The kids were naive. They didn’t understand how their joking could hurt my son. Calling him names that highlighted a post-surgery physical challenge had become a past time for them until he mentioned it to me. I addressed it immediately with their parents. The name-calling never happened again and thankfully my son’s physical challenge resolved after five months, after the healing of the surgery was complete.
Lots of hugs and prayers helped him acknowledge the hurt but not be overtaken by it. My husband and I embraced the opportunity to instruct our son how to forgive and not identify with “labels”. That was only part of the work. We also needed to forgive these kids, who would continue to be a regular part of our lives. My son’s experience made me reflect on my own childhood and being called names like “Oreo girl” by my black friends or having a white teacher ask me if I put toothpaste in my hair to make it so shiny. Unfortunately, a few times I used my hurt to wound others. Calling them names made me feel strong. Whether we have been the victim or we are the reformed bully, God has healing and restoration for each of us.
Honestly and vulnerability can heal families and communities. We should acknowledge how our own opinions, habits, and words have hurt someone but we realized it and changed; how a challenge suppressed us but we rose up and out from it; how life tested us, but we overcame. We must find moments of victory or overcoming that can be used to encourage someone else. We must humbly acknowledge a time or an instance where “we were the problem” and consider the process through which we became so self-aware, that we allowed someone else or divine power to change our hearts and minds.
We must believe that God is good and wants good for all people, even those that we call evil. He doesn’t want to bless their evil intentions and works, but he wants to endow them with the ability to know right from wrong and to discern light from darkness. He ultimately wants them to have a story to share that will bring life to those around them. This is why Jesus told his disciples to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who spitefully use you.” (Matthew 5:44)
Sometimes conflict with someone continues so long that we believe God doesn’t hear us or can’t change our oppressors. Maybe we are hurting so much that we just don’t have the compassion to pray for them. If we can envision Him hugging us or weeping with us and if we recall our own failures, our graciousness will arise.
Robert Frost wrote these words in the poem “The Star Splitter”,
“If one by one we counted people out
For the least sin,
it wouldn’t take us long
To get so we had no one left to live with.
For to be social is to be forgiving.’
“Lord, we try to escape pain, but we can’t. We hope that those who love us will never wound us, but they will. Unfortunately, at some time we will also hurt someone willfully or by mistake. Have your Spirit tend to our wounds and humble our hearts. Move us to forgive our adversaries and ourselves. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”