Activity time: 20 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Pencils and two sheets of paper for each participant
- A paper bag or other disposable container
- Optional: Portable paper shredder
Preparation for Activity
- Decide how to dispose of participants' papers in a way that assures them their answers will not be read by others.
Description of Activity
This activity leads participants to practice forgiving themselves and others.
Introduce the activity by asking whether and why it is useful for people to forgive each other. Say that the answer might seem easy if you believe that there is a God who will let you into heaven if you are a kind and forgiving person. What if you are a humanist? (A humanist is a person whose religious ideas center on humans, instead of on God.) Why would a humanist think forgiveness is good? (A simple answer is that the world would be a less violent and more peaceful place if people practiced forgiveness more.)
Lead a brief discussion about the process of forgiveness. Imagine that one person breaks something that belongs to another person.
- What is necessary for forgiveness to occur?
- Does it help for the person to apologize?
- Does it help for the person to offer to replace whatever they broke?
- If those things happen, should the second person say, "I forgive you?"
- What if there is no apology and no offer to replace what was broken? Is forgiveness possible then?
- Does it matter if the person broke the object accidentally or on purpose?
Try these questions as well:
- Which is easier, forgiving yourself for a mistake or forgiving a friend for one?
- What about forgiving somebody you do not like very much?
- Which is easier, fixing some physical thing that you broke or undoing something bad that you said?
- How do you make things right when you have said something wrong?
- Are there some actions that you can never forgive?
Remind youth that we are all in the same boat: everyone in the group has done mean and hurtful things to other people and everyone has had mean and hurtful things done to them, both intentionally and unintentionally. Everyone has also done hurtful things to themselves. Therefore, we need both to forgive and to be forgiven. All humans exist in this state. It is something we all share. Being in this state does not make us evil or corrupt, it just makes us human. However, we do not have to wallow in guilt about being imperfect. There are things we can we do about it.
Distribute two pieces of paper and a pencil to each participant. Say that you will ask them to write some private information on the pages, but that nobody else will see the papers. In fact, the youth can use code, initials, or any other device they want so nobody else could possibly understand what they write.
Ask the youth to sit quietly, prepared to write. Say that on the first side of the paper they should write something that they did wrong, something they might feel guilty about having done. Again, they can use code or anything else so nobody can understand what they write. Next, ask the youth to sit quietly for a moment and think about how they can forgive themselves. Ask these questions into the silence: Do they feel sorry? Have they actually apologized? Can they keep from repeating the wrong? Have they done their best to make things right?
After the silence, tell them to write some actions they can take to forgive themselves and then to turn their papers over.
When all are ready, ask the youth to think of some way they were hurt by somebody else doing something wrong. Again, they can use code or anything else so nobody can understand what they write. Next, ask the youth to sit quietly for a moment and think about how they can forgive that other person. Ask these questions into the silence: Would they want the other person to forgive them if they did the same thing? Do they understand that nobody is perfect and that we all do wrong things? Do they understand that most people try their best to do good things? Does it matter to them whether the other person apologized and tried to fix the damage that was done? Can they forgive people who do not do that? If you cannot and do not forgive somebody, does it hurt that person? Does it hurt you?
After the silence, tell them to write some actions they can take to start forgiving the other person, and then to fold their papers.
Say that if they found they could not forgive themselves or other people for something, they should decide what else to do. Maybe they could do something more to make up for the thing they did wrong. Maybe they should talk to the other person about how they were hurt.
Allow another moment for thought. Then ask the youth to crumple up their papers and throw them in a bag that you promise to destroy without opening. If you have a paper shredder, have them feed in their papers to be destroyed one at a time.
Now ask the youth to prepare to write on the second piece of paper. This time they should draw a big heart on one side of the paper and write the word "self" inside it. On the other side, they should draw another heart and write the word "other" in it. They should fold up this paper and take it home with them.
Say you hope the youth will practice forgiving themselves and others, because it is not always easy to do that. Add the caution that sometimes, if we slip and do something really bad, or somebody does something really bad to us, then it might not be possible just to say "I forgive" and forget about whatever it was. Continue with words such as these:
Sometimes you need help understanding why you did something wrong and in making sure it will not happen again. Sometimes when another person does something wrong that hurts you, you need to get help and talk to somebody, usually an adult you trust, to figure out what to do about it. It is also okay if you need to talk to a professional to help process your feelings. It's important to seek help from a school counselor or a professional therapist if you think you might need it. Forgiving may have to wait until the other person corrects the wrong.
Remind the youth of the question in the Opening: Have any of them ever said they were forgiving somebody when they really did not want to? If so, was that a time when the other person did not correct the wrong that was done? Ask if the youth agree that actions speak louder than words when it comes to forgiveness. Does it help to say you forgive somebody and then continue to be angry with them for whatever they did? Although it can be hard to tell someone that you cannot yet forgive him or her, if you are not honest about how you feel, your resentment can grow and fester. That is not good for you or the other person. Admitting to hurt feelings is a necessary step toward reconciliation.
If participants are inclined to discuss this topic further, including real-life situations they have encountered, let them do so if the leaders feel comfortable with it. Keep the focus on the usefulness and the actions of forgiveness. If someone should disclose an incident involving possible abuse, make sure you take action. See the Introduction for information on mandated reporting and safe congregations.
Including All Participants
Ensure that comfortable writing surfaces are available and easy to use by all participants.