These three words mean a lot when they are true. Anyone who has experienced forgiveness knows the value of it. Sometimes it is hard to be the forgiver if the forgiven is a repeat offender. And sometimes it is hard to change our behavior if we are never forgiven for past offenses. So how can we communicate this to our children? They may not understand the true value of forgiveness yet but at some point in his or her life the ability to forgive will be essential to social, emotional and spiritual survival. All that being said, I thought I would share a way that we have decided to communicate this essential and important life skill to our very young girls. Really, I need to give credit to my husband, who probably learned this from his parents.
We all know that children have many opportunities to say they are sorry. Sometimes "sorry" can feel like a throw away word that is extremely overused. "Sorry for hitting you, lindsay" for the hundredth time can make us feel like the offender is really not that sorry. The practice in our house has been to use these times to teach forgiveness as well as being sorry. The dialog goes something like this:
Mom: "tell your sister you are sorry"
Leslie: "Sorry Lindsay"
Mom: "What do you say Lindsay?"
Lindsay: "I forgive you Leslie"
Then there is a little discussion about how sorry means you are going to try not to do it again and I forgive you means you are not going to hold it against the other person. This is good practice for me as well as the girls. They may not understand it but eventually they will learn the importance of these words. Leslie learns that I need to say I'm sorry when I do something wrong, and Lindsay learns that she needs to forgive her sister and move on. The girls know that this is what is expected of them, and that they are more than just words mom and dad want them to say. The words have meaning and expectations behind them. The hope behind all of this is that, very soon, when the issues become heavier than who stole who's My Little Pony, Lindsay and Leslie will know what "I'm Sorry" and "I forgive you" really means.
Unfortunately many never truly understand these concepts and they end up living with guilt or anger that destroys the spirit. It is my prayer that some day, my girls will not only understand forgiveness from their friends and loved ones, but that they will really truly understand the ultimate forgiveness that they can have in Christ.