I’ve had to deal with my share of squabbles between kids over the years. Usually it’s enough to get the kids to look each other in the eye. Seeing the hurt expression in the sibling’s face is often sufficient to make the offender feel sorry for hurting the other.
Sometimes one or the other will break a smile and get them both laughing and it’s back to playtime. Occasionally I have to separate them for a timeout before letting them play together again, because their tempers need some time to cool. But the reason this works is because despite getting on each other’s nerves, they really DO love each other.
And they know I am going to require two things: an apology, and an acceptance of the apology. Not a halfhearted, still-angry “Sorry!” barked out in defiance, but a genuine, “I’m sorry for hurting you.” And the offended one can’t refuse to accept a genuine apology. They have all had the experience of having to offering an apology. They know it’s hard to swallow your pride and admit you are wrong. But they also know it feels so much better to give a real apology and to be reconciled. So when they get a sincere apology, they know they are also to have the grace to accept it and forgive. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to be forgiving when you’re a kid. But not so when you have a few miles on you and some hard experiences under your belt.
Several years ago we were in pretty desperate shape financially. My husband lost his job, and I was working full time but we were barely making it. A neighbor boy came by and offered to buy some fancy wheels my husband had for sale. He gave us a check for $250. We were delighted, because 20 years ago that was a decent sum to handle. It would take care of groceries and the electric bill.
I took the check to the bank and asked if there was enough money in the boy’s account to cover the check. They said it was, and deposited it in our account. I went grocery shopping and paid the electric bill and we felt pretty good. But a couple of days later the bank sent us a letter, saying that the day we came in their computer was not working and they had mistakenly checked the wrong account. The boy’s check bounced, and they deducted the funds from our account, causing the checks I had just written to bounce…along with the obligatory fee for bouncing the checks. (Don’t you just love how they take more of what they know you don’t have??) The bank was rigid, they would not make good on the transaction, even though it had been their mistake. To this day, I have no respect for this bank.
But beyond that was the issue of the neighbor boy who wrote us what he had to know was a bad check. We called and he promised to make it good, but never did. His parents later told us he had moved to another town, and shortly after that, so did they. I’ve tried not to think about it over the years, but it really hurt to have someone take advantage of us when things were so tight. He was a teenager, and his life went on as usual, and he probably never gave another thought to having stiffed us on the $250. I have tried to be forgiving, because I have teenage sons, and I know their good intentions haven’t always materialized. They aren’t always able to deliver on their promises, especially where money is concerned. Life gets tough and funds get tight. Jobs go away, bills keep coming, and we understand how you can just never get caught up. We can forgive that boy for his failure to pay what he owed. But do you think we would ever accept a check from him for anything again?
People think that “forgive and forget” go together. That you should forgive and forget. But that isn’t realistic, and it isn’t biblical. God says that He forgives our sins and remembers them no more. But He doesn’t say that we have to do that. He says we are not to carry grudges. A spirit of bitterness is a poison that only hurts the one who holds it. But not carrying a grudge does not mean to forget a transgression. I can forgive a snake for biting me…it’s his nature to strike when he feels threatened. But that doesn’t mean I should also walk into a snake pit and expect the snake not to bite. God expects us to learn from our experiences. While we can forgive, we also should learn from the experience and do what we can not to let it happen again.