Cinderella: A Lesson in Forgiveness

ella1 I have many thoughts churning over in my head about Cinderella this morning, from what a perfect example of an ISFJ she is to the sheer magnificence of her wedding gown (Grace Kelly would have been proud!). Some of them may come out in later posts, but two things are resonating with me the strongest… Ella’s mantra of “have courage and be kind,” and the notion of forgiveness. That has been on my mind of late, as I ponder what it means to forgive and why Christ asks us to do it.

Ella has a charmed life until her father dies … and then, quickly, it turns nightmarish as her stepmother takes out her own emotional anguish on Ella. She is a reminder of Lady Tremaine’s own bitter loss, but instead of finding a sense of unity with Ella, she targets her, humiliates her, berates her, and treats her like a servant instead… first nudging her out of her room and then away from the table, until, finally, locking her in the attic and leaving her there. She mercilessly inflicts every kind of emotional devastation on Ella that she can think of … and at the end of the film, Ella turns back to her and says, “I forgive you.” ella2 Forgiveness is a difficult concept for some to grasp; for others, it comes easier. But what is forgiveness? Why must we do it? It is not for the benefit of the person who is forgiven so much as it is for the state of our own soul. We forgive, so that we can be free of bitterness and hatred. We forgive, so there can be no barrier of anger or resentment between us and our relationship with God. Our lives, and everything that we are, matters less to Him than our relationship with Him. Anything that threatens it, that consumes us, that becomes our idol … even un-forgiveness… must fall away from us. We forgive, as we have been forgiven, because the act of forgiveness is as important as forgiveness itself.

Does it mean something to the person who receives it? That depends on how much they are aware that they need forgiveness; does the act of forgiving a sin save a person who does not believe they have sinned? Can you be saved without believing you are a sinner? No. If your motive for forgiving is purely to provoke their consistence, you are missing the point. Forgiveness costs us nothing, and everything. It is without price, but it means forsaking our indignation and injuries. Being able to grant forgiveness places you in a position of being able to offer it … as the wronged party. We do it, because Christ did it for us. He was the wronged party, and pardoned us… so we pardon others. ella3 We will never know if Lady Tremaine changed as a result of being forgiven, though she was well aware of her crimes; but it is not Lady Tremaine that is important … it is Ella. She forgave, shut that door, and left her past behind forever. That, really, is what forgiveness means. The incident is banished and never thought of again. Does that sound impossible? It isn’t. Forgiveness can be a one-time event, or it can be the process of a lifetime… of continual forgiveness in a refusal to dwell upon the past. That, I think, is what Jesus meant when He answered seventy-times-seven when the disciples asked how often they should forgive; that each time we remember the sin, we forgive it again and cease to think about it. The past is gone, dead, unimportant. The sin against us is long gone, and we must not dwell on it.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean it is “all right,” or that we need have anything to do with the person who has injured us (after all, Ella will never see her stepmother again), merely that when we think upon the incident, we feel … nothing, or perhaps even joy that resentment does not stir in our heart. Gratitude, that the Lord’s assistance in helping us forgive has breathed new life into us. Living a life of hate is an ugly, terrible thing. It is truly the distinction between Ella and her stepmother. One chose kindness, the other cruelty. One chose forgiveness, the other resentment. One was beautiful inside and out, the other merely superficially attractive but deeply unlikable. One will go forth into a new life able to start again, the other will be tormented by her mistakes. If we take one lesson away from Cinderella, let it be that the Lord’s desire for us is to be more like Ella than her stepmother… able to forgive, so we can embrace our future with joy.

ETA: I was discussing the film and forgiveness with my darling mother, and thought her comments were worth sharing as well:

Everyone has a “problem with forgiveness.”  We are all flawed, want others to know what someone “did to us” and continually talk about the past failures of others. We all struggle with knowing what forgiveness means.

