“I think forgiveness is a commandment or an invitation to not live in resentment but to go forward and forge a good life despite disappointment, despite others betrayal and not build a life around “poor me”. It’s a very challenging thing to do, especially if you’ve really been hurt. It’s very easy to set up a life around your victimhood. So forgiveness is limited to whether or not you move out of that anger and betrayal and move your life forward, which may be very different than whether or not you reconcile or trust the person who has done the betraying action. You can forgive and never reconcile.” — Dr. Finlayson-Fife
When my 2nd-grade daughter walked in the front door after school, I knew immediately that something was wrong. When I asked her what was wrong, she went silent. It was this silence that terrified me. My mind began to fill with horrifying scenarios of what might have happened that would cause my happy daughter to come home looking like something had broken inside of her.
Slowly the story came out, piece by piece. It caused her so much pain to recall and talk about the events, and she was confused with her feelings. She thought she had done something wrong, but also felt like something wrong had happened to her and she couldn’t make sense of it all. All she knew was that she was scared and hurt and confused.
There was a substitute that day for her PE class. My daughter is very much a “rule keeper.” For example, when I parked in a parking spot that said “15-minute parking only,” she first asked if I was aware that I could only park there for 15 minutes and then wanted to know if what I needed to do would only take 15 minutes or less. She is aware of the rules and expectations at school and is a bit ridged in following them. On this particular day in her PE class, the substitute was struggling to keep the class under her control. She had asked for silence, and when someone broke that silence, the teacher quickly asked for the class to sacrifice the culprit. A boy promptly offered up my daughter’s name as the guilty party. The teacher now ready to show the class who was in charge then set my daughter to the PE closet and shut the door on her making stay there for the remainder of the PE class.
My heart broke, and tears filled my eyes as I came to understand what had happened to my daughter. Even today, years after the event, it still makes my heart sad.
I didn’t want to fight back and lash out, so I did nothing. I wanted to remain calm. And so initially I had no response. I thought my mild reaction was evident of my ability to forgive. I didn’t want to lash But forgiveness isn’t about having no response. Was it inconsistent with forgiveness to do something about the situation?
Later that night I talked to a good friend of mine about what had happened to my daughter. She was appalled at my lack of response. And that woke me up.
“Forgiveness is a form of grieving. It’s a sign of moving forward—after allowing yourself to fall apart, to face what is, to understand the disappointment and sadness in it, to make decisions for yourself in the face of it, but then not to define your life by it, or spend your whole life punishing somebody.” — Dr. Finlayson-Fife
The next day I talked to my daughter’s teacher and the principal sharing with them details of the event. I also spoke with the School District Office about the situation. I felt a responsibility to make know what had happened not because I wanted to ruin this substitute and make her suffer and pay for what she did, but because I wanted to do my part to prevent such an event happening to another child. Forgiving did not mean that I had to stay quiet and take no action and just let it go. Forgiving is about dealing with the reality of the situation, letting go of resentment and revenge, and being able to make wise decisions around the event.