Forgiveness: What I Learned From My 7-Year-Old Daughter
I was sitting a church yesterday and my pastor was asking for prayer requests during Sunday Bible study. As usual, there were a ton of requests for family members who are sick, people looking for a new job, selling a home, buying a home, and the usual life events that people want prayer for. Then I hear Emma say, “Pray for my father in the army.” I cringed and had a feeling of horror and panic. Like if she had said, “You’re fat” to someone.
Most in the room didn’t bat an eye because it sounded like a completely normal prayer request. To be honest, the only people in that room who know our family’s struggles with her father are the pastor, myself, and my husband. The pastor didn’t skip a beat and added her father on the large notepad on the easel. While internally I had a panic attack and was horrified, I didn’t let on externally my genuine thought process. However, I can’t pretend my true reaction didn’t happen. It was a moment I should have been proud of my daughter and instead, for a brief moment, I was embarrassed. I was confused and if I’m really honest, I was angry.
I have always reassured her that how she felt about her father was okay. It was okay to love him still but be angry at the same time. It’s hard to teach a small child about complicated feelings. At the same time, I tried to teach her about forgiveness. That didn’t mean what the other person did was okay, but it was a personal choice move on, and trust God. Forgiveness meant in our hearts we stop holding the anger and bitterness and release it to God and work to heal from the event. It is necessary for healing. Forgiveness is what God wants us to do.
Personally, I thought I had forgiven her father myself. I don’t really harbor any feeling at all towards him. I want him to stay away and will go to jail before he is left alone with my daughter. But I don’t hate him, I don’t hold resentment, I don’t wish him dead. I often pity him in a lot of ways and I genuinely try to pray for him. In the moment of Emma’s prayer request, I had an instant lesson on forgiveness. There was also a lot more forgiving I had to do. After some thought, here are some thoughts that came to my mind on forgiveness.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. ~ James 5:16 HCSB
There is no timeline.
It has been three years since Emma disclosed the event. Even though I have forgiven him for that event, there is clearly more I need to work on. I’m not entirely sure what it is. I do know that if I truly have forgiven him for everything, I wouldn’t have had the reaction I did. Her father traumatized me in the worst ways possible. He materialized my worst nightmares. It took years for me to get to the state I found myself in by the time he finally moved away. I need to remember forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight, nor is there a timeframe for when it should happen. The same goes for healing. I may have forgiven him for Emma, but clearly, I had more work to do to restore my heart. And that’s ok.
If Emma has forgiven her father, that is something between her and God. It is not for me to put a timeline on. She may need more time to heal completely and she may still find she has complicated feelings about what happened. However, for me to say she shouldn’t want to pray for her father at this point is just absurd. It’s also not what God wants us to do. If I’m going to teach her about forgiving and its importance in our faith, I can’t place my own made up restrictions on it, even though I may want to.
Forgiveness is different for everyone.
Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive. ~ Luke 17:4 NLT
I think I was shocked by Emma’s prayer request because I felt like she should be angry with him still. I felt she should feel differently. Maybe she would if the circumstances were different. The story is the way it is. Emma took my words to heart when I told her it was okay to feel what she feels for her father. While her feelings might be a little more complicated than what she reveals, she unapologetically feels the way she does for her father. She has forgiven him, even though I may not understand why or how. My feelings on the matter should have no bearing on Emma’s capacity to forgive. I have to listen to my own words and be okay with her feelings towards her father.
It’s good to pray for those who offend us.
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. ~ Colossians 3:12
Prayer is a form of connecting to God and regardless of who we pray for, prayer is never a bad idea. Prayer leads us to be able to forgive those who have done us wrong. Talking to God helps us heal from the events we never thought we could heal from. God takes away our pain, wants us to cast our worries and hurts on him, and is the One who can give us peace that no other person or force on Earth can. So regardless of how Emma is feeling, her desire to pray for those who have committed the most horrific betrayal imaginable against her is something to be celebrated. Not something to panic over.
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost. ~ Luke 19:10
The truth is that out of any of the people that needed extra prayers that day, her father is someone who needs God the most. Most of the people who commit terrible offenses against us need God more than ever. Often we sin because we have lost connection with God in some way. TD has lost his way completely. The only way he can be helped is by God at this point. So I pray that he finds God, asks for forgiveness, and can manage to turn his moral life around. I also pray for God to give me the heart that my Emma has. To forgive TD wholly and completely to restore myself to the person God intended me to be.
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. ~Romans 8:28 HCSB