My kiddos fight. They’re 6 and 9, just at the right age to really get under each others’ skin. They push each others’ buttons; they bicker; they tease; and sometimes it actually comes to blows. And when my wife and I eventually intervene (sometimes I just sit back and start thinking of the Thunderdome scenario and then realize that’s not a good thing) we properly discipline them (either being sent to their rooms or some other creative adequate punishment). When the time of discipline is over, they are to come back to one another and apologize and forgive.
Usually the apologies are said half-heartedly and with an excuse or plea to one of us parents explaining why they did what they did (“She hit me first” “He called me ______” “She broke my Lego car” “He pushed me down” etc). The half-hearted apology is sometimes said low and muttered or other times shouted from the dinning room into the kitchen. And the “I forgive you” is usually the same. But they say I’m sorry, and they mean it that time…until it happens again.
And then when they mess up and break something (sometimes on accident, sometimes on purpose), go against our requests and wishes, or basically do something down right stupid, they are quick to apologize, expecting my wife and I to be quick to forgive. When it truly is an accident, the guilt they’re feeling is usually punishment enough. I applaud them for their honesty and thank them for telling me and I let them know they’re forgiven.
When it’s done blatantly though, I’ve gotten to the point now where I’ve told them “If you were truly sorry, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place.” I still forgive them and tell them such, but also let them know that true remorse is shown in not doing it again but instead changing their behavior.
Jesus was asked once how much should one forgive. Seven times? More than that? To what degree should someone forgive until they have the permission to hold a grudge and maybe get even with the other person.
Jesus’ reply to whether one should forgive up to seven times someone else?
“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21
And Jesus later says
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” Luke 17:3-4
This is sometimes hard to swallow. Forgive and keep on forgiving? But how? You don’t know what this person did to me! You don’t know the pain! You don’t know the hurt, the struggle, how it forever changed my life! And you want me to forgive?
I think it was Anne Lamot (and forgive me if I get this wrong) who said that not forgiving someone is like drinking rat poison and hoping the other person dies. Forgiveness is just as much as restoring relationships as it is restoring yourself. It is letting go of the pain, not letting it define you but instead be absorbed into the story of your life. The pain caused by someone else isn’t your identity. It is part of your overall story and will always be with you, but when you forgive, let it become absorbed into just one part of you, you are able to live fuller and more complete than before.
And then people come up and say forgive and forget. Nope. Always forgive, never forget.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says
“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:39
This isn’t saying not to defend yourself, not in the least. Instead, Jesus is saying that you don’t let it get to you. People used to say “an eye for an eye!” demanding justice, a justice that was originally meant to keep things in balance but instead became abused. If people are going to be mean to you, be nice back. If someone gives you the bird when driving by you on the freeeway, give them the international sign language sign of “I love you.” Confuses them every time.
But there’s one more thing. An old pastor once told me “You have two cheeks, after you turn the second one, learn to duck.” In other words, be kind, be loving, but don’t put yourself back in the same situation. That’s just plain stupid. Don’t give into their hate (as Yoda says, that leads to the Dark side) but instead give into the love of Jesus.
So, forgive. And mean it. Even if it’s hard. Even if you have to forgive someone a long distance away or even long since departed, each time it comes up in your mind, forgive. Not always for them, but for yourself. If restoration cannot happen in forgiveness, let it be absorbed into your story but not become your identity.
Forgive today, and live with Jesus now in his love. Forgiveness does amazing things.