For years, my son was mad at Pinocchio.
(Yes, I’m referring to the fictional wooden puppet characterized in the classic children’s novel and animated Disney movie.)
You couldn’t even utter Pinocchio’s name in our house without eliciting harsh words and opening up tender wounds from Brandon. He was visibly hurt – deeply.
You’re probably wondering, “What heinous act could Pinocchio possibly have committed to produce SIX years of hurt and hostility in the heart of my child?”
During a trip to Disneyland when my son was three, Pinocchio took Brandon’s beloved blankie. No, he didn’t steal it. There was nothing malicious about it. Pinocchio simply admired it, borrowed it to cuddle with for a few seconds and gently returned it.
To Brandon, however, Pinocchio broke the cardinal toddler rule: Never ever EVER touch the blankie of a three-year-old! This was a direct infringement on his personal space and property and Brandon was resolute in his determination NOT to let it go.
It was quite a problem. For years, this is how our conversations would go…
“Brandon, why won’t you forgive Pinocchio?”
“He took my blankie.”
“Pinocchio didn’t really take your blankie. He was just showing you how much he loved it.”
“I don’t like him and I don’t forgive him.”
Finally, while on a trip to Disney World many years later, Brandon decided it was about time to end his six-year feud with the wooden puppet and extend forgiveness to Pinocchio. He’d let his anger stew long enough and needed to let it go, move on and enjoy our time at Disney World.
With nervous determination, he entered the park.
Believe it or not, amidst the thousands of people at the Magic Kingdom, amidst all of the characters to meet, Pinocchio was at the park entrance greeting eager Disney goers. After waiting patiently in line, Brandon explained to Pinocchio how upset he had been and how the whole blankie incident had really affected him.
Pinocchio seemed unaware of his offense while Brandon was talking to him, but graciously, he played along. After a few seconds together, Brandon and Pinocchio hugged, amends were made and off we went to enjoy a wonderful day at the park.
Why is forgiveness so hard sometimes? Why do we seem to find more pleasure in holding onto the offense than letting go of it?
A funny thing about our anger is sometimes it doesn’t even hurt the other person. In fact there are times, as in our case with Pinocchio, the person didn’t even know they hurt us!
But we’re the ones who suffer. Stomping around for days (perhaps years), clenching our jaw when a person’s name is mentioned, hosting imaginary conversations in our heads, hoping for the chance to “give them a piece of our mind”, secretly wanting them to fail, as we wait around for an apology that may never even come.
For a while, it may feel good to hold onto the anger, to nurse the grudge. But slowly, unexpectedly, unforgiveness will kill us, rotting us from the inside out like a cancer choking life from our bodies.
Years ago, I remember an incident when a close friend really hurt me. As time passed, I really thought I had forgiven her, but every time her name came up, I felt anger and frustration rise. Every time I talked about the incident to my husband, I would start to tear up. I had a hard time watching her succeed – secretly wanting her to keep all of her pregnancy weight on.
Clearly, I still had work to do on my heart.
The apostle Paul knew the danger unforgiveness had in a person’s heart and in a community. His instruction to the Ephesian church was strong,
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32
Paul didn’t talk about anger management or manipulating our behavior; he said, get rid of it – all of it. Just like you get rid of your trash and get rid of the rotting food in your refrigerator, get rid of your bitterness, rage and anger.
I’d like to think that by taking the trash out of my house once, I would never have to do it again. The reality is that I have to continually do the work of removing spoiled food and smelly garbage from my home.
Forgiveness requires us to bring our hurt before God, to confront the pain in our heart, to deal with our emotions and to choose to not hold someone’s past over them.
And again tomorrow.
And again the next day.
As long as it takes until the weight is lifted.
Dear friend, this is the work of forgiveness. It’s not a one and done prayer; it’s a daily work of tending your heart. And when you do this work, you’re able to breathe a little deeper, rest a little better and walk a whole lot lighter.
Forgive so you can be free again. Forgive so you can feel clean again. Forgive so you can have your life back. It’s so worth it.