One of the things we’re working with our children on is the concept of forgiveness—how to ask for it and how to offer it. My oldest typically does the begrudging, sullen, “Sorry…” thing and tries to leave things at that. My middle one is very honest and when you ask if she’ll forgive you says, “I’m not sure, I have to think about it.” And for the moment, Hudson remains a quasi-sociopath. Because, well, he’s two.
But talking with my kids about forgiveness is tricky, in part because it requires me to check my own heart on how I approach it—do I withhold forgiveness as long as possible? Do I do anything that cheapens it?
Here are three things I’m trying to remember and impart to the wee ones:
1. Assume the best—and be honest when you’re having a hard time doing so. Whenever someone asks forgiveness, I want to assume they’re genuinely asking. That there is true, heartfelt, Spirit-wrought conviction. I’ve not been perfect with this; in fact, I’ve been down right terrible at it a lot of the time. But rather than putting on a nice face, sometimes it’s best to be honest about this struggle, rather than damage a relationship further by saying you forgive but are harboring bitterness.
2. Always pray and watch for the fruit of repentance. To be clear: our offer of forgiveness doesn’t mean we don’t care whether or not people change. It actually means we care very, very much. One of the kids really struggles with telling the truth right now, and we’ve told her that when she makes a habit of lying, it’s hard for us to trust what she says. We frequently pray with her that God will help her tell the truth, we coach her on honesty (and remind her that the consequences are always less severe when she’s upfront about something), and we watch. This requires a lot of patience because the fruit of repentance develops over a long period of time.
3. Protect the repentant from falling back into sin. Sometimes you can’t remove a person from a situation. For example, my daughters share a bedroom because we live in a three bedroom townhouse. This is going to be their reality for the foreseeable future. As a result, there are some things we’re not going to be able to protect our girls from, such as Hannah’s desire to irritate Abigail as much as possible.
But if a privilege or a responsibility offers too much temptation to sin, we remove it for a season (or indefinitely) and explain why. We’ve done this with making choices at various ages (such as what they’d like for breakfast or choosing their own outfits), and we’ve also done it with an extended bedtime for our oldest (who, it turns out, is a much chipperer person when she’s gotten a little extra bit of rest).
None of these are things I’m perfect at, but they’re things I want to improve in and to train my kids to understand the importance of. Forgiveness is too important to cheapen with faux-repentance or withhold from the genuinely contrite. It is serious business. Lord willing our whole family will continue to see it that way.