I’m a day late on Forgiveness Friday this week, due to technical issues with this site yesterday. Fun stuff! I refuse to let a little glitch get in the way, though, so once again I’m thinking about forgiveness – just 24 hours later than I planned. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.
Having children changed my perspective on Valentine’s Day. Whereas in the past I viewed Valentine’s Day as a crassly commercial holiday, rife with potential disappointment, now I rather enjoy it. My children’s enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Having children also gave me another opportunity to express love, this time to the most enthusiastic audience imaginable. My little ones are nothing short of thrilled when I give them a few pieces of candy and a small present. That kind of joy is infectious.
With yesterday being both Valentine’s Day and Forgiveness Friday, I was thinking about how parental love informs my views on forgiveness yet again. Having two children has given me lots of chances to teach my offspring about forgiveness. That wasn’t the first lesson in forgiveness that motherhood brought me, though. Becoming a parent in the first place brought many lessons about forgiveness.
Any parent can tell you that children can be a little bit, erm, trying. There’s a reason that toddlers, in particular, are just so cute. We find them charming because if we didn’t, we would be far less willing to experience the constant aggravation they gift us with. I loved my toddlers to bits, don’t get me wrong. At the same time, there’s no denying that the temper tantrums, constant search for danger, bodily fluids, messes and violence delivered at their hands can wear you down. When you’re parenting a toddler you’re dealing with a lot of crap, figuratively and literally.
It’s no surprise, then, that parents sometimes get angry with their children. We feel guilty about it, because they’re only children. We understand that they’re not really responsible for their actions, and they’re not developmentally capable of understanding how their behaviour impacts us. When someone screams in your ear and tries to bite you because you won’t hand over a cookie three minutes before dinner, though, some aggravation on your part is only natural. It’s why I give myself time-outs, even though I’ve never given them to my children. Taking a few minutes to calm down and regain your perspective is never a bad thing, especially when you’re nearing the end of a long day with a two-year-old.
When you tuck that two-year-old into bed at night, though, and see your baby sleeping sweetly, something magical happens. It’s like all of the day’s aggravation just washes away. In those few seconds the anger vanishes, and all is right with the world again. Although I never thought of this as forgiveness, that’s what it is. It’s a letting go of anger, as it’s replaced by a feeling of profound parental love.
Thinking about this yesterday, it occurred to me that love has a very big role to play in forgiveness. In fact, you could argue that all forgiveness is rooted in love. Certainly, most of us find it easier to forgive people we care for, whether they’re our children, partners or friends. We recognize that while we may be angry, the positive emotions we feel outweigh the negative ones, and we’re better able to let go of that anger.
We can love for almost anyone. I think that kindness is a good word to use here, where kindness refers to a kind of love we have for all of humankind. Or all life in general – there’s no need to leave out animals or even plants. When we’re in touch with that feeling of goodwill for others, we find it easier to forgive them, even if they’re strangers. Once again, love trumps anger and brings about forgiveness.
I am reading Forgiveness is a Choice by Robert D. Enright right now, and so far it’s a great book. I’ve highlighted a number of passages. This definition of forgiveness from philosopher Joanna North, which is quoted by Dr. Enright in the book, seems particularly fitting here:
… we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to the resentment, but instead by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love …
Forgiveness is rooted in love.
It’s easy for me to forgive my children because my love for them is so strong. Perhaps, then, my challenge in learning to forgive myself and others lies in cultivating feelings of compassion, benevolence and love. I suspect that the more kindness I can offer myself and others – while still setting appropriate boundaries – the easier it will be to forgive. I’m thinking of it like my Valentine’s Day gift to the world. It’s a giant sparkly heart, that says I really do care, and that we all matter and deserve forgiveness. Not so much because we’ve earned forgiveness, but because carrying anger around serves no one at all.
I love myself enough to let go of that anger. I love other people enough to let go of that anger. Not all at once, but bit by bit by bit.