How does one face one’s childhood bully? I’m thinking of two extreme responses in my case: smile, give her a hug, and then punch her in the face, or; smile, give her a hug and simply let the past stay in the past. Forgiveness.
It’s a pretty messed up situation because her parents were absolutely wonderful to me, treated me well, and went above and beyond giving me opportunities to learn different things outside the classroom—swimming, computer, even music. They widened my tiny little world just by being themselves: friendly and helpful and foreign. One parent was from Canada, the other from New Zealand, and somehow they ended up running a successful business in Belize and having a family there.
All my childlike mind could understand, though, was that these were really nice people from far, far away who let me play in their big house and hang out with their daughter who was super cool and pretty and smart.
I never fathomed in that time that my relationship with this girl would be my undoing and the source of pain, brokenness and trauma for years and years to come. Now, centuries later, I’m presented the opportunity to possibly see her again. And, I’m gauging my response.
I know the Christian response. I know what Jesus would do. Because I’m thinking not about the fact that He died for me, but that He went through all that, and I repeatedly, in my sinful manner, throw that in His face. Yet still, He comes to me with love, not vengeance. Understanding, not righteous hurt. He comes with reconciliation and forgiveness, not the fury that would have me suffer measurably for all that I’ve done against Him. [give a listen to Circle by Flyleaf]
Now I have to bestow all of that grace on someone else. Given the magnitude of the kind of forgiveness that I continually receive, I realize it’s something that I can’t give to others while using just my own strength. My own strength is only strong enough to want to destroy her, quite honestly. I’m not strong enough to forgive.
As I wrote this, as I reflected, and as I listened to the lyrics of ‘Circle’, I recognized a literal circle of forgiveness that I have never perceived before. Christ died and paid the price for her sin, just as He paid for mine. Therefore I must forgive her because Christ already did. Holding on to this pain does me no good, does the Kingdom no good, and though I still suffer the consequence of her sins against me, Jesus already paid the ultimate price. It’s not my place to make her suffer.
In my years before accepting Christ, I caused others immeasurable pain as well. I’d hate for any of them to come at me in self righteous vengeance when I’ve made it so far from the person I once was. Funny, because when I had started to write this post, I was convinced that I would do something horrendously violent against this girl if I were to see her again.
But, given everything—her sin against me, my sin against another, and their sin against another, I realize I have no right. I prefer meditating on the circle of forgiveness rather than the circle of pain that we inflict and perpetuate.
A tough lesson to learn, indeed. Painful because it’s so counter-cultural. But at the same time I feel a kind of peace in finally facing up to the pain of the past, and starting to truly get past it.
[A close read of Matt 18: 21-35 also helped me out. Just a suggestion.]