“We call it forgiveness when we’ve moved on, but I think forgiveness is when you let tenderness move in.”
-Ruth Choi Simmons “Gracelaced"
“I sorry Mommy. I fur-give you?” said in the sweetest little voice with the most genuine look of concern my four year old can muster. I just apologized for snapping at him, again. Here in the trenches of motherhood, with lack of sleep, tantrummy kids, a teething baby, and the mess that goes along with it, my patience runs thin more than I’d like to admit. And though I often blame my children for my bad attitude, in moments like this, their unhesitating, no-strings-attached forgiveness prove I have so much to learn from them.
Again my son forgives me for my bad attitude. And though he may not know exactly what he’s saying, he practices forgiveness better than most adults. While I’m still feeling guilty, he doesn’t rub it in, rather he immediately tells me it’s gonna be okay and asks me if I want to go play trains with him. In his mind the moment is over and I’m his mommy who loves him and also happens to be super awesome at playing trains, so what’s stopping us from doing that?
If only forgiveness were always that simple.
Moving Towards instead of Moving On
Forgiveness doesn’t always come so easy and sometimes it seems like the issue is being “let go of” right along with the relationship. Or forgiveness isn’t even considered until the right apology and amends are made. We’ve all experienced a situation where even after you apologized and reconciled, you were still emotionally “punished” by the person you hurt.
Or maybe you’ve done this to someone else? You act like you’re over it or like you’ve moved on, while you’ve let bitterness move into your heart. Then you emotionally distance yourself from the person that hurt you as a result. Maybe you’re afraid they’ll hurt you again, maybe you want them to feel the weight of what they did and you think being passive aggressive will show them that a simple sorry is not going to make it right.
Remember that short-fused momma at the end of her rope I mentioned above? She’s really good at moving on like this. When my kids misbehave or my husband doesn’t meet my expectations in some way, I act as if their behavior entitles me to have a chip on my shoulder. Even after the “sorry’s” and the “I forgive you’s,” I distance myself and maybe snuggle a little less with my kids at bedtime or purposely don’t kiss my husband goodnight. I use my wounded emotions as an excuse to freeze them out.
But real forgiveness is moving towards the person who hurt you. Emotionally connecting and restoring the relationship instead of simply getting over it. While there is an aspect of forgetting to forgiveness, it’s a choice motivated by love, not spite or a desire to avoid conflict. We must choose to value that person more than our right to be angry.
We also must remember how much we’ve been forgiven. Jesus reminds us in Luke 7:47 that, "he who is forgiven little, loves little.” This humbles and softens us enough to desire reconciliation. but it takes an incredible amount of strength to do this and it can cost a lot.
A quick but important caveat. Tenderness does not equal trust. And there are many circumstances where moving towards a person that has wronged you is not safe or advisable. In cases of serious sin against you (i.e. abuse) I do believe that while forgiveness is possible, a relationship might not be, and you should walk down this path with wise counsel by your side.
The Cost of Forgiveness
You see forgiveness is not free. When a wrong is done there are natural consequences. A debt is owed because there is a loss that will affect the one sinned against. So forgiveness essentially "pays the debt" of someone else’s sin. It's a choice that is made, not a feeling. Forgiveness is granted whether there is an apology or not. While forgiveness doesn’t ignore the hurt, neither does it allow the hurt stand in the way of the relationship. Instead, it allows “tenderness to move in."
And again I can learn from my son. Not only does he forgive me, he also apologizes for me. “I sorry Mommy. I fur-give you?” And it’s adorably cute because, though he doesn’t know what he’s saying, without realizing it, he’s pointing me to a deeper reality: the amazing love of Jesus, who not only forgives us, but is sorry FOR us. While we were dead in our sins (before we could even feel remorse or repent), he pursued us, took on the guilt of our sin and paid the price so that we could be forgiven.
There is no more perfect example of forgiveness than this. And it is the forgiveness that God offers us that is the only thing that can power the kind of tenderness forgiveness requires.