It was my oldest son’s 5th birthday (that was more than 25 years ago). His grandfather (my dad) wanted to send a special present. I told my father, “This is simple. He wants a two-wheeled bike, but he will need training wheels.”
When the bike arrived, the little guy was so excited he could not contain himself. The bike was a beauty, (complete with training wheels). The problem was finding the right place to learn to ride the bike. The answer was the quiet cul-de-sac where friends Rod and Cindy Bushey lived.
The next Saturday we went to the Bushey’s home for the day. After a lesson and a little help getting started, my boy was off and riding. Rod and I left to play golf, while the rest of the family stayed at the house. Their kids and our kids had a ball; at least that was what I expected would happen.
When Rod and I returned from our eighteen holes, instantly I knew something was wrong. All the children, except my son, were sitting on the curb of the cul-de-sac, quietly staring at their feet. I quickly got the story. Rod had a neighbor. He was the kind of neighbor that tests your religion. This neighbor hated dogs, cats, and joyful children. He was angry with life.
Now, all the children knew about the angry man. The kids knew that when the angry neighbor backs his car into the street, it is time to scatter. All the kids knew except my five-year-old son. So, when the neighbor backed his car out of the driveway, all the children scattered except my little boy.
The angry neighbor drove his car right behind my little boy as he was enjoying his first day on his first bike. The angry neighbor blasted the horn over and over again, and followed the little guy all the way to the curb where my son tumbled over into the grass. He was not hurt, but he was plenty scared.
I went in the house and saw my boy sitting on the couch. “How was the day?” I asked.
He never looked up, “Bad day, Dad. A guy tried to run me over.”
That makes for a bad day. I said, “Let’s talk about it.”
We went out on the back porch, sat down, and talked. The conversation went something like this:
I asked, “Who was the man?”
“See the fence down there? That’s him. That’s his fence.”
“That man did wrong, didn’t he?”
“He is a mean man, daddy.”
“He is an angry, mean man.”
There was a quite moment between us. Let me explain; my little boy had never been in real danger, but it felt that way. All the folks who lived on the cul-de-sac knew the angry neighbor was unreasonable. All the kids knew to stay out of his way. That’s the way it worked in the cul-de-sac.
My little boy learned his first lesson in the rules of the cul-du-sac. I was learning with him. I wanted to walk over let the crotchety old neighbor have it. Now, that would have been a “mature example” for my child.
My friend, Rod, quickly explained that all the neighbors knew reprimanding the neighbor would escalate the problem for everyone. It was apparent that I, on that day at least, was not going to change the neighbor. However, my son and I had to decide how this event would change us. And, that’s the deeper question.
Tenderly, I asked my child, “Do we want to be like the angry, mean neighbor?”
“No, we don’t want to be like him, daddy.”
I then held my breath and shared words that were as hard for me to speak as for my son to hear, “There’s only one way I know to make sure we are not like him. We have to forgive him. That’s how we get him out of our hearts.”
“Daddy,” he looked at me, “forgive him? Really?”
“Yes, honey. We have to learn to stay away from him. But, we also have to forgive him.”
With the infinite trust that only a four-year-old-just-turned-five has, and he said to me, “Okay, Daddy. We will forgive him.”
Then, my little boy turned toward the fence of the mean, angry neighbor and said, “I forgive you. I forgive you.”
Honestly, it took my heart longer to forgive than it did this little child. You see, his heart was pure and his trust in me was complete. Maybe that’s the secret for use as we learn to pray, “Forgive us… as we forgive others” (Luke 11:4).
Lord, make my heart pure. Increase my trust in you. Teach me to forgive.
We came in from the porch and had dinner with our friends. Soon, we packed up the bike, backed down the drive, and started out of the cul-de-sac. As we passed the angry, mean neighbors house, I said to my little son, “Let’s do it just one more time, to be sure.”
He said, “Okay,” and strained at the seat belt, looked over at the neighbor’s house, and said, “I forgive you.” I fought back the tears as I witnessed this pure and trusting child who forgives simply because his father asks him to forgive.
Lord, give me such trust in you that I willingly forgive my enemies.
I know that forgiveness is not a moment but a process. Forgiveness is like the layers of the onion. We forgive one layer at a time. Jesus wisely tells us “forgive seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:22). That means we forgive and forgive again until it is gone from our hearts.
My son was still working on forgiveness when we returned home that night. I asked him what story he’d like me to read before bed. Without so much as a moment of hesitation he shouted out clear and loud, “Scrooge!” Even though it was May, I thought it was an excellent choice.
Copyright © Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.