We spend pretty much all our time forgiving each other. One thing about homeschooling, you certainly get plenty of opportunities. When I’m not forgiving the girls for behaving like two- and six-year-olds, they have to forgive me for loudly losing my temper. Then one girl has to forgive the other for pony theft, and the horse thief has to forgive her sister for assault with a duck.
Then we risk going out the door and have to interact with other humans, dang it.
I have to forgive my neighbors for leaving half a smoothie (spilled) and candy wrappers all over the stairs, and also for stealing the dollar-store mop I left in the common closet. Then I have to forgive the other NOVA drivers, and the girls have to forgive me for stomping all over their conversation to call the drivers slowpokes and tell them to get out of the way already. (Note: I do really use words such as “dang it” and “slowpoke,” out of consideration for my youthful audience and trickle-down swearing. Apparently I have also become a fierce driver.)
Eventually, usually with no bad words whatsoever, not even if we got caught in badly labeled construction, we arrive at our friends’ house.
We all have one of those friends…you get to forgive him a lot. Anne of Green Gables referred to it as a “besetting sin.” Sadly, pretty much everyone has a besetting sin, argh argh argh. Some people lose their tempers (guilty). Some people hog the awesome toy. Some people always ditch you at the last minute. And some people feel that the best response to any uncertain social situation is hitting. One small friend of ours had such a besetting sin. His mama took care of it every time, consistently, but sometimes discipline takes a while to sink in, as in years. But in the meantime, if you want to keep him as a friend, you have to forgive him again.
Meg and I were talking about forgiveness again this morning. She forgave her sister, quite honorably, for something, and immediately tried to excuse her. “It wasn’t very bad.” I stopped her. No—we don’t forgive people because the thing they did wasn’t bad. If it wasn’t bad, they wouldn’t need to be forgiven. No—we forgive people because they DID do something wrong to us. It really was wrong, and we need to restore the relationship.
This kind of forgiveness is emotionally expensive. It costs something, and they don’t deserve it. We forgive, not so much because it’s good for us or because we like the other person, but because we are Jesus’ people and he forgives us. I have no idea if Aristotle had any concept of forgiveness; justice he understood, but forgiveness, that’s different. Forgiveness is not fair. It’s a particularly Christian virtue.
Apparently my favorite verse is Ephesians 4:32. Whenever the situation seems to call for it, I’ll ask, “What does the Bible say?” and Meg always chimes in, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted and forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” I didn’t notice this was a trend until one time I meant to quote a different verse. I do know other verses, actually.
I know Meg has been applying that verse. Last summer when Meg was little, I dropped her off at Vacation Bible School for the first time. I talked to her teacher after one of the mornings, and the teacher told me there had been a minor altercation. Oh? Yeah, one of the girls had done something. But Meg piped right up and explained how she had to forgive her anyway and clearly I had been working with Meg on this. The teacher and I were both pretty pleased! Meg came away with fast friends and in love with VBS, so it was pretty successful, I’d say.
Forgiving each other is hard, but apologizing properly is even harder. There seem to be two errors. For example, the first error might be when you sneak up on your sister, kick her, and yell “Sorry!” to try to avoid getting in trouble. No, that is not a real apology. Try again. And we do not sneak up and kick people. The other error is when the shame from your actions overwhelms you so much, you hide in the sea-cave and can’t even get the word “sorry” out. To stand up and admit your actions, to say they were wrong and ask how can you make it right, now that is an apology. And I have no idea how to teach it, other than to practice and practice and practice some more.
This close-quarters life, this apartment in the treetops which is also our school, this home where we all live and play and learn and step through each other’s block buildings, where we pick our way among our neighbors’ candy wrappers on the way downstairs, is training the girls for adult life. Every day we practice not hitting even when we’re really angry, which is a life skill if ever I saw one, and sometimes we get it and sometimes we don’t. All of us who live here need to forgive one another and be forgiven, again and again, until the Lord returns.
I will just say, though, even if you say “sorry” right away, don’t throw the duck at your sister.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all photos by Carolyn Bales.