Is it fair to suggest that we should exhibit childlike forgiveness? After all, there are hurts inflicted by others that are so egregious, forgiveness almost seems wrong.
Our recent focus at Rethink Church has been childlike faith. There are certainly times when those of us on the more mature side of life could benefit from adopting a bit of childlike perspective. Looking at others, it’s great to be childlike. While questioning and probing our faith, it is good to have a childlike inquisitiveness. But is forgiveness one of the areas where it’s beneficial — or even healthy — to live childlike?
Here’s a story of childlike forgiveness:
One sunny summer afternoon, Matt and I whiled away a few hours playing with sidewalk chalk. The sidewalk of our suburban town was the canvas for us to declare our youthful awesomeness. We worked our way down the block, from my house to his, alternately writing, “Matt is great! Ryan is great! Matt rules! Ryan rules!” It kept us busy until I had to go home for dinner.
There were still a couple hours of daylight left after dinner, so I went back out to see what Matt was up to. I didn’t find Matt, but I sure saw what Matt had been up to: He had retraced our path, making “edits” to our billboard of awesomeness. The sidewalk now read, “Matt is great! Ryan is dumb! Matt rules! Ryan sucks!”
I wasn’t happy. I went to work quickly, recalling the best retort I’d heard in my 7-year-old experience (“I know you are, but what am I?”). I went about setting things right.
With chalk in hand, I delivered justice, eye-for-an-eye style. I did to Matt exactly what he’d done to me, changing the words after his name so that the sidewalk read, “Matt is dumb! Ryan is dumb! Matt sucks! Ryan sucks!” I’d just barely made it past our yard when my dad discovered what I was doing.
My dad wasn’t happy. He went to work quickly, getting a bucket of water and a brush. We weren’t allowed to say “sucks” in my family (insulting others was generally frowned upon, as well). I had to scrub clean the sidewalk in front of our house where I’d insulted Matt.
So I got double-whammied: I had to do the work of scrubbing, and the majority of our block still read, “Matt is great! Ryan is dumb! Matt rules! Ryan sucks!” Humiliated twice over, I scrubbed. As the sun set on that eventful day, I made a decision: I hated Matt.
He rang my doorbell the next morning. Matt didn’t ask about the sidewalk. He didn’t remark about how clean it was in front of my house. He issued no apology. He just said, “You want to play?”
I did want to play. I thought about demanding an apology. I thought about slamming the door in his freckled face and letting my hate fester a bit more. I thought about what a good time we normally had together and how I would miss that if I didn’t let the sidewalk chalk thing go. I thought about how life would be rough as I mourned the fractured relationship with my one-time friend who lived up the street (well, I may not have used those exact terms).
I went and played.
That’s a nice story, isn’t it? There’s a happy ending and everything.
The hurts many of us deal with run quite a bit deeper than being told we “suck.” There are those who are victims of betrayal, malice and evil. “Suck” does not aptly describe the causes of their hurts.
But psychologists suggest forgiveness is an integral part of the healing process. And theologically we understand that we have been forgiven by God, and so, too, we are called to seek to forgive others. Christians pray about their efforts in forgiveness quite often, saying “forgive us our trespasses/sins, as we forgive those who trespass/sin against us.” Forgiveness is important, to say the least.
However, I’m not going to suggest that forgiveness is something to be approached in a childlike way. It might be OK for us to yearn for forgiveness in a childlike way, but the process of forgiveness requires maturity and discernment. Forgiveness may not always lead to the restoration of a relationship. In many cases, restoring a relationship may not even be healthy or safe. Forgiveness requires a great deal of forethought and care. But forgiveness does lead to freedom — freedom from hate, from the distractions of vengeance, from further strife. Maybe letting go of those things is the best way to express forgiveness when relationships shouldn’t be restored.
As we process forgiveness through some posts on RethinkChurch.org, we’ll offer insight on steps to forgiveness, dealing with institutional forgiveness, and offering forgiveness to people or groups who are not repentant. Follow our Facebook and Twitter page to see when these posts go live.
May this be an invitation for you to consider forgiveness. Are you holding on to hurts? What would it look like to safely introduce forgiveness?
Or, are you hanging on to something for which you need forgiveness? What would it take to seek out forgiveness? What would it take for you to forgive yourself?
Perhaps approaching forgiveness in a childlike way simply implies a willingness to entertain the above questions.
Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan serves as the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church.