After an animated time of social sharing, a small group I facilitate settled in for a study on forgiveness. As I distributed the scripture verses handout, I also placed a small Cinderella figure on a paper plate in the middle of the table.
The Bible study was interactive and transparent. Together we explored God’s example of forgiveness, our need to forgive, the consequences of not forgiving and the benefits of forgiving (the potential to get rid of all anger, bitterness and resentment). I think it became clear to all of us that forgiving is powerful and directly tied to releasing someone from the debt they owe us that is incurred by things they have done or said (or not done or not said).
But I wanted to take the group a level deeper. I wanted them to understand that while forgiving a person for what they have done to us is essential, it does not resolve the interpretation that we may assign to what happened. So I pointed out the Cinderella figure and said this:
“Isn’t Cinderella beautiful? Wouldn’t you all agree she is a special young lady?”
“But I don’t particularly like her myself,” at which point I reached under the table for my paint sample of brown paint, opened it up and completely covered Cinderella in brown goo.
“I did a pretty bad thing, didn’t I? But Cinderella is a Christian and she was listening to our entire Bible study so she chooses to forgive me for what I just did. Isn’t that impressive? Aren’t you proud of her?”
“And, having forgiven me for what I did and releasing her anger so it does not build up inside of her, everything is all good now, right?” to which everyone responded, “No, she is still covered in brown paint.”
“Ah, right you are. As I see it, Cinderella has a few options. She can go quickly take a shower and wash her gown; or, she can wait, at which point the paint will dry, making it much harder to get off her skin and maybe impossible to get out of the gown; or, she can believe that nothing can ever be done about the brown paint, that this now is how she must live, and make no attempt at all to remove it.”
The folks at the table were starting to get the point but I needed to ask one more vitally important question: “No matter which choice Cinderella makes, whose responsibility is it to deal with the paint?”
Then the light bulbs really came on. We can forgive someone for what they did but may still end up with residual “bad feelings” that are our responsibility to resolve.
For example, an adult woman may forgive her uncle for molesting her (what he did) as a child and release her anger; but when she thinks about the incident she may still feel bad because she believes that what happened has tainted or damaged her beyond repair. Even though that belief is decades old (and like hard, dry paint), she can still bring it to Jesus – who knows all the truth and never lies – to get His perspective on what she believes to be true about herself as a result of what someone did. It is a glorious thing when a person is washed clean by the words of Jesus!