Prettybush And The Ugly Place
Jesus told his disciples that it was of the utmost importance that they learned to forgive fully and freely, but real forgiveness is not easy for human beings. In our worship today, let us consider those whom we need to forgive and our own need for forgiveness.
Invitation to Confession:
Jesus, sometimes other people hurt me so badly that they forfeit my forgiveness.
Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I want to forgive and forget, but I can't.
Christ, have mercy.
Jesus, sometimes I fail to see my own part in problems that arise.
Lord, have mercy.
Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow-servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Jews were expected to forgive an offence three times. Peter went much further than this and offered to forgive seven times. But Jesus told his disciples that they needed to forgive always and utterly. This is because a lack of forgiveness leaves a hardness in the human heart which is difficult for God to penetrate. When we forgive other people we open ourselves to God and all his blessings, so in forgiving others we help ourselves.
In this story, Prettybush the squirrel falls out with her brother Bushman and finds it hard to forgive him.
Prettybush And The Ugly Place
Prettybush clung to her brother Bushman. They only had each other now. Their parents had both died in a grey squirrel cull by the local authorities. Prettybush didn't know what a cull was, but her brother had soon enlightened her.
"It's when important human beings decide there are too many of us squirrels so they kill us. Either by shooting us or by poison. Mum and Dad copped the poison."
Prettybush gave a strangled sob and flung herself into her brother's arms. She couldn't bear to think of her dear parents dying and especially couldn't bear to think of them being deliberately killed. For days after the death she followed her big brother around. She felt lost and lonely and frightened, but in exchange for Bushman's comfort she began to do for him the little things their mother had always done. She cooked and cleaned for him and made sure his wonderful bushy tail - which was his pride and joy - was always properly brushed and groomed.
Several weeks after the tragic death of their parents, Bushman began burying huge quantities of nuts in his personal underground store. Prettybush only discovered his activities when she followed him one day, still too upset to be on her own.
Bushman was furious. "Get away!" he snarled. "Can't you leave me alone? I don't want you trailing after me for the rest of my life! Clear off and get a life!"
Prettybush was deeply shocked and hurt. "I-I-I'm sorry! I didn't mean anything. What's the matter?" But in his anger her brother bared his teeth at her and drove her away.
Prettybush ran home with a heavy heart. She couldn't understand what she had done to make her brother so angry. But she too was angry at being treated in such a way. She packed her bags and set off, vowing never to see her brother again.
After many days wandering Prettybush met another lone squirrel. He smiled at her and offered to carry her bags. Prettybush was so overwhelmed with gratitude and delight at seeing another of her own kind that instantly she fell in love. Before long, Prettybush and Scamper had set up house together.
For years, Prettybush was happy, especially when she and Scamper produced baby squirrels of their own. But deep down inside her was a dark and ugly place. Whenever she thought about her brother Bushman, Prettybush's heart turned to stone and she was angry and upset all over again at the way he had treated her.
"I know what it was, now," she confided to Scamper. "He stole my parents' inheritance and threw me out when I chanced upon the theft. Half of those nuts should have been mine. Why should he have had it all?"
Scamper sighed. He'd heard the story many times before. "Look what we have," he replied. "Six wonderful children. A beautiful home, far away from your despicable brother. All the food we could possibly need. Don't you think it's time you forgave him?"
"I've tried!" sobbed Prettybush, "but I can't! Every time I remember that awful time, I'm flooded by hurt and anger and righteous indignation I can't get past it."
"Then perhaps we need to do something more positive. You've never been in contact with your brother from that day to this. Why don't we go and see him? We'll take the family."
Prettybush wasn't at all sure that she wanted to see her brother again. But she thought that perhaps Scamper was right. Maybe she should make the first move, for her brother had no idea where she was living. She nodded.
It was a long walk back to her home dray, especially for the young squirrels, but they made it into a holiday and took several days over it. When at last they arrived, Bushman came running out of his house to greet them.
The speeches Prettybush had been preparing in her head disappeared. She flung herself into Bushman's arms and they hugged and cried together.
"I'm so glad you've come back," said Bushman.
"So am I," murmured Prettybush. And she was, because suddenly the dark and ugly place deep inside her was flooded with a soft and gentle healing light and she knew that she was completely happy.
Photographs or pictures of people whom the children love (relatives, school friends, pop stars etc) Photographs or pictures of people whom the children might not love ("enemies", "baddies", those displaying drunkenness or drug addiction etc)
A large sheet of paper or card
It is usually those we love who have the power to hurt us and who therefore we are sometimes unable to forgive. Many families have a breakdown in relationships somewhere and there are often family members who are never mentioned and with whom there is no communication.
Let the children cut out pictures of those whom they love. Many of these will be family members. Glue these picture into a collage on one half of the paper.
Then cut out pictures of people the children may not love. These may be those who have done "bad" things and may be mostly fictional or cartoon characters. But sometimes those in the "loved" category migrate to the "not loved" category because they hurt us deeply. School friends may already have changed categories and it may be worth talking this through with the children, i.e. along the lines of: Is there anyone you used to really like but whom you now can't stand? Can you tell us what happened? Why did you like them so much in the beginning? Why do you dislike them so much now?
Glue the "unloved" category onto the other (facing) half of the paper.
Talk about forgiveness and how difficult it is, but point out that when we fail to forgive others it hurts us much more than it hurts them. Ask how the "unloved" people could change to the other side, into the "loved" category (if they're truly forgiven). Ask who can help us to make this happen (Jesus).
Over the "loved" category write: These people are loved. Over the "unloved" category write: It may be difficult to love these people. Across the middle of the paper, between the two sides write: Jesus helps us to forgive, so that these people move over here. Add arrows to indicate the appropriate direction.
Display the finished picture in church and get the children to explain it to the congregation.
God of forgiveness, help us in the church to be honest with each other and to face our disagreements. May we never allow hurts to simmer under the surface, but may we learn to forgive each other fully and freely.
God of forgiveness, forgive those who incite hatred. May their hearts be softened so that they are able to receive your love and live in peace with all people.
God of forgiveness, when I'm deeply hurt give me your gift of forgiveness so that I can forget my own pain and work towards reconciliation.
God of forgiveness, bless those who are sick. Remove all blocks to healing so that the sick may be able to receive your love. We pray especially for
May you be reconciled
to those you once loved.
May you forgive others
Just as God has forgiven you.
And the blessing of God almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you now,
be in your homes and in your families
and with all those whom you love
and for whom you pray,
now and always.