This week’s Border Watch piece was a reflection on a parenting video I’d watched the week before.
The paper titled this ‘Actions Key To Forgiveness’.
It’s such an inescapable part of parenting that you think more people would tell you about it: at some point or another most parents will find themselves locked in the toilet with a wailing two or three year old outside the door demanding entry.
I was reminded about this, along with other universal experiences of parenting, while watching a talk by a young mother last week. Apart from the toilet experience, all parents will be confronted by situations in which their children do the wrong thing.
Most of us can remember our own childhoods when we transgressed and were told that we had to feel sorry. We may have been sent to our rooms, or threatened with some loss of privileges. But it was absolutely essential we had to feel sorry.
Pretty soon we learned the right expression of face and tone of voice that demonstrated an acceptable version of sorrow. We might have actually been more sorry that we’d been caught out, or were being punished; but we could stare at the floor, look miserable and utter the words ‘I’m sorry’.
The techniques have changed, and the circumstances are different, but the idea of teaching future generations to be sorry has continued, I think. And it’s important we learn to accept responsibility for doing something wrong.
But there’s something more important than feeling sorry. And that’s the need to be forgiven.
Forgiveness represents the resumption of relationship between the wrongdoer and the subject of their wrongdoing. It acknowledges the wrong, but doesn’t let that wrong control the future of the relationship.
We can try to tell someone to feel sorry, but how can we teach our children, or anyone else about the necessity to need forgiveness when they’ve wronged someone?
By our own example.
Parents need to show their own need for forgiveness. Often. We should ask for the forgiveness of our spouses, the forgiveness of others, and, most importantly, the forgiveness of our children themselves. Every ‘I’m sorry’ needs to be accompanied by a request for forgiveness. Because feeling sorry is just a start; it’s the restoration of the relationship that we long for.
A child can be trained to feel sorry, but they will only learn to desire forgiveness with all their heart when forgiveness is shown all around them, and when they are asked to forgive.
Some people think that following Jesus is about feeling sorry all the time. The more we can feel bad about ourselves the better.
But following Jesus is really about receiving forgiveness. Though we acknowledge our wrongdoings in sorrow, it’s the restored relationship of forgiveness that is our character. In the Bible we read: “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Forgiveness can’t be demanded, it can’t be bought, it can’t be earned. It simply has to be received. And then modelled again and again so that those around us absorb its relationship healing power.