Years ago, one of my best friends and I were talking about something I got for free. I can’t remember what it was, but it was something like a free donut, a free lunch or free movie tickets. He said, “Sure, it’s free to you. But somebody paid for it. Because nothing is actually free.”

I have never forgotten that. And it’s completely true.

Those free concert tickets you got–somebody paid for them. That free T-shirt–someone absorbed the cost. That free replacement of your defective phone? Somebody covered the replacement. It just wasn’t you.  I was reminded of this two years ago when I got tickets to my dream show – to see U2 in concert.  The tickets were the most expensive tickets I’ve ever bought in my life (a friend got even better tickets and took this picture).  We went as a family.  My wife Toni and I gladly paid for our kids to come.  But it wasn’t cheap.  Worth it?  You bet.  But free?  Only free to my sons.

Thinking through all of  this made me much more grateful for every ‘free’ thing I received. Someone paid. It just wasn’t me.

Now, that’s also true of forgiveness. We speak pretty loosely about forgiveness being free.  We even talk about forgiveness being limitless.

And that’s true. But it’s only free to us. It cost God something. Well, actually, it cost God everything. Jesus willingly laid down his life to absorb the cost of our sin and offer us forgiveness. And when you look at it that way, forgiveness is quite costly.

We need to remember that when we practice and discuss forgiveness with our kids. If you want to forgive someone, that forgiveness will come free to them, but it will cost the forgiver something. If you are going to offer true forgiveness, it will be expensive. Real forgiveness doesn’t happen when there’s a misunderstanding that gets cleared up. Real forgiveness doesn’t happen when someone apologizes and makes the situation right. Real forgiveness is extended when someone wrongs you and you forgive them. Real forgiveness is extended when you decide not to engage the battle or treat wrong with wrong, but to love anyway. And it hurts. It will cost you something–you are giving of yourself something you’d rather not give. But you do it anyway.

Once I understood that, forgiveness – real forgiveness – ironically became easier to give. It was going to cost, but I just have to decide to pay the price on someone else’s behalf.

Think about that as you talk forgiveness with your kids. Encourage them to give grace freely today. Just remember it’s expensive. It will cost them something. And when they receive it from God, remember it cost him something too.