Back when my son with autism was in junior high school, he was a target for bullying. As a result, he drew a picture of himself being hung. Above his head, he wrote the students’ names of those that were harassing him along with the words “autism – a pariah.”
The picture got into the hands of the parents of those named students. They reacted by saying the picture was a “hit list” of the names my son was going to target. The result was, the parents would not allow their children in school if my son was there. The school authorities looked at the situation of losing “many students versus one” in attendance. School officials did not allow my son back to school for a few days.
I organized a parent meeting to explain this misunderstanding, but not one parent showed. My son obsessed. He wanted to clear this mess up by writing each parent a letter of apology for scaring their children. Scaring anyone was never his intent. He wanted to explain that the picture was expressing his own personal feelings of sadness due to the treatment he was receiving from the students listed in the drawing. My son’s perspective and intention was clear to me, the school psychologist and social worker. Unfortunately, the parents reacted harshly and refused to learn the facts.
My Quest towards Forgiveness
“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope
With each New Year, my resolutions are usually focused on trying something new. Often I seek out some type of character-building quest. Years after that incident, one particular resolution was to learn more about the act of “forgiveness” as I was admittedly challenged. It wasn’t easy for me to forgive. At times, I had even used the concept of forgiveness as leverage saying, “I hope someday I can forgive you!” I had a difficult time separating forgiveness from condoning. I felt that if forgiven, then I must be condoning the behavior or actions.
The definition of forgiveness is to cease to feel resentment against an offender; to pardon. Years ago, I read many books on my quest to forgive. Fortunately, I now understand that when we don’t forgive, we hold onto those feelings of resentment leading to bitterness and hate.
Physical Impacts of Bitterness
Dr. David Levy, neurosurgeon and author of Gray Matter: A Neurosurgeon Discovers the Power of Prayer . . . One Patient at a Time, states, “The idea that bitterness was the source of health problems would not have made sense to me earlier in my career, but over time I became convinced that one of the greatest thieves of joy and health is the unwillingness to forgive the people who have hurt us… Bitterness kills like a disease. Releasing bitterness can dramatically help the underlying causes of many physical ailments.”(1)
Prior to my quest, I had always thought that forgiveness only had spiritual benefits. In his book, Dr. Levy explains, that forgiving others is part of the whole body healing. When we don’t forgive, it affects us spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
According to the Mayo clinic, people who hold grudges have increased blood pressure and heart rates. The benefits of forgiving include less anxiety, stress and hostility, lowered blood pressure, decreased symptoms of depression, and will lower the risk of alcohol and drug abuse. The act of forgiveness can change one’s life by bringing peace, happiness, along with emotional and spiritual healing.(2)
Children are also impacted by holding onto grudges. Symptoms may be seen as depression or anxiety along with various behavioral manifestations as children may not yet be able to communicate the resentment they are experiencing.
The Spiritual Side of My Quest
My personal quest included a look into the Bible to which I discovered a multitude of inspiring quotes.
Ephesians 4:32 tells us, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave you.”
Luke 6:37 cautions, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.”
Matthew 7: 2 warns, “With the measure we use, it will be measured to us.”
In the book The Blessing of Adversity: Finding Your God-given Purpose in Life’s Troubles, author and U.S. Senate Chaplain, Dr. Berry Black states, “receiving divine forgiveness is linked to our willingness to forgive others”.(3)
Matthew 6:12 extols, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We need to cancel their debt to us and release them to God. This cancellation of debt and release to God offers us individual freedom. “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others”. – Colossians 3:13
How to Teach Children the Act of Forgiveness
“Cause that’s what friends do! They forgive each other,” – Donkey, The Shrek Movie
Taking the time to teach our children the act of forgiveness is important. Some children are forgiving by nature and they are able to move on more quickly. However, some refuse to forgive when they’ve been wronged and this triggers feelings of anger and hurt. Children will experience anxiety and isolation when they hold onto those feelings. By letting go, children learn to cope better with the ups and downs of life.
Here are a few tips to help your child understand forgiveness:
As parents, we first need to actively demonstrate acts of forgiveness if we expect our children to forgive. Afterall, we are our children’s number one role model. Our children copy our behavior. If we send mixed messages, it is extremely confusing for them.
Aid in the Process
Help your child process what happened by talking it out helping them understand that forgiving others is not condoning bad behavior. Teach children that to forgive is empowering them to let go. Letting go will provide them with the freedom to move on. Explain to them that forgiveness doesn’t always mean reconciliation. Forgiveness is about taking back their power.
Explore 3 Steps to Help a Child Overcome Irrational Fears. The guide within this article can be modified for supporting forgiveness.
Encourage empathy as it is a learned skill. Inspire your child to consider what others might have been thinking or feeling. “Was he jealous?” or “Was she impatient regarding something you did?”
Reframing the incident teaches your child to think about another’s perspective. By relating to others through empathy, they will be more inclined to forgive.
Drive it Home with Social Stories
There are quite a few children’s books and movies that embolden the concept of forgiveness. Below you will find some of my suggestions:
We all need Forgiveness by Mercer Mayer
I Forgive You by Nicole Lataif
Forgive Me Please by Serena Bryan
The Forgiving Lion by Efrat Haddi
Berenstain Bears and The Forgiving Tree by Jan & Mike Berenstain
Forgive and Let Go by Cheri Meiners
Disney’s Muppets The Christmas Carol movie
Pixar’s Ice Age movie
Dreamwork’s Shrek movie
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the Fox and the Hound, and Wreck it Ralph movies
Marvel Studio’s Spiderman 3
Ridding Myself of Turmoil
That incident back when my now adult son was in junior high greatly impacted both my son and me. The hurt and humiliation followed us for too many years. I would often query, “why didn’t those parents get the facts first before reacting?” I was so hurt because their reaction felt like malicious intent. After all, the exclusionary retaliation felt a lot like bullying. I was concerned that these parents were serving as role models for their children. I struggled emotionally because I believed that many people don’t understand the ramifications of hurt that can scar for a lifetime.
Matthew West’s song, Forgiveness, drives this home. “When the pain they caused is just too real…set it free…forgiveness…the prisoner it really frees is you!”
I sought freedom. A few years ago, I asked myself, “Had I really forgiven those parents and the school officials? While attending church one weekend, the Pastor ironically spoke on forgiveness. It’s so interesting how that happened. He said “forgiveness is a supernatural act of God. Surrender. Let go and let God.” At that very moment, I realized I could not do it alone. I let go then and there.
“To forgive, divine.”
Wishing you and yours freedom in 2016. Happy New Year.
(1) ) Levy, David. Gray Matter. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011. Print.
(2) Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Adult Health.” Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness. Mayo Clinic, 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 27 Dec. 2015.
(3) Black, Barry C. The Blessing of Adversity: Finding Your God-given Purpose in Life’s Troubles. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2011. Print.