Amy, walking along the mounded edge of a fast-rushing, Pennsylvania river. As we meandered down the riverbank, I found a large and lethal-looking pricker. My immediate impulse was to reach out and stab Amy in the arm with it. She dodged my first few attempts but I was relentless. However, instead of getting angry with me and trying to hurt me either physically or emotionally, sweet Amy said in the most loving voice, “Deanna, sometimes I don’t think you realize it but you often try and hurt me.” Another grace-filled statement made by a child. The reality was that I didn’t realize I had consistently been doing it. And why? Some of it was misplaced humor; thinking it was a funny thing to do and not realizing the depth of pain it inflicted. The rest of the answer came from a place deep within my soul where I felt unloved and occasionally lashed out to make someone else feel hurt. What I learned from Amy that day was that I didn’t need to explode in anger when someone hurt me or took something from me. I needed to use my quiet, gracious voice, and say to the person, “You may not realize this, but you hurt me.” Because maybe they didn’t intend to hurt me or didn’t realize that their words and actions touched on my sensitivity. Or maybe they were being hurtful but my simple words may abruptly open their eyes to the fact that they were intentionally hurtful and that it impacted our relationship in a way that matters.
And then there are the times in life when we are hurt so deeply and grievously that we feel like forgiving a wrongdoer will wrench our souls in two. How can we possibly forgive? There was a time when I could not forgive another human being and held onto my disbelief, horror, and unforgiveness for 3 years. Three years isn’t long, you say, considering some transgressions we hold onto our whole lives? True. But any length of unforgiveness is too long and damaging to our psyches. The situation that had occurred was that my 4-year-old Goddaughter had revealed that a close teenaged family friend whom we had trusted had been molesting her and requiring her to touch him in inexcusable ways. “What kind of a sicko would do something like this?” I railed inside. I just could not forgive him. But that still, quiet voice of the Spirit kept reminding me that I had to. And it was accomplished. How was it done? In the act of praising God. I had gone to a famous local theme park for a 4 day experience of Christian singers, speakers, camping, and fun. I didn’t understand what praising God looked like at that juncture of my Christian experience. I was only used to uninspired religious dirges that had been sung from obedience and not from a deep and profound sense of gratitude and awe towards the sacrifice of my Lord and Savior! During that event, I sat and listened and allowed the lyrics of Christian contemporary, rap, rock, pop, and metal to wash over me as I watched other believers worship with their whole beings. And I realized that these people were ensconced in a beautiful embrace and tribute to who and what God is. It is there that I learned to worship. And when I worshiped, I was hoisted to a higher level. And when I asked God, He supernaturally gave me the ability to forgive my Goddaughter’s perpetrator. It was still demanded that consequences be meted out and accountability taken by the young man. But I was no longer a slave to unforgiveness. And my Goddaughter? Was she able to forgive? Through a series of delicate and well-worded questions throughout her development, I realized that God had given her the beautiful gift of forgetting. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she didn’t suffer any trauma, and therefore, I didn’t need to carry it either.
Forgiveness will never be easy. It will always be a conscious decision to acknowledge our own sinfulness and the forgiveness we receive daily from our Savior and then extend that same forgiveness to others. There will be times that you bounce right back from an offense with Emily’s zest for getting on with life because it’s just too short. There will be times, that you will need to go to a friend, and say, “I don’t know if you realize this, but you hurt me.” Lastly, there will be the times when it seems as though nothing can take away that iron curtain of unforgiveness. Those are the times that you must go to God in praise and thanksgiving and ask Him for the miraculous gift of His forgiveness. In the words of Emily, God says, “Stick with me, my child, and I will teach you forgiveness.”