It’s a challenge to explain forgiveness to a six-year-old. I recently attempted just that. Fortunately, he was a very bright boy, who really wanted an answer he could grasp and apply. He had difficulty knowing how to forgive himself, and what he had to do in order to receive the forgiveness of God. And so, at both his and his parent’s request, we had a little chat.
I asked him if he like baseball. He smiled and said, “I play baseball; I love baseball.” I said, “What would happen if you struck out and the coach said, ‘You are done; you can’t play baseball anymore’?”
Raising his eyebrows, clearly picturing the scenario, he said, “There would be no more baseball for me.” I said, “What if the coach said that to every single player on your team, once they struck out?” He said, “There would be no more baseball for my team.”
Again I said, “And what if every coach of every team said that to their players who struck out?” He said, “There would be no more baseball at all.” I said, “You are right, there would be no more baseball at all. But here’s the thing: God invented baseball; God loves baseball. So God says, ‘Play ball! Go to your next at bat!’ To forgive means to get another at bat – does that make sense?”
He shook his head with understanding and said, “Yes, because maybe I won’t strike out next time. “I said, “You’ve got it, you understand. The next time or two, you might get a hit, or even a home run. But if you didn’t get the chance for another at bat, you would never know what help you might have been to your team. Without forgiveness, the game of life would not keep going.”
Now that he understood the why of forgiveness, this bright young boy, about to turn seven, wanted to know the how. Just like the rules of baseball, he wanted to be given the process to follow to forgive others, and likely himself as well.
So I gave him the “three R’s” of forgiveness, writing them down as I spoke. I told him that the words were adult words, but I would try to keep them real simple. The three:
1. Recognition. “What this means”, I said “is just this: you say, ‘I see what I did.’ The first thing is, you have to learn that you have hurt someone, like your mom or dad or sisters. Usually that means they have to tell you – and you have to listen, without getting mad at them for telling you.
2. Regret. “The second thing is, you have to say, and really mean, ‘I’m sorry.’ If you are not sorry you did something that hurt another, you are not going to ask for forgiveness. But if you show them how sorry you are, they will most likely forgive you, give you another at bat.”
3. Repentance. “I know that this is a big word, but what it means is this: you say, ‘I won’t do that again.’ When you say that you won’t do something again, you mean you will work hard on your next at bat being better. And that is all we can do: work harder to get better.”
I told him that when he understood what he had done to hurt another, when he felt sorry he had done it, and said he would work on not doing that again, he had to forgive himself. Otherwise, I said, “You can’t play baseball anymore. And remember, God loves baseball.”