I walked downstairs to my husband and 7-year-old daughter having one of those big conversations about forgiveness. My husband was speaking in the hushed tone he tries to use each time he corrects her. She broke into tears, and her little voice cracked as she said, “I’m so sorry.”
“I forgive you,” he said.
As parents we want our children to understand the power and freedom of forgiveness—both offering it and receiving it. The best way to do that is by modeling it.
What forgiveness looks like
When children learn to walk, they know what it looks like because they see others around them walking. The task takes time and courage, but eventually, they take their first steps. They stumble before they really get the hang of it, but before long, they are running everywhere. It is the same with how they practice and receive forgiveness. They need to see and experience us modeling the process for them.
In the same way that we have received freedom from guilt and blame through Christ, we offer that example to our children. God does not hold our debts against us. We are free. So when we say we forgive someone, we are canceling the debt. We no longer hold that offense against the person at fault. We forgive him or her without condition.
I know that can be difficult. There are times I want to revisit an offense my child committed once I’ve already offered forgiveness, but I recognize that’s not Christlike. True forgiveness is offered with love and compassion.
Give it time
As our children grow, we will have so many opportunities to help them discover true forgiveness. The apostle Paul tells us to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). So we need to model forgiveness over and over. Our children will understand forgiveness better by watching how we forgive and ask for forgiveness from them.