Being a parent tends to bring out some rather unpleasant sides of one’s character that perhaps would be better left unseen, hidden beneath the slimy underbelly of one’s stone heart. It certainly would be easier for one’s self-esteem. It is surprising, too, the creative ways the human heart can find to be wicked. Most moms will confess to the occupational hazards of impatience, curtness and fits of annoyance but I have been gifted with an artistic flare for sinful behavior that goes far beyond the run of the mill “Oh dear, I raised my voice at dear Suzy.” Though this genius for immorality comes in all shapes and sizes, I have lately been contemplating the grudging way I forgive my children.
Given the offenses for which my kids must beg pardon, it might seem strange, perhaps even absurd to say that I often accept their apologies with great reluctance. Of course, I know that no justification is possible for denying them absolution but still I will attempt to do so and disguise it as explanation rather than excuse. (I told you I was wily.)
In the first place, I am rarely convinced that they actually mean it when they say they are sorry. Sure, they want Mommy to stop being upset or angry, but it isn’t as if they have taken a great deal of time to contemplate the wrongness of their actions. They could sit in timeout from here to eternity and still not understand the heart-sinking feeling I get when I hear the crash of toys on hardwood coming from the room I just straightened or the maddening paranoia I live in daily knowing they are hiding around every corner in order to scare Mommy out of her mind and then laugh at my fright. How can they know all the little sacrifices made on their behalf that go overlooked and underappreciated?
So when they offer up a pitiful attempt of an apology, the serpent in my heart rears its triangular head (that means it’s poisonous or so says Animal Planet). It hisses in my ear that I am not holding a grudge; I only want what is fair and just. I want them to fully appreciate the gravity of the situation and then I will happily forgive. But that other voice, if I choose to listen, will fill my ear with quite another point of view. It knows that I don’t really want to forgive. In fact, it knows that I swill my anger and resentment around like fine wine, savoring the taste and pleasure it gives me. (I’m not much of a wine girl, actually, but give me a Ghirardelli square and I hold it there from now till the cows come home). There is something intoxicating about the power you have in the moment when someone asks for pardon, when they stand humbled before you. But left too long and that feeling of power can quickly become more of a case of sour grapes than fermented bliss. My unwillingness to forgive reflects more my ungrateful heart than the grievous nature of their crime.
There are many stories in the Bible which make me shake my head in disbelief; those stubborn Israelites wandering around the desert, missing the point time and time again; the Prophet Elijah, boldly confronting the false prophets of Baal one minute and running for his life the next. But one that gets me every time is the story of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:23-35). What a jerk! Forgiven so much and yet so unwilling to forgive. I never get too far into my tirade against this poor fictional character before realizing, of course, that I am this man; that I have indeed been forgiven much and that I too am all to willing to hold a grudge tightly in the grip of my sweaty hand. But I must take heart for unlike the servant in the story who is thrown into prison to be tortured until the debt can be paid, I have been forgiven even of my unforgiveness. It isn’t God, my judge, who throws me in jail to rot. He has set me free, purchased my freedom at great cost to Himself and my deliverer Jesus Christ. No, I am the one that holds tight the bars and refuses to let go. “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). I have always interpreted that verse to mean that God will forgive us in the same way we forgive other people. But that thought is a bit unsettling, isn’t it? If I can’t forgive my five-year-old when she steps on my foot, where does that leave me with regard to God’s account books. But I think that is missing the point. I comprehend my own forgiveness as I forgive others. My willingness to pardon is a reflection of the depth of my understanding of what has been done for me. And so I must choose to swallow my grievances or spit them out altogether. Then I will be free to imbibe the much sweeter wine of God’s grace.