My two-year-old has developed a habit of throwing his bowl across the kitchen when he’s finished his food. Sometimes it clears the dining area and we find it in the playroom with a messy trail of porridge!
Every time I tell him not to do it, he says, “I sorry, Mommy. I won’t.”
Despite the sweetness of his apology and even his willingness to collect his bowl, he keeps doing it. The message hasn’t exactly sunk in.
The other day, after he drew with markers all over his bare chubby tummy, I told him he should only colour on the paper, and he said so sweetly, “Okay, Mommy. I won’t.”
It made me chuckle to myself, as his seemingly sincere apologies are muddled up in a language of forgiveness that he has clearly not mastered.
My toddler may not understand what saying sorry means, nor does he even know what “I won’t” actually entails, but the sweetness of his apology, which always comes with a kiss and hug, is a beautiful practice of reconciliation.
Having three older siblings, who have had lots of practice with apologies, has surely helped our youngest go through the motions of forgiveness as expected. Despite my little guy not fully grasping the meaning of his apologies, the practice of saying sorry and the forgiveness that he experiences are teaching him one of life’s most important habits.
Such great pain and division is caused when we are not able to say sorry or when we don’t feel like we can forgive. But when we practise it daily, and forgiveness becomes a habit, perhaps this will prepare us to forgive when it might have otherwise seemed impossible.
Much has been written about the forgiveness extended by the Amish in Nickel Mines, Pa., after a shooting in 2006 left five young girls dead and five others injured. The family of the victims reached out to the wife and parents of the shooter, who killed himself, and offered them forgiveness even on the day of the shooting. This immediate act of forgiveness comes not from a place of complete healing nor following the remorse of the shooter’s family, but as a life practice and commitment to give up one’s right to revenge.
With Jesus as our ultimate teacher and example of this type of radical forgiveness, we can trust that when we practise forgiveness daily with small conflicts, and choose not to hold grudges, we are prepared for the toughest acts of forgiveness one might face.
This doesn’t mean it is thoughtless or easy, and there are likely many emotions and hurts to sort through later. But regardless of how we feel, we can choose to forgive and trust God’s healing power to transform our own broken hearts.
Jesus entrusted to his followers the message of reconciliation, and called for repentance and forgiveness everywhere he went, right up to the cross. Reconciling our broken relationships, our family feuds, our grudges against friends who have let us down, is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. We need to practise actions that bring us together, not those that tear us apart.
And when we choose to apologize, forgive and be reconciled, even when we find it difficult or nearly impossible, God’s Spirit will carry us through the tough emotions surrounding it, bringing us nearer to wholeness as we continue to choose reconciliation daily, over and over again.
And just like my toddler, as we practise it, we will begin to know it better, experience the fruit of forgiveness and grow as God’s ambassadors of reconciliation.
Christina Bartel Barkman, with her four little ones and her pastor husband, seeks to live out Jesus’ creative and loving “third way” options.