Forgive and be forgiven
The power of forgiveness
As Christians, we know the relief that comes from both forgiving and being forgiven. So today’s challenge is in two parts – forgiving our children for things they have done wrong to us, and saying sorry to them for anything we have done wrong to them.
Children are born selfish
Let’s be honest, our children can drive us crazy. They have ways that really annoy us; they sin through weakness, through ignorance and through their own deliberate fault, just like we do.
When they are small they snatch, they yell if they don’t get their own way, they can be selfish and unkind, and need to be taught every social grace. As they get older they scrape the leather off their shoes, lose their trainers, drop their coats and shoes on the floor, leave damp bath towels on their bed, walk mud (or worse!) into the house . . . and all sorts of other thoughtless (and sometimes malicious and sneaky) things. Grrrr! And even when they “should know better”, some really do know how to wind us up, don’t they? All these things are very normal!
Some children, sadly, can go beyond the usual childhood tantrums and selfishness and go on to break the law and/or do things that wound us, shock us, humiliate us, and/or cause us unbelievable pain, anxiety and misery. Some of you may be nodding; you have been there. We still need to forgive.
Here are some particular issues that make forgiveness hard:
Sometimes it is the “faults” that we dislike in ourselves (or our partner!) that cause us the most grief in our children, and we can find these hard to forgive.
Sweeping sins under the carpet. If we don’t acknowledge the wrong things our children are doing, we won’t be able to forgive them. Don’t make excuses for your children. (Divorced or separated parents who feel guilty about their part in the family break-up can easily fall into this trap.)
We find one child much harder to live with than another. This is actually a really common problem for any family that has more than one child! We have to appreciate that we are all made differently for a reason. I have a friend who feels she has nothing in common with her daughter, but she has come to celebrate the differences.
One of the hardest things to bear is when one (or more) of our children are making terrible choices that are not only affecting them, but the rest of the family, too. Remember that we all have to make our own choices, and we all have to make our own mistakes. I have been around long enough to see many situations turn around by the Lord’s grace, including in my own family. Don’t despair, keep holding on, keep praying, keep loving, find someone to talk to, and get help if you need it.
Do any of these strike a chord with you? We need to forgive our children, both for their sake, and for ours, whatever they have done and whatever they are still doing. By all means keep working on any issues (and get help if you need it), but in the meantime, keep forgiving. (Up to seventy times seven.) Bearing grudges doesn’t help anyone.
Why say sorry to your children?
We get it wrong sometimes with our children, too. We can be ratty, snappy, too forceful, not forceful enough, say hurtful things . . . and so on and so forth . . . Apologising doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it’s so much better than making excuses! A simple “sorry” can clear the air in any relationship – and is no different in a parent/child relationship. So why might we find it difficult to say sorry to our children . . . do any of the following resonate?
We feel that we might lose face (pride).
In some cases we might feel that they are more in the wrong than we are (and we might be correct!).
We are frightened of being seen as weak.
We would rather not mention what we have done, because it’s too painful.
We feel that we must always be seen to be right because we are the authority figure.
Some of these overlap, of course, but at the end of the day, an apology doesn’t have to be a big thing. A simple, “sorry I yelled at you,” can be a way to instantly ease tension, even if really, “they started it”! If you say sorry, it can open the way for them to apologise, too.
Apologising can also be a good habit (and attitude) that your children are more likely to copy if they hear it often enough. Here are some more advantages of saying sorry to your children:
It’s a great example.
It teaches them the power and freedom of being able to forgive and be forgiven.
They are more likely to say sorry to you, if you have shown the way.
It’s good for them to know that you are not perfect. That gives them the freedom to know they haven’t got to grow up to be perfect either.
It has the potential to deepen your relationship with them instantly.
After saying sorry yourself, you can always go on to ask if there is anything they would like to say sorry for. You might even like to make a suggestion or two!
Choose your moment
Most apologies are for small things and are better dealt with straight away. However, if you feel you have made a big mistake and that it would be helpful to say sorry, choose your time and place for your apology carefully. Bear in mind the age and sensitivity of your children before you apologise for something that might affect them in a negative way. You might like to leave certain confessions until they is older. If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust for advice.
A slight aside
Some parents insist that their children say sorry for things they have done wrong, even if they don’t want to. It is entirely up to you whether you do this, but it is my feeling that:
Hearing an apology does help the person who has been hurt.
The child who has done wrong may be sorry in their heart, even though they may find it difficult to say the words out loud.
Speaking out the word “sorry” does help to believe it!
Apologising gets easier with practice and is a good habit to get into. The younger your children start, the better.
When an apology is accepted, relationships can move on and thrive.
Forgiveness brings freedom to both parties – the forgiver and the forgiven.
Over to you!
In your notebook, write down all the things your children have said and done that you need to forgive them for.
Decide to forgive each thing on your list. If you have to grit your teeth to do it, that’s fine, it’s a start. Saying it out loud can help. “I choose to forgive X for Z,” for example. The Lord understands.
Now write down something you could or perhaps should ask each child’s forgiveness for; something that you know you have got wrong.
Pick your time and place, and apologise . . .
Then ask your children if there’s anything they are sorry about. If you feel it’s appropriate, tell your children you forgive them. (You could write, text or email your teenager, if that makes it easier or less confrontational.)
Spend a few minute writing down any thoughts about this challenge.
Let us know how it went, especially if you have any advice to offer to others, on the Christian Parenting Challenge facebook page
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37
For the future:
Keep short accounts.