Recently Rose and Emma taught Jason and I a lesson, a lesson we've struggled through the years to teach them.
Since Rose and Emma were little my husband and I have been trying to teach them the art of forgiveness. When they fought (as only sisters can) we made them apologize to each other and then directly afterward utter the phrase, "I forgive you." Granted, in the heat of the moment, when they're still so mad at one another they're spitting apologies through gritted teeth, the forgiveness part seemed pretty futile. But in that moment they didn't have to believe it, just say it. Because I believe that something, once spoken, has power. I didn't need them to believe and understand forgiveness when they were 4 years old, I needed them to say it, to practice it, so that somewhere in their brains they would begin to understand that forgiveness is just as important as the apology.
We don't discuss forgiveness a lot in our culture. We're Americans. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We overcome poverty, fight against injustice, and take no prisoners until we get what we want. We don't apologize to the people we vanquish along the way to reach those goals. We also don't ask forgiveness for the manner in which we achieve the things we want.
So we're not really good at apologizing and even worse at forgiving. We don't want to let go of the conflict. We want to relive it, savor our response if we thought we were the winner or hold on to it because we were the loser, the person trampled by the other. We want to lock that hurt up tight and keep it close so we can be reminded of our humiliation and plot our revenge.
People seem to confuse forgiving with weakness. The act of forgiveness is actually an act of freedom. It's a letting go of anger, resentment, all those darker emotions that everyone feels and then needs to get rid of. It's a release of the emotions that could hold you back, cloud your judgment and numb you to the good stuff like joy. It's difficult to fully experience joy if you're holding onto the hardship.
So we want Emma and Rose to know about forgiveness. To function in this world, they need to be comfortable receiving it as well as giving it. Forgiveness is a gift.
In the Bible, Jesus forgave. He urged his followers to forgive freely. Forgiveness is featured in the model prayer, the Lord's Prayer, and even on the cross Jesus asked God to forgive his tormentors, the very people who had put him there.
Forgiveness looks fine and dandy on paper. it sounds nice and easy when you're sitting in the church pew on Sunday morning with your shoes shined and your halo on. But it's much harder to pull off in real life. In fact, I'm not that great at it. It's hard for me to let things go when I feel slighted or stepped on.
Recently, Rose and Emma set an example of forgiveness for me to follow. In January, when we moved to Texas and enrolled the girls in a new school, we had bully trouble. There was a girl in Rose and Emma's class who decided to throw her weight around. She wouldn't let the other girls eat lunch with them or play with them at recess. She made fun of Rose and called her names. Often in those first few months, the girls came home in tears about the slights and insults this other little girl was dishing out. They finally allowed me to talk to their teachers about the situation. The school immediately took action and the bullying behavior stopped.
When it came time to create the guest list for their laser tag birthday party, Rose surprised me by insisting on inviting the girl who had given her so much heartache. "Really?" I said. "You can only invite two friends from school. Are you sure?"
I wanted to make certain Rose understood what she was doing, but I also was having trouble with her decision. I hadn't forgiven this little girl yet for the grief and tears she'd caused my babies, so I couldn't understand why Rose or Emma would want her at their party.
"Are you sure?" I asked her a second time.
"Yes, mom. It's okay," Rose said. "I've forgiven her."
"Yeah, we forgave her mom." Emma chimed in. "She's really nice now. Everything is okay."
I shrugged and sealed the last party invitation.
And you know what? They were right. Everything was okay. At the party, there was no name-calling, no hard feelings. Everyone had a good time, played together and laughed. I overheard the little girl who had given Rose and Emma such a difficult time express remorse that she hadn't invited them to her birthday party. I think she gained a whole new perspective on Rose and Emma by being included in their birthday celebration.
And Rose and Emma taught me that forgiveness is still a gift and something that should be practiced -- often.