Sunday, January 31, 2010


Today's youth group lesson, which I was asked to teach and agreed before I could back out on grounds of unworthiness, was about forgiveness.

At the risk of sounding nauseously righteous, I usually consider myself a forgiving person; I teach teenagers - if I couldn't extend grace on a regular basis, I would be miserable. And fired, I hope. But since the advent of my best friend's personal Hell, I have felt the blackest hole gnawing through my gut whenever I think about her ex and am wondering if I'm the best person to help young people understand what it means to forgive.

The first thing the lesson recommended I do was share an experience when I had trouble forgiving someone; because my son is in the group and because I don't yet trust my emotions regarding this situation and because it's tremendously awkward when teachers cry, I chose instead to have the kids tell me what they thought defined forgiveness. I wrote their responses on the board - everything from "say 'I forgive you'" to "accept an apology" to "let it go." We talked about whether or not it's important to consider what was done, and if someone had to ask for it in order for you to extend forgiveness. And - do we have to forget after we forgive? I just kept thinking how these concepts are wrenching for me, a grown-up practicing Christian; they must thoroughly confound pre-teens who are frequently overwrought with hormones and questions and beliefs in Fairness.

I had everyone write or draw what forgiveness would look like when they gave it to someone. The pictures & words were remarkably mature, though when I asked afterward who would find it easy to do what they wrote only a few hands went up. In the end, we agreed to talk about it more next week. I told them to keep their eyes & ears & minds open to examples of when it was (and when it wasn't) easy to forgive people.

I will do the same.


Gretchen said...

I think the hardest thing about forgiveness is to forgive someone who doesn't want forgiveness. You know, someone who doesn't think they've done anything wrong. In that case, I think the forgiveness is more for me than for them. Because I heal myself even if they don't care.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

There's where I struggle: He feels justified and not at all sorry for what he has done. Not yet anyway.

I guess I thought I was feeling further along in the process. Seeing him and feeling all miserable again - like crying - showed me I'm not done with it yet.

I guess we just keep moving forward. Together.

Sam said...

Has someone ever asked you for forgivness that sounded like it was something on their list of things they were obligated to do?
ANd I think, And I have discussed this with my kids that forgiveness is a wonderful thing. But to forget something is to not learn from it.

brandy101 said...

My understanding of Jesus' teaching (and later epistle writers) on forgiveness is first and foremost changing the situation from a vengance-based personal/cultural reaction to a more peaceful resolution. And secondly, to forgive, which may take time, and if it doenst come from us, we know that if it is requested by the perpetrator, God will forgive when no other human can.

As far as forgetting, no, God gave us, as humans, intellect so we can learn and grow personally and in our relationships; not learning from mistakes made by others would betray that gift of discernment.

There is a woman from college who did something horrible to me - luckily no one believed her tall tale of slander - but she messaged me recently via a mutual friend on FB - as IF!?! NEVER has she apologized. And NEVER have I forgotten. Toxic people perhaps can change but I am not going to allow myself to be poisoned due to naivete in the name of "forgiveness". I just never replied; as peaceful a solution as I could manage.

Stu said...

As long as tirades and dating of a former roommate is happening then my forgiveness will be on hold. I may eventually forgive but not forget, therefor there will be no need for that friendship again.

Alison said...

You know, I agree with what Texan Mama said. At some point I choose to forgive because I refuse to be strapped to the wreckage. I refuse to let that person hurt me any more. But I completely understand that when it's a huge betrayal, it can take a long time to be able to let go of the desire for revenge. Also, I don't think it's possible to forget. Nor do you owe that person another chance to hurt you.

Jess @ Openly Balanced said...

I came across this post today, and it made me think of your process with forgiveness and with teaching forgiveness. Most days, I honestly don't know where I stand with forgiveness, but I found this to be thoughtful.

psychomom said...

Forgiveness is a very interesting and difficult concept...and I'm not sure I'm the best one to teach others either. For instance, when it comes to my children (grown) I forgive very easily and would probably let them hurt me over and over and forgive them every time (for two of them, I have forgiven a lot). My husband I find very easy to forgive (but he rarely does anything that requires forgiveness). But sometimes, I will think I have forgiven someone, then I see them unexpectedly and the urge to give them a nice crisp slap in the face pops into my head, which just shows me that I need to try the forgiveness thing again. On the whole though, I forgive a little too easily AND allow myself to be "duped" again, because I forget enough to trust again.

Texasholly said...

I have never thought what forgiveness would look like if you drew it. Interesting!

Anonymous said...

Forgiveness is very hard, particularly when you see a person who not only continues to repeat the inappropriate behavior but also justify it.

Unfortunately this particular person has been justifying increasingly inappropriate behavior for a long time and leaving a lot of damaged people in their wake. It is unfortunate and sad to see someone you cared about and trusted turn into a person you don't even know.

dkuroiwa said...

I'm also interested in seeing what your kids thought that "forgiveness" looks like...I'm having a hard time figuring that one out myself.
I'm a bad one to be commenting about this particular subject as I'm terrible at forgiving people for the way they have behaved or how they have treated me. I'm with Stu in that, I may eventually forgive someone, but....forgetting is another story.
I have, at one time or another, forgiven people for their stupid and selfish actions...and for being an idiot. but it was really hard to do.

i wish you all the strength it takes NOT to choke someone down when you see them...that too is hard. Hmmm... i wonder if the temple has a charm for that....I'll check next time I go.

Suzanne said...

I realized a while ago that extending forgiveness works well in both directions. Having some MAJOR issues with someone from my past, I've had to work on the forgiveness thing for my own sake. Whether or not he ever wants it or "deserves" it is actually pretty irrelevant. At the risk of sounding selfish: I have to forgive and let it go for my own sake, or a soul-eating meanness would eat away at me for sure.


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