Forgiveness

 

My daughter came to me in tears. Through sniffles and sobs, she mumbled something about her ex-boyfriend.

“What did he do to you?” I asked, assuming the little cretin had hurt her.

She sniffled some more. “He didn’t do anything. I did.”

Uh oh. “What did you do?”

“It doesn’t really matter,” she whispered. “The thing is, he won’t forgive me.”

Treasuring a rare moment of heart-to-heart with my teenaged daughter, I wasn’t about to push getting more information. So I simply said, “Did you ask him to forgive you?”

She nodded.

“Humbly?” I asked.

She nodded again, wiping away more tears. “The thing is, Mom, I can’t fix what I did. And it seems he wants me to. But I can’t. And he won’t forgive me.”

I did all I could do. I held her. I understood her pain. I knew what it felt like to need forgiveness but not to be able to fix what I’d broken. I knew those feelings of despair. All too well.

A few years ago after my divorce, after time had gone by and my children were older and “adjusted,” I was talking to my son. I knew he had some residual anger about the divorce, and I knew he blamed me as well as his dad. I was at fault for so many things. I had caused him pain. I confessed to him that I was wrong and that I wished I could make things better for him, but that I couldn’t.

He patiently listened to me. I cried. He didn’t. Finally, I held his hands and said, “I’m so sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

He thought for a moment. He didn’t seem angry or even bitter. He just chewed on his lip a little and looked down. “I can’t right now, Mom. Maybe one day.”

I’ll never forget those words. Pain gripped my chest as if an invisible hand had taken hold of my heart and squeezed it. I gasped for breath. I wanted to beg him, plead, even demand his forgiveness. But I knew he was only being honest. He wasn’t trying to hurt me. He just wasn’t ready. I had to accept that.

I hugged him. “I understand. Just let me know when that time comes.”

My son, now in college, and I were driving back home from a doctor’s appointment this week. It was a beautiful morning. We had the windows down. It was cool for a summer day, and the scent of gardenias filled the car. It had rained the night before and everything sparkled. The freshly mowed grass, the red brick of homes, the pavement as it wound through quiet subdivisions.

Just before we reached the entrance to our neighborhood, I saw a snapping turtle along the side of the road. Its soft yellow-brown markings stood out against the dark pavement, and its little head turned up, eyes fixed on the far side of the road. I wanted to stop and help it across, but I was already past it, and the turn to my neighborhood was just ahead. 

I quickly pulled into our subdivision and did a U-turn. My son glanced at me. “What are you doing?”

I pointed at the road. “Did you see that turtle back there? We need to help it across. I don’t want it to get hit.”

My son, as much an animal lover as I am, agreed. (Saving slugs from his stepbrother who wielded salt like a weapon was a constant undertaking when he was little.)

I waited at the entrance for a car to pass before turning back, but just as I pulled out, I saw a truck coming in the other lane. We could see the turtle, still moving slowly across the road. It had made it to the middle of the lane, but it wasn’t going to make it to the other side, not unless the truck saw it and swerved to miss it.

“He’s not going to make it,” I said, gripping the steering wheel tightly.

Just then the truck barreled past, running over the turtle, crushing it into a pile of blood and broken pieces of shell.

We sat there, silent, staring at the turtle’s remains, and suddenly I lost it. “If only I’d stopped when I saw it,” I cried. “I could’ve saved it.”

I wept as I pulled the car around once again and headed home. The day wasn’t so beautiful anymore, the gardenias not so sweet, the grass not so shiny.

I know I was overreacting, probably having a hormonal moment, but it struck a chord in me, a convergence of helplessness, loss, and nostalgia. I remember so clearly my father when I was a child taking us on long trips to Florida, or out west to the Grand Canyon, or north to his childhood home on the Ohio River. Inevitably, we’d pass a turtle somewhere on our journeys, and my big, strong, tough Marine dad would stop the car, get out, and gently pick it up, carrying it safely to the other side.

Whatever the reason, be it nostalgia or feelings of loss, the turtle’s death affected me deeply.

My son reached over and put his arm around me. “It’s okay, Mom. It’s just a turtle.”

I pulled the car into the driveway and forced myself to stop crying. “I know,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m being silly.”

My son smiled. “No you’re not. You’re being sensitive. You’re the only person I know who’d care that much about a turtle and really feel it. That’s why I love you so much.”

