Editor’s note: This is the 10th in a 12-part series of letters Paul Graves is writing to his grandchildren in 2012. They are based on the Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Dear Katie, Claire and Andy,
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Is that old childhood taunt still used at your schools? I remember saying it as a kid when other kids tried to bully me. Turns out the old taunt was wrong. Name-calling can hurt us if we let it. But we don’t have to let it.
As I look back at the nine previous letters I’ve sent you about St. Francis’ Peace Prayer, it’s clear that many of them have to do with giving and with forgiveness. Giving, gift, for-give, paying it forward – these words remind me even simple acts of giving will “feed and water” healthy relationships with each other and God.
Today’s letter comes from the phrase in the prayer, “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.” That word, “pardon,” comes from a very old word that also means “gift.” Giving of many kinds looks like the central theme of the whole prayer, kids.
Because “pardon” isn’t a word used very much anymore, some modern versions of the prayer say that “it is in forgiving that we are forgiven.” To forgive can mean to “give back,” or even to “let go of.”
But what would you give back or let go of in a relationship with another person – or God?
So, if someone said something hurtful to you, what would you give to him? Would you be tempted to give something that hurts him? Or something that cools off the anger between the two of you?
What might you let go of? Maybe the hurtful feelings you have because that person called you a name? Or the temptation to throw hurtful words his way? If you can do that, kids, you begin to experience what the prayer says, “It is in forgiving that we are forgiven.”
Does that sound confusing? It’s not so confusing when you take a breath to think about it. (You likely need to take a big breath and think so you can forgive another person anyway.) To forgive – to give back or let go – is not so much an emotional reaction anyway. It is more a partnership between your mind and your heart.
That partnership starts before the name-calling or whatever happens to cause you emotional harm. It begins when you become more aware that you, as a child of God, are loved as you are. That love includes God’s forgiveness. God doesn’t love you because you are forgiven. You are forgiven because God loves us.
Remember, love is a decision we make, not a feeling we have. We decide to work for the well-being of another person. That work can include some kind of forgiveness of that person’s actions or attitudes.
Our effort to forgive another person can act as a reminder that we are forgiven by God because we are loved. It is almost like this peace-step in the Peace Prayer could be phrased, “It is in forgiving that we are REMINDED we are forgiven.”
Forgiveness is not always easy, is it, kids? But it is easier when we remember how deeply we are loved – and forgiven – by God who created us, who is as close as the very breath we breathe, and who loves us without condition.
Pardon me, my favorite (only) grandchildren. It is time for me to close this letter to you.
Loved and forgiven by you and God,