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Yesterday I got an email from our church,
stating that this Sunday’s topic is “gut-level
forgiveness: How do you forgive people when you’ve been
punched in the gut?”

It started me thinking about how well I am (or am not) teaching my
girls about forgiveness. I know they meant figuratively punched in
the gut, not literally, but certainly most of the forgiveness that
has to go on between me and the girls is on the physical level: I
can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been punched in
the eye by flailing arms; had my hair pulled out by an
over-enthusiastic toddler climbing all over me; been cracked with a
stinging blow on my nose, drawing tears and blood; or even actually
punched in the gut by a toddler unwilling to have her diaper

And as silly as it sounds, those blows
aren’t always easy to forgive. When you’re in physical
pain, the last thing you want to do is reassure the person who hit
you – as in, tears are streaming down your face, your nose is
gushing blood, and you think you might pass out from pain, but you
catch sight of your toddler’s panic-stricken face and have to
say, “It’s ok, honey, it’s ok! Mommy knows you
didn’t do it on purpose. Mommy forgives you. Mommy’s

But as hard as that might be, forgiving the emotional blows is even
more difficult. I’ve read a few great books on parenting and
discipline that have helped me see habits and patterns in my
relationships with my children, and help me stay above the fray and
out of the boxing ring. Maddie’s only four, and hasn’t
yet learned to hurt people on purpose with words –
that’s coming, I know, and believe me I dread the first time
I hear “I hate you! You’re a terrible Mommy!”
Even now, though, she’ll say something that hurts me, even
though she’s just being honest, and it takes a lot of
willpower to not say something hurtful back or lash out at her. For
example, we’ll be lying in bed snuggling and she’ll
say, “I always prefer spending time with Daddy to spending
time with you.”

Excuse me? What am I, chopped liver?

But instead of being snide or getting up and walking out in a snit,
I try to see where she’s coming from and now can even say,
“You know, I don’t blame you. Daddy’s one of my
favorite people to spend time with, as well.” I want her to
learn good manners, but lying to be polite is crossing the line, so
I’m glad she feels she can say those things to me. Forgiving
her that unintentioned hurt, however, and staying in the moment,
takes work.

I see the fruit of this labor, though, in the way my girls treat
each other. If Maddie hurts Cora accidentally, she knows she must
still apologize for the accidental hurt, and Cora knows she must
work to forgive her. There are lots of breaks and moments that must
be taken before a friendship can be resumed sometimes, but the
girls are growing up with, I hope, loving and grace-filled hearts.
Any time either one holds a grudge over some unimagined slight
– perhaps thinking a sister got the “good” seat
at church on purpose, or something – I struggle with whether
or not to intervene. How best to help them actually learn to love
and forgive, rather than merely go through the motions to avoid the
wrath of Mommy?

This church email brought the topic to the forefront for me, but
it’s been in the back of my mind for a while – since
kindergarten roundup, actually. I know I’m going to have less
and less direct influence over Maddie as she enters
“real” school, and I also know she’s going to be
entering the world of big kids and bullies, of people who are mean
or controlling just because they can be. And I don’t want to
see Maddie hold onto grudges, become hard-hearted towards friends
just because they choose to play with someone else one recess, or
retreat into a bitter shell over imagined slights or favoritism
from a teacher towards another student.

Forgiving someone, even if (or perhaps especially if) they
don’t want your forgiveness, will in some weird way actually
take away their power over you. Maddie may not be able to force
someone to be sorry for the way they treat her, but by learning to
forgive them regardless, she removes their ability to hold her
emotions hostage. I’m fairly certain she’ll be needing
this skill when she enters the big-kid pool of elementary school.

How to raise a girl with a grace-filled heart, ready to forgive and
be kind even when others aren’t? I don’t have the
answers, other than modeling it for her as best I can. I’d
love feedback from you parents who have already been through this,
and how you help your child deal with – and let go of –
unfair circumstances or unkind treatment.


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