I started to cry again, but this time for a whole other reason. “By the way, Mom, you don’t have to say you’re sorry to me ever again. Not about anything.” He leaned in and looked me in the eyes. “I forgive you. Do you understand?”

I nodded. I understood. The peace that swept over me is indescribable. The joy. The delight. His words fell on me like that gentle rain from heaven Shakespeare so eloquently described of mercy.

My son got out of the car, and I sat there for a moment. The gardenias once again washed over me with their sweetness. I thought of the turtle. I wished I could have saved it. But, in a way, it saved me. Its death opened up an opportunity for my son to forgive me, to show me grace.

I pictured the turtle, the blood on the road, and it brought to mind another sacrifice. One made long ago, one whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. I wept some more, this time in gratefulness. For my son. For the turtle. For my Savior.

There are 59 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @E35852

    Sniff…..

    I can relate to your beautiful essay.  Thank you for sharing.

    • #1
  2. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister
    Aaron Miller: Mercy results from valuing a relationship more than perfect justice. I try to balance an eager willingness to forgive with a didactic loyalty to justice. In other words, sometimes it seems best to withhold mercy long enough to affirm that justice is important and encourage a person to seek it.

    Denise’s son loves his mom, but (thanks to good parenting) also loves justice. That initial hesitance to forgive seems not only natural but also wise.

    It is a balance, isn’t it? You don’t want to cheapen grace by just throwing in around. And yet, grace is completely undeserved. Forgiveness in itself recognizes and respects justice. It forgives the debt owed. People who don’t respect justice don’t see the need to forgive. And yet we don’t want to just thoughtlessly cast wrongdoing aside. Jesus said to forgive those who ask it, even if they ask it 70 by 70 times. I think the difference might not be between forgiveness and justice, but between forgiveness and restoration. I think you can forgive but not be able to restore the relationship. That’s where it gets really complicated. What do you think?

    • #2
  3. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister
    Skyler: Her forgiveness is not necessary, it seems indulgent or self-centered for me to ask for it.

    I know what you mean, I think. I’m wondering though, if there are not lessons to be taught in putting our children in a position where they need to forgive. Forgiveness is hard. It relinquishes power, control, and an idealistic (or selfish) need to see justice done. Grace is a wonderful quality to instill in our children—to teach them to forgive. Not just pass over a wrong as if it doesn’t matter, but to actively say, I will not hold this wrong against you, and together, you and I, will work on restoring our relationship. Forgiveness is a wonderful gift. But that’s what it is—100% a gift. We can’t do or say anything to get it. But I think we all need it. Do you truly think it’s self-indulgent to ask for it? Or is it something we must do, to humble ourself to another person for the sake of restoration? Like Shakespeare said, it blesses him who gives and him who receives. Like I told Aaron, it is complicated, though, isn’t it?

    • #3
  4. Profile Photo Member
    @

    Denice,

    Did your daughter or son give you the okay for this? I am probably being harsh but I feel what was said between your children should remain private. I felt the same when my good friend Joan did something similar. If they gave you the okay then I am bad so please forgive.

    • #4
  5. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister
    E35852: Sniff…..

    I can relate to your beautiful essay.  Thank you for sharing. · 9 minutes ago

    You’re welcome. E35852. I hope it wasn’t too sappy. :)

    • #5
  6. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister
    10 cents: Denice,

    Did your daughter or son give you the okay for this? I am probably being harsh but I feel what was said between your children should remain private. I felt the same when my good friend Joan did something similar. If they gave you the okay then I am bad so please forgive. · 0 minutes ago

    Perfectly okay. As long as I don’t name them. They didn’t think this was embarrassing at all. Quite the contrary. They’re really self-assured. (the fact that we have different last names also helps!) I also have six in all—so not clear whom I’m talking about.

    • #6
  7. Profile Photo Inactive
    @rayconandlindacon

    At times when grace is withheld, we draw even more on the Grace that our Savior pours out upon us.  When, at last, we receive grace from those we have offended, we are now ready to overflow upon those we offend.

    Grace;  The never ending gift from God to His children.

    • #7
  8. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister

    10 cents—thanks by the way, I appreciate your concern for my kids. It was a legitimate question. :)

    • #8
  9. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DocJay
    raycon and lindacon: At times when grace is withheld, we draw even more on the Grace that our Savior pours out upon us.  When, at last, we receive grace from those we have offended, we are now ready to overflow upon those we offend.