If we indeed “live in Jesus Christ’s presence” each day, there will be no room to ruminate over the words or actions of others. If our minds are full of the business of “today” with Him being asked for guidance and patience and wisdom and joy and contentment and… the cycle of the past will be broken. Only Father-Jesus-Holy Spirit can bring that about. It is the deep magic. Yes, we can put our thoughts in rooms and lock the doors as a discipline, but what is most important is to then go into the presence of Jesus our Lord. This discipline takes diligence, thought, and determination. He wants us there in the center of His Light and Love and Life. It’s not so much us inviting Him in, as Him constantly calling us to come in to Him.

He is not disappointed when we talk about the past again… and have to repeat the exercise of faith. He wants us to know we are LOVED and that love continues to call us into His presence the zillion times a day when we go our own ways. It is HIS work in us.

Ella said the words aloud to her stepmother, but she had already forgiven her before the King entered with the slipper. That is why she could sing, which is what led to her physical freedom (her soul was already free). When we truly forgive, the gift back to us is JOY. That, my good woman, is the result of freedom.

14 Replies to “Cinderella: A Lesson in Forgiveness”

  1. Dear Charity

    Thankyou for your article. I’ve had recent struggles with my stepmother that brought up so much hurt over the years and I’ve been searching for reasons to forgive. It’s such a uphill road! But your words of encouragement to forgive without expecting anything in return are really uplifting and I hope that I will find the strength in Jesus to overcome. Thankyou once again x

  2. Saw this today!! LOVED this movie! As a big fan of Cate Blanchett, I expected to like her character best. But Lily James’s performance was so genuinely sweet–she reminded me of a friend I have. She’s the type of person who you know would NEVER saw/do anything to hurt anyone, and her general kindness is always present. Usually such princessy/kind/idealist characters such as these tend to feel cut-out and not quite human, but this was lovely. I loved the moral themes, and the beautiful production of it all. Superb movie. I want to see it again! Kenneth Branagh–got to love that dude. 😉

    1. Ella is really a wonderful heroine. Good, but not so much so that she becomes unbelievable — in some sense, her total selflessness and unwillingness to stand up for herself does her great harm, which reminds us that kindness and being a doormat are two different things. (I can resonate with that … I’m often too yielding for my own good. Eager to please. Shy about standing up for myself.)

  3. “It is not for the benefit of the person who is forgiven so much as it is for the state of our own soul. We forgive, so that we can be free of bitterness and hatred.”

    Well said, Charity! You’ve got a lot of great things to say in this post; thanks for writing it! I was very impressed with this adaptation and while I know not everyone has this opinion, I honestly didn’t find anything to complain about. 🙂

    PS: glad you shared your mom’s thoughts as well.

    1. I suppose if I were going to complain about something, it would be that I’ve never entirely been able to immerse myself in anything directed by Kenneth Branagh — but this one comes very close. I enjoyed it very much and I suspect I’ll like it even more through subsequent viewings; it seems like one of those sweet, innocent movies that grows on you over time.

      1. I do like ‘Thor’ in spite of all its silliness, but not especially ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ But then that’s probably more to do with not being much of a Shakespeare girl than Branagh’s direction. 😉

        I’ll look forward to knowing what you think of future viewings, which I am sure our conversations will wander into at some point. 🙂

  4. I very much enjoyed this Cinderella. I felt it preserved the fairy tale feeling of the original film, while updating it for a modern audience and adding more elements from the Perrault and Grimm versions as well. My sister and I both remarked on what a chaste, romantic feel the whole story had, and I was so happy that the positive messages meant I could recommend it at church to mothers with little girls.

    1. It really did have an innocent and clean presentation to it, which I appreciated… it beats “Ever After” in that department, although I’ll always have a soft spot for Danielle. 🙂

  5. While I thought it dwelt too much on a person’s works being what saves them (YOU be kind, YOU have courage, and then everything will be fine), I did appreciate the forgiveness shown at the end, and the message that forgiveness is an act of both courage and kindness. For a Disney movie, it was refreshing.

    I have two little princesses in my house who are beyond excited because I told them it’s not too scary for them, and that I will take them to see it in the movie theater 😀

    1. Well, we can’t expect complete truth from Disney… after all, their heroines have always been “inner strong” and their messages are usually along those lines. But having forgiveness be a major part of her story and seen in a positive light is indeed a step in the right direction.

      Hope your little girls enjoy it. 🙂

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