Regardless of age, everyone experiences hurt inflicted by others. As adults, we know that forgiving someone who has hurt us can be one of the hardest things to do in the entire world. Kids struggle to forgive, too. Despite our struggles, forgiveness is a character quality that is to be a hallmark of Christians. We are called to forgive just as God has forgiven us. And, we need to engage in the process of teaching kids about what forgiveness means and looks like.
Modeling forgiveness in front of your kids is the key place to start. You can be sure that your kids are watching you to see how you handle situations when you are hurt–and when you hurt others. But this means that you must be willing to work on this character trait yourself, especially if you find it difficult to forgive others or admit your own faults. When others hurt you–your kids included–forgive, restore, and move on. Similarly, when you hurt others, don’t sweep your faults under a carpet. Face them head on. Apologize and ask for forgiveness. In living your life with the quality of forgiveness at work, you’ll be teaching your kids important lessons for their own lives.
Additionally, your kids need to know that forgiveness is more than saying the words, “I forgive you.” Do your best to equip your kids with a full understanding of the character quality of forgiveness. Here are some things your kids need to know about forgiveness:
1. Forgiveness includes the ideas of letting someone off the hook, cleaning the slate, and canceling a debt that cannot be paid. We like to say, “forgive and forget”. But while the forget part sounds nice, forgiving does not primarily mean forgetting. It means letting go of the past hurt that someone has inflicted upon us. Forgiveness does not minimize nor ignore the offense, but it releases the weight of dealing with it to God.
2. God forgives wholly and completely through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God’s offer of forgiveness extends to everyone, for every sin, every time. No sin is too large that God cannot forgive.
3. God forgives unconditionally. 1 John 1:9 reads, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins…” Notice it doesn’t read, “If we confess our sins, then get our acts together, and never sin again, He will forgive our sins.” There’s a world of difference between the two concepts! Too often, we’re tempted to shape our understanding of God’s forgiveness by the latter (human) construct, rather than by the truth of the former.
4. God makes the first move toward us in forgiving. God doesn’t wait to forgive until we are sorry. Romans 5:8 reads, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Now that’s good news!
5. God wants us to forgive others just as He has forgiven us. God freely grants us forgiveness through Jesus Christ–and we are to follow God’s example and extend forgiveness to others. Colossians 3:13 reads, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
6. Forgiveness is a choice, though hurts against us are very real. God commands us to forgive. Forgiveness is an act of the will. We can choose to forgive. When we do,
– we leave the past behind.
– we choose not to be bitter.
– we give up the right to seek revenge.
– we allow God to deal with the offender.
– we do our best to let go of the pain and consequences of the hurt that we’ve suffered.