The following is an excerpt from Forgiveness Is Key, written by Angele Regnier. Click here to read the first few chapters.
In Disney’s 2015 Cinderella movie, the concept of forgiveness is part of two specific scenes—one at the beginning and one at the end. Early in the movie, the delightful world of Ella’s family is in jeopardy with the imminent death of her mother. Her parting words to her daughter were, “Ella, I must go very soon, my love. Please forgive me.”
Forgive? That’s a curious thing for a dying mother to say to her child! Ella has a beautiful relationship with her mother—what could possibly need to be forgiven?
Ella’s mother wants to know that she is leaving with their relationship in right order; she wants the assurance that Ella has released her and allowed her to go. She knows it is hard for a child not to resent her mother’s death. She needs to know that Cinderella will not be trapped in bitterness and pain. She wants Cinderella to live in freedom. She is asking Ella to let her go. She needs to hear the words which will bring them both peace: “Of course I forgive you.”
At the close of the film, we see Ella facing the decision to embrace the same disposition of forgiveness and releasing. Even though she is locked in the attic by her wicked stepmother, her spirit is not a prisoner to her surroundings. Her singing voice rises above her circumstances and carries out the window to the ears of the king’s men, who release her from her attic prison. As she is about to leave with the prince, she stops and turns toward her stepmother and says three simple words: “I forgive you.” She says them with composure, sincerity, and lightness. And although she says “I forgive you” so delicately, everyone in the scene knows that these three little words are powerful, loaded with the weight and duration of the injustices she suffered at her stepmother’s hands.
Forgiveness in Ella’s context means, “I release you.”
“I will stop feeling anger toward you. I will stop blaming you. I will stop feeling anger about what you did to my life and my family home. I will not demand that you pay me back for what you did to me. I am letting it go.”
Ella knows that even though she has been released from her attic prison, unforgiveness would keep her a prisoner in her heart. She chooses to release her enemy and herself through the power of forgiveness. And she does so with poise, integrity, and not even a hint of vengeance.
Letting go, releasing, relinquishing, dropping, stopping, freeing—these synonyms are attitudes as well as actions. They begin in the deepest place of our hearts, as a decision to change our attitude from pain or revenge to release. That paradigm shift in our attitude governs how we then act. The attitude shift prompts us to stop how we would normally respond and to go further, to act with mercy.
Mercy is showing kindness to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Someone you have the right to punish. A proper Christian understanding of forgiveness is more than just holding back or stopping punishment, hatred, or vengeance. It’s also a choice for mercy—choosing to love our enemies.
The Christian call to love doesn’t require cuddling or holding hands with your enemies. The love we are talking about here is a sincere desire that your enemies are blessed. It is wanting good for them. Let me tell you, if you can get to a place in your wounded relationships where you have the freedom to love the people who have harmed you by saying, “I sincerely wish them well, and I will be happy for them to be blessed in life,” you have come a long way, my friend, and I assure you that you are living out of love and mercy.
This is God’s grace. You could only act this way, and have this change of heart, by and through God’s help. It is nothing short of a divine intervention in your life, which transforms you interiorly and gives you the freedom to show mercy.
Natural questions that may be going through your mind at this point include concerns for justice and protection of the one who has been victimized.
Does forgiveness mean allowing abuse to continue? No!
Forgiveness never means that hurtful actions are okay. Forgiveness is ultimately an act of obedience to the command to forgive, and obeying the Lord doesn’t end there. We continue to obey the Lord by following his prompting regarding how to remove ourselves from the abusive situation.
Forgiveness is not saying it’s okay for people to keep hurting us. But forgiveness does ask us to keep forgiving even as they continue to hurt us—seventy times seven times.
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