Why can’t you just be normal?! I thought as I pictured all the the damage my 8 year old would do – my Incredible moody Hulk, kicking the walls upstairs. As I distracted the younger kids with music and moved them away from the noise, a familiar pressure clenched my chest.
Nasty old resentment, I thought. There you are again.
As a mom of four, two foster-adopted with Bipolar, ADHD and developmental delays, I spent the first 5 years as a parent shifting between numbness and resentment of all I’d lost in life – the family I’d imagined, the kids I’d dreamed about, the life where I didn’t have to do damage control with onlookers as my 8 year old goes ballistic in the middle of a supermarket. Where I didn’t feel guilty for even having biological children after adopting, because of all the trauma and dysfunction I can’t protect them from at home.
I had no idea all of that hinged on forgiveness until I heard a friend’s talk at a retreat this spring. As she unpacked the term and our misunderstandings, I realized how little I knew about true forgiveness, and how often I fell in to one of these classic screw-ups:
We don’t think before we forgive.
“What we forgive too freely doesn’t stay forgiven.” -Mignon McLaughlin
When my daughter breaks something of mine in a mood explosion, and I say, “I forgive you” immediately, it’s gonna come back up to haunt me like a greasy ballpark hot dog. It’s okay to take a moment, a day, a month to search our hearts for the full measure of the hurt, and then choose to forgive in a way that honors us and our feelings.
We think too much before we forgive.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” -Louis B. Smedes
A prisoner is someone deprived of freedom, whether for something they did or not. Why do we deprive ourselves the freedom to experience joy, peace and life for the sake of that annoying comment our friend made? We wouldn’t just check ourselves into a prison willingly, but we instead imprison ourselves in resentment, lingering over the choice to forgive and release the one who offended us.
We mix up forgiveness and reconciliation.
“It takes one person to forgive, it takes two people to be reunited.” -Louis B. Smedes
I often felt I couldn’t forgive a person if it was an unhealthy relationship and I didn’t feel led to remain in it. But the two are not the same at all. Forgiveness is letting the other person off the hook so God and life can step in to work on their heart. That can happen 1000 miles away, with no further contact. Reconciliation, however, only happens when both people are ready and able to renew relationship, of which forgiveness is a part.
We consider forgiveness optional.
“Forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.” -Anonymous
Life is stressful and forgiveness often seems like too much work. And, honestly, I want to stay mad at my daughter when she humiliates me with behaviors in public or hurts one of our younger kids in a tantrum. It feels like the only way I can stand up for myself and salvage my dignity. But the reality is this: we’re not perfect either. In God’s eyes we are all the same. He endured far worse humiliation for us. So forgiveness isn’t an option. It’s a given.
We get it totally backwards.
“Resentment is like a glass of poison that a man drinks; then he sits down and waits for his enemy to die.” —Unknown
Ever held on to a hurt for a while and wondered why the other person is off living life while you’re shriveling? It seems so unfair! Well, it’s because we’re sucking on the poison and expecting them to feel it. They’re. Never. Going. To. Feel. It. So spit out the poison already. Cry, journal, grieve, share with a friend. Then look up, and forgive. It doesn’t mean you’ve lost. It means you choose to walk out of the prison and LIVE.
Where are you at with the idea of forgiveness right now? Do you have anything to add to this list?