    Grace;  The never ending gift from God to His children. · 25 minutes ago

    Belief has its beauty and its eternal benefits.

    • #9
  10. Profile Photo Contributor
    @RachelLu

    Thanks Denise. What a beautiful essay! This is something many people fail to understand — that we can’t just choose to “be okay with” everything people do, even if we love them and even if they desperately want that reconciliation. Sometimes we have to accept the painful distance, at least temporarily. But love is resilient; as long as we don’t try to force it, it can reconstruct itself in very beautiful ways.

    Honestly, it’s comforting for every parent to hear that, because the terrifying thing about kids is, you know that one way or another you’re going to make some mistakes, and those mistakes will cause pain, and they’ll blame you, and some of that blame will be justified. It’s inevitable! I’m not perfect and there are so many ways to miss the mark when it comes to parenting! But it’s good to think that in the long run, love survives and forgiveness is possible.

    • #10
  11. Profile Photo Inactive
    @user_646399

    As one who does not speak lightly of miracles, an unexpected one has recurred in my life: there are actually people who love me not in spite of my fallen nature and wrongful acts, but because of them – once I could humbly ask them to accept or forgive me. As Denise beautifully described, that does not always occur immediately.

    • #11
  12. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Skyler

    DC, I think your son’s understanding of forgiveness is best. He seems quite wise to me. When you asked for forgiveness it was too early and the pain too real. He wasn’t ready because he hadn’t sorted things out yet, nor decided whether whatever it was that required forgiveness was going to be a trend or an aberration. He was very mature.

    You talk of “teaching” forgiveness, but I’m not sure that is what you would have done had you insisted that he mumble some rote words about forgiveness without meaning. I think you taught him true forgiveness by earning it through time, behavior, and character.

    • #12
  13. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Susie

    Beautiful story!    Sounds like you raised some thoughtful, empathetic kids. 

    • #13
  14. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller
    D.C. McAllister

    I think the difference might not be between forgiveness and justice, but between forgiveness and restoration. ….

    I would distinguish between forgiveness and mercy. Forgiveness concerns the desire to be together. Mercy concerns the ability to be together.

    Mercy is a softening of justice. Forgiveness is a softening of our hearts. A hardened heart cannot offer mercy. 

    If a person offends and continues the offense or refuses to acknowledge the error, that continues to separate the persons involved. However much both of them might want to be reunited, they cannot be until whatever it is stops pushing them apart. Sin is willful abandonment. Sometimes, it’s not enough to look back. Sometimes, you have to retrace your steps or start a new path together.

    God is wondrously merciful. My favorite parable is of an Olympic long jumper competing with an average Joe to jump across the ocean. The Olympian, normally amazing, is equally helpless. Likewise, saints and sinners are equally dependent upon God’s mercy. Without God, we cannot become perfectly human — perfectly unified with God’s joy and love.

    God’s love is to our love as humans are to turtles.

    • #14
  15. Profile Photo Member
    @AaronMiller

    I don’t think it was wrong to ask forgiveness. He needed to know you wanted it.

    It just had to be clear that you valued justice and his own feelings as well.

    • #15
  16. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @Skyler

    Aaron, if your last comment was in reference to mine, I want to be clear that I was not being critical, only saying what my practice is.

    • #16
  17. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister

    Skyler—I agree, and thank you for clarifying and for your kind words about my son. He’s a truly amazing young man in many ways. As for teaching, I wasn’t so much meaning that I would insist on him forgiving. I wouldn’t do that. When I saw he wasn’t ready, I accepted that. But I guess what I was thinking is that in being willing to ask my children for forgiveness, I am teaching them about it. I’m teaching them its importance when they’re ready of course. I also teach them by forgiving them when they ask.

    • #17
  18. Profile Photo Inactive
    @HVTs
    D.C. McAllister

    E35852: Sniff…..

    I can relate to your beautiful essay.  Thank you for sharing.

    You’re welcome. E35852. I hope it wasn’t too sappy. :)

    If that’s sappy, I’m an old sap who’s not too proud to admit it moistened my eyes.  Thank you.  Your good fortune having a thoughtful and emotionally mature son is matched only by his good fortune in having an extraordinary mother.  But of course, these are not independent variables. 

    And thanks also for the good idea about hot sauce as an emotion cloaking device.  After this experience, I’m going make a Louisiana purchase or two of my own and leave them strategically placed about.

