“How do you forgive when somebody has done something wrong to you?”
It had been a long day in the sun, and one that was filled to the brim with boundless laughter and joy, but as Kathy read the words scrawled on a notecard, the day’s happiness seemed to evaporate, quickly replaced by that nausea that comes from the heart. She felt like she’d suddenly taken a punch to the stomach. Kathy knew the words that she held in her hands had poured out from a broken spirit. These words were not lackadaisically thrown onto paper.
Kathy had a captive audience while she talked to the group of girls about God’s love, his provision, and his promises for the future. After talking to the group collectively, Kathy had the girls break into smaller groups and write down any questions they had. Her intention was to take the cards, read the questions, and answer the questions in front of the group.
But things don’t always go as planned.
As Kathy held the card in her hand that read, “How do you forgive when somebody has done something wrong to you?”, she immediately wondered if the author of the question had been abused. Kathy was able to locate the 14-year-old inquirer, Sauda*.
Her eyes are big and beautiful like perfectly-cut amber marbles that sparkle when the sun hits them at just the right angle. Her round cheeks make her marble-like eyes squint a little when she smiles. She doesn’t smile as much as the other girls, though. Sauda is almost painfully shy, hiding behind the noise of the day.
To answer her question about forgiveness, Kathy begins by telling Sauda that forgiving someone does not excuse what they did. What was done was inexcusable. Forgiveness will begin to set us free as we trust the work of the Holy Spirit to accomplish through us what cannot be done in our own striving for a pain so deep. Kathy explains to Sauda that she can forgive and release her hurt and pain to Jesus, who bore her sins and the sins of others against her. We are able to forgive because Christ forgave us. As Kathy navigates the waters of Sauda’s untold story, it’s suddenly impossible for Sauda to hide, and her story–mixed with a torrent of tears–comes pouring forth like flood waters crushing a broken dam.
She says it was her cousin. Her cousin violently raped her. He rightfully went to jail, but his parents–her relatives–paid a bribe to the police officers, and he was released. She stays with her sister usually to avoid seeing him, but family members expect her to forgive him. Kathy imagines the abuse most likely led to Sauda leaving her home in the first place.
So, they sit weeping. Kathy holds this brokenhearted child in her arms, tears dripping onto Sauda’s head. Sauda’s tears spill onto Kathy’s arms. They sit for five minutes, but it feels like a mere second and a hundred years all at once.
What do you do when the burden is too heavy and the pain is too sharp? How do you begin to tell a child, crushed under the memory of her stolen innocence, that it’s going to be okay? How can you utter the word “forgiveness” in light of such injustice?
Kathy answered Sauda’s question with all the grace and warmth of a maternal love, but perhaps the biggest gift that she gave Sauda was the silence . . . the silent space to cry. The silent space to be held once more like a newborn child whose potential is endless and whose innocence is firmly intact. Kathy gave Sauda the silent gift of lamenting, and they lamented together.
They lamented the violent act itself. They lamented the hurt caused by those that failed to grieve and pursue justice alongside Sauda. They lamented the injustice of a bribe and an easy exit from prison. They lamented a pain that is hard to put into words.
Standing in the trenches with orphaned and vulnerable children like Sauda is sacred, holy, and beautiful, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s also messy, gut-wrenching, and often filled with sorrow as well.
So, we lament. We lament the fact that a movement such as “the orphan care movement” even exists. We lament the fact that children are abandoned when there are seemingly no other options. We grieve for all the mothers and fathers that left this world before watching their children grow into men and women. We sorrow in the unjust places where children have become victims of trafficking, abuse, and neglect.
We let the tears fall . . .
Yet, we are reminded that there are people like Kathy, the caregivers in our Home Based Care program, foster moms and dads, adoptive parents, and many others who scoop those babies up in their arms and weep with them. This world is filled with men and women whose love for the least of these knows no bounds. People are taking in children with different skin, blood, or language than their own. In the face of unfathomable pain and darkness, a light is shining through. The light doesn’t look like you or like me, but it looks like God–a good, good Father–shining through the cracks.
Let us hold fast to hope when all seems lost. Let us love big when the pain feels bigger. Let us wrap up the brokenhearted in our arms and lament with them . . . until they all have homes.
*Identity changed for protection