Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. - Corrie Ten Boom
You know the feeling. The house is quiet, the kids are playing together nicely, and you're using the moment to pick up (again). Suddenly, you are aware. Oh my goodness, there's peace. Before you get a chance to wonder what constellations aligned for this moment, you hear the dreaded word: "Moooo-mm-mmm-mmmy". Four year olds have a way of making a two syllable word into nine. You'd worry, but you know better. Someone must've looked at someone. Or touched them. Or copied their picture. Or breathed too loudly. You know, the usual savagery.
The other day was one of those days. Both kids ran down the stairs. The 6 year old was screaming, crying, coughing, and apparently, dying, all at the same time. The four year old came down with a smug look and an clandestine smirk.
I wish I could tell you how spectacularly wise my counsel to them was. I wish I had ten bullet points, advising you on how to deal with your kids' constant bickering. I don't. My response was more like this: "I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THIS CRAP!!!" Tender, I know. (You can forward your Mother of the Year vote to firstname.lastname@example.org).
I turned to my daughter and told her to apologize. With a full serving of dramatic flair, she turned to her brother and said "I. Am. Sorry! ". There was nothing sorry about it. I made her do it again. And again. "Say it like you mean it, El!" Finally, she said with an atom of love laced into it. I'll take it. Her brother responded with "I don't forgive you." My first thought was, "good grief! Here we go again." Then it happened...that still, small voice asked me..."sound familiar?"
Crap. Yes. It does sound familiar. My six year old isn't that much worse than his mother. Oh, I've forgiven some things. But, if I'm painfully honest with myself and with God, there's a lot I haven't forgiven. Even worse, there's things I don't want to forgive. Things I feel are unforgivable. Betrayal that is unimaginable. Wounds that run deep. Blemished memories and dreams unfulfilled. And every time I feel like I've forgiven something, I am reminded of something else. I look at pictures and I can see the pain behind our smiles. I think of days that should've been my happiest, yet they were some of the most hurtful. The anger rises. The bitterness seethes. My mind says "he doesn't deserve forgiveness". Gulp. Did I deserve forgiveness?
Matthew 18: 21-22 - Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times".
I can so identify with good ol' Peter. Forgiving is a painful process because it involves letting go. We think we are letting someone off the hook. We think they're getting off easy. We think we may be justifying their actions. And as my kids say all the time, it's not fair. Yep, it's not. But our lives were never intended to be fair. Jesus' time here on earth was anything but fair. He knew betrayal. He knew intense pain. He knew taunting. He knew how it felt to appear weak. Yet, even on the cross he cried "Father, forgive them."
If he did that for me, how could I not do it for the one who has hurt me the most?
How can I pick and choose how many times I forgive? How can I draw the line between forgivable and unforgivable. Seventy-seven, meaning, over and over. Over and over I have to choose to forgive. I can't offer up weak, dishonest prayers asking God to help me. It's an act of the will. I choose forgiveness. Even if I have to do it over and over. Even if the memories still hurt. Even if the scars remain. Even when I am treated unfairly again. Even when my mind screams "no!", my heart needs to choose it.