So how do you encourage your kids to forgive?
It might be more difficult than you think. And here’s why: many of us parents have never learned the art. While we might believe that love keeps no record of wrongs, for the most part, we do. And we’re not sure how to let go. In a world filled with ex-spouses, former employers, friendships that didn’t work out and more than a few disappointments, it’s difficult to release the people who have wronged us. And if we don’t know how to do that, how easy will it be for our kids?
We’ve all had to work through forgiveness issues, but here are some primers that, while not exhaustive, have helped me learn to forgive:
Sort out how you feel. The emotions you feel are real. Rather than stuffing them, ignoring them or pretending everything is fine, process what you’re feeling. Write your feelings down. Talk to a friend. Pray about it (honestly).
Own your part. Rarely is the other person 90% of the problem. Take some time to quietly and honestly reflect on how you contributed to the wrong and confess it. It might even help you find some empathy for the person who wronged you.
Make a choice. Forgiveness is a choice. Decide intentionally what you are going to do. Often we don’t forgive because we don’t decide to. We hang onto whatever we won’t release. So make a decision to forgive.
Don’t just wait for the offender to say sorry. You might wait forever. Forgiveness is as much about your heart as it is theirs. They may never apologize for what they did. Friends can become former friends and even enemies, which is one of the reasons why Jesus taught us to love our enemies. It takes grace, humility and strength to forgive someone who has wronged us.
Don’t let it go until you can wish them well. Real forgiveness is a process. You can’t just say it and be done with it. You know when you’ve truly forgiven someone? When you can wish them well. If you can’t, keep working on it. Eventually you will release them…and in the process realize you’ve also released yourself from bitterness and resentment.
While this isn’t exactly an easy process, it is a powerful one. And here’s where some of its deepest power lies. Your kids learn as much from example as they do from anything you say. When they see you live out forgiveness, it becomes so much easier for them to forgive. And when they’re struggling with it, you can walk them down a path you yourself have walked.
What has helped you forgive? What helps you teach your children about forgiveness?