In his book, "Lee: The Last Years," author Charles B. Flood tells the story of a post Civil War encounter between the South's war general and a lady from Kentucky. General Robert E. Lee was taken by the lady to the remains of a once majestic tree in her front yard where she cried with bitter remorse that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union artillery fire.
General Lee contemplated the situation for a brief moment. This lady was looking for his condemnation of the north. So he spoke, "Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it."
"Forgive and forget" is what they tell us. Or was it, "Kiss and make up," or "Bury the hatchet"? Regardless of what they say, is it realistic?
People talk about forgetting being the hard part of the equation, but what about forgiveness? C.S. Lets once said, "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive."
Easier said than done. Of course it is better for me to forgive an injustice than to allow it to remain and take a chance on becoming bitter about it for the rest of my life. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, a professor of psychology at Hope College says this about forgiving and forgetting: "Forgiveness involves remembering graciously. The forgiver remembers the true though painful parts, but without the embellishment of angry adjectives and adverbs that stir up contempt."
One evening this past week, Dominic and I were in his room building something with his Legos together. In the background we were listening to a Bible story from Your Story Hour about Jesus blessing the children. Jesus was talking to the parents and He said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 18:3, NLT).
"Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive." C.S. Lewis
Hearing that in the story, I paused and looked at Dominic. He didn't notice at first that I had stopped and was just looking at him. He kept searching for pieces and putting them in place. I don't know how much time passed, maybe a minute or two at most--not long. But in those brief moments, I reflected on him in the context of what I just heard.
Dominic is a great kid. He's sensitive. He's smart and creative. He's handsome. (Good thing he's not going to read this, because he'd be embarrassed.) And I know I'm biased as every parent is, but I'm proud of my son. But what I'm not proud of are the times I haven't been the exceptional dad. Maybe I was short or gruff. Maybe I was strict when I should have been loving. Maybe I jumped to conclusions and imposed my will when I should have been quiet, patient, and willing to listen. In that brief moment, my failures as a parent--especially my more recent ones--were front and center in my mind.
"Dad, you okay?" His words brought be back to the moment and the task at hand. But as I again engaged in building the project, I realized something far more fantastic: he had forgiven me. And his forgiveness was complete. He still trusted me. He still loved me. He still looked up to me. He still said he loved me. Whether I had asked for it or not, he had forgiven me.
Maybe Jesus wasn't just talking about our faith when He said we needed to be like children to enter heaven. Maybe He was talking about the way we forgive too.
Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, quoted in "Forgive and Forget," by Tom Valeo, a WebMD Feature article