Forgiveness in the Family
A young man was telling me about his upbringing. He enjoys his grown siblings but his parents are a challenge. When I asked the reason, he replied that there had been so many offenses between the two of them that they now just coexist as roommates.
More and more I am convinced that a primary ingredient in a marriage, in a family, and in a church is forgiveness. Love and forgiveness are the gospel-glue that hold relationships together.
Living in a gospel-filled home does not mean we are perfect. It does mean we forgive much based on how much we have been forgiven. Where there is not forgiveness, smoldering resentment will eventually turn into deep-rooted bitterness (Hebrews 12:15).
As a parent I have tried to keep short accounts with my children. When I sinned by getting angry or not listening to them, I have sought their forgiveness. There will be times they need to ask forgiveness of me or their siblings. They, too, need to be trained to ask forgiveness and to restore the relationship.
How do we teach forgiveness?
1. We learn to forbear. The grace of forbearance oils our family life and covers over unintentional sins. We know that the love of God has covered over a multitide of our sins in the cross (1 Peter 4:8) and therefore it is to our glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11). As a parent, a key component of our work is encouraging those in our family to forbear, think the best of one another, and overlook small offenses.
2. We pursue reconciliation and peace. Some things are too big to forbear with. Scripture tells us that if we are the offended party or the offending party we need to pursue reconciliation. We will shepherd our children through hundreds of minor offenses followed by pursuing reconciliation.
3. We teach our children to ask biblical forgiveness. For young children, a “Sorry” is perfectly acceptable training. But as children get older they need to be thinking about the depth and dynamic of asking forgiveness. “I’m sorry” is merely a shortened version for “I’m feeling sorrow.” That’s acceptable for something where we have no responsibility like, “I’m sorry your game got canceled.”
Unfortunately, we certainly have no models of biblical forgiveness in the culture. Currently, a public apology sounds something like, “I’m sorry if you were offended by my actions.” That is an apologetic non-apology that says nothing!
4. We learn and practice a truer formula of forgiveness. Although we certainly did not practice all of this wording all the time, we were seeking to aim this way.
a. I sinned against God and you when I _________ insert biblical term_______ . Here the offender is using the word sinned. He or she is also naming the action using biblical terminology.
b. That was wrong. I’m sure I hurt you. The offender is admitting that what he did was wrong and acknowledging the hurt that he caused the other party.
c. I will work on this in the future. Please forgive me. Now the offender is asking the other party to mark the debt forgiven. And the offender is committing to work on the sin that caused the debt in the process.
d. I forgive you. For the offended, forgiveness is an act of the will that marks the debt forgiven and paid in full. Granting forgiveness requires a spiritual response by the offended.
At a young age, a simple “Sorry” and “Forgive you” with hugs afterwards suffice. As children grow older and the normal offenses grow larger, there needs to be a deliberate walking through the process with both siblings, friends, and even parents.
5. We apply these same principles to our relationship with our spouse. It is not just children who need to ask forgiveness. Marriages can whither because of lack of forgiveness. Anger and resentment can smolder in marriage relationships. Are you regularly asking forgiveness of the other person? Forgiveness can smooth over much hurt.
All of us have received much forgiveness from Christ for sins we know about and even sins we don’t know about. We bless ourselves and our family as we train our children in this powerful dynamic.
This article is a summary of Chapter 13 of The Disciple-Making Parent. Consider rereading the whole chapter if you own the book. Or order your copy here.