Family Forgiveness


{This is the fourth article in this week’s series on Forgiveness. Click here to read other articles in the series, including The Justice of Forgiveness, What If I Refuse to Forgive?, and Revenge or Forgiveness?}

Forgiveness Is Something We Do

We often think of forgiveness as something that happens only internally, in the heart, without realizing that the “act” of forgiveness can also be an action. Forgiveness is certainly an internal process impacting the way a person thinks and feels. While it may be difficult to measure and quantify, no one can doubt the relief of “feeling” forgiven or the peace that comes with forgiving others, especially those who do not deserve forgiveness.

Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, stated “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph.4:32) Paul is teaching us here that we are supposed to work out (realize) our salvation by actively forgiving those who have offended us in some way.

But is forgiving something we actually “do?”

Can forgiving be a behavior in addition to the internal mental and spiritual process of knowing in oneself that forgiveness has been accomplished? Perhaps a personal, if not recent, example may aid this discussion.

The Action of Forgiving Your Child

Doug, our middle child and only boy, had just been granted the magnificent privilege of getting his driver’s license. His mother and I wondered at times why the government would allow a sixteen year old to pilot a car through modern traffic, but here we were stuck with the reality of the situation. We had gone through this with his older sister but everyone knows boys and cars are a different mix.

Not too long after gaining the freedom to drive, Doug was out in the family car (one of two, thankfully!), and sure enough he missed curfew by about 45 minutes. Needless to say, he was in really big trouble. He came in late, begging forgiveness, blaming car trouble, promising it would never happen again and we bought it (this time!). We thought there was no car trouble but how could that be proven? We had to let it go, once.

Fool Me Twice

Not too many weekends later it happened again. A flat tire this time. I knew it was a lie. The tire was fine and our son was lying to us. We thought the end of the world was upon us.

Doug finally admitted the lie and seemed sincerely repentant, but still tried to blame his friends and other circumstances for his late arrival home.

What should we do?

After much discussion about Doug being grounded for life, my wife (Linda) and I decided it might be a good time to put our Christianity to work. We knew the definition of grace is “unmerited favor of God” and we knew that our children, as all children, needed to learn the reality of God’s undeserved forgiveness. Perhaps this could be turned into a teaching moment?

family_forgiveness_inline2_Facebook Wall PostNot Just A Theory

We brought Doug up from his room and told him how disappointed we were at his lying and carelessness about curfew. We discussed our options of various degrees of lost privileges and grounding and we made it clear, just as God makes it clear to all people; there is a price to pay for disregarding God-given rules and principles such as “Don’t lie” and “get home on time.” Okay, maybe not the second rule . . .

Then, I told Doug that his mother and I decided to forgive him this time. I stated our concerns for his safety and that at his age we needed to know where he was at all times, but this time . . . this time . . .  he was forgiven.

Just as God expects us to enjoy the benefits of His forgiveness our son would be allowed to enjoy the benefits of our forgiveness. We wanted Doug to experience, in real time, totally unmerited favor from his parents just as we all can experience God unmerited grace and forgives.

“No strings attached?,” he asked.

“No strings attached,” I said.

But I told Doug that he needed to remember, “just as God expects us to learn from our sins and try to avoid repeating the sinful behavior that led to this, so your mother and I expect you, as a young Christian, to accept this forgiveness and determine to avoid a repetition.”

The Fruits of Forgiveness

Our son is now grown up with sons of his own. I know he has had to deal with some of the same challenges with his sons, that he created for us. We believe he learned something about forgiveness from that experience and we hope that his experience of unmerited forgiveness helped him to teach his sons about forgiveness.

Remember that forgiveness is something we need to practice in our families, especially with our children. Just as we are the recipients of unmerited grace from God, so too we as parents need to pray and consider how we can teach our children about Gospel forgiveness in their daily lives – even maybe when they get caught red-handed.

Join us tomorrow as Dr. Miller shares some more practical advice about forgiveness in our marriages.

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