    • #18
  19. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister

    Skyler—just so you know, I didn’t think you were being critical. Aaron probably didn’t think so either. I appreciate what you said. It got me thinking. :)

    • #19
  20. Profile Photo Member
    @JoALT

    I cannot think of one night since the first day I became mom that I have not silently asked for forgiveness from my children. There is always something in a day I can do better. Sometimes, I think of my past mistakes and wish I didn’t commit them so that my children would, in my mind, somehow, be better off. Eg. If only I hadn’t made that poor investment etc.

    It’s illogical, but I have learned that part great gift of unconditional love is really how much more profoundly aware we are of ourselves, our limitations and our humility. Unconditional love can truly displace the brokenness in our spirit. 

    Thanks for a beautiful piece. My son just came up and asked me why I am crying in front of the computer. 

    • #20
  21. Profile Photo Contributor
    @RachelLu

    Yeah, I was a little teary too. It’s just hard to express sometimes how much you want to be a good parent, and how much it hurts to realize that you often aren’t and won’t be. This essay really rubs on that sore spot. But in a good way.

    • #21
  22. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @iWe

    This was a beautiiful, beautiful piece.

    But, I have to say that I am very ambivalent about it. At least in my own life, it would be very inappropriate for my parents to ask my forgiveness for anything. Or for me to ask my children.

    Parents are human and make mistakes. But part of authority is responsibility. I am not my kids’ friend. I am their father. And that means that I do not ask for, or expect, their forgiveness.

    • #22
  23. Profile Photo Inactive
    @BarbaraKidder
    raycon and lindacon: At times when grace is withheld, we draw even more on the Grace that our Savior pours out upon us.  When, at last, we receive grace from those we have offended, we are now ready to overflow upon those we offend.

    Grace;  The never ending gift from God to His children. · 2 hours ago

    What an amazing gift!

    Romans 5:22

    • #23
  24. Profile Photo Listener
    @FricosisGuy

    Those we harmed may not be able to offer us forgiveness in return. I rely on the absolution of my sins promised by my Savior.

    That said, we bring them a great gift: sanity. For often our victims — whether we harmed knowingly or not — came to believe they were unworthy of love, children, security, God, etc.

    Amazing healing can follow so long as we are thorough, specific, and fearless in admitting our wrongs, making amends, and asking forgiveness.

    • #24
  25. Profile Photo Podcaster
    @DaveCarter

    Sitting in a truck stop diner, surrounded by rowdy and surly truckers, …and I’m thoroughly choked up. That may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read on Ricochet. Not the turtle guts, mind you, but the light that shines through your words, itself a reflection of the light that shone over Bethlehem so very long ago. Thank you, Denise.

    • #25
  26. Profile Photo Member
    @Ansonia

    Thank you for the beautiful post on forgiveness. Forgiving is something I’ve never been able to do. But right now, I want to remind you of a few important facts about snapping turtles.They have long necks. They have a wide range of motion in their necks.They have POWERFUL jaws.

    If you don’t have a long enough, thick stick to sort of push/coax the critter to safety, shrug and let the car kill him.

    • #26
  27. Profile Photo Inactive
    @Melaniejw

    You have written beautifully on a profound subject. Thanks for the illustration and reminder of the amazing gift we have been given.

    • #27
  28. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister
    Aaron Miller

    D.C. McAllister

    I think the difference might not be between forgiveness and justice, but between forgiveness and restoration. ….

    I would distinguish between forgiveness and mercy. Forgiveness concerns thedesireto be together. Mercy concerns theabilityto be together.

    Mercy is a softening of justice. Forgiveness is a softening of our hearts. A hardened heart cannot offer mercy. 

    Brilliant as always, Aaron. 

    • #28
  29. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister
    Joan of Ark La Tex: I cannot think of one night since the first day I became mom that I have not silently asked for forgiveness from my children. 

    I cannot ditto this enough in lots of contexts. I wonder if dads are the same way. Or is it just us moms being overly sensitive or whatever it is we are?

    • #29
  30. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DCMcAllister
    Rachel Lu: It’s just hard to express sometimes how much you want to be a good parent, and how much it hurts to realize that you often aren’t and won’t be. 

    If only the kids knew how much we love them. I guess I never knew until I had kids of my own. That’s why I love my parents more now than ever. It does hurt when we fail them. We’re supposed to be the strong ones. But we fail so much. Grace is what sees all of us through. 

    • #30

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