I walked into her room following her afternoon nap. My two year-old daughter Sarah had apparently been awake for a while. And she had been busy – with a black crayon. The look on her face said it all. She had done something wrong and she knew it. She seemed to have found herself in the same conundrum that haunted St. Paul: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).
I’m pretty sure that I didn’t handle it the way the parenting books would suggest. I did manage to keep a serious face, though I was laughing inside. And I ran to get my camera. I don’t remember now what the consequences were for her. I think I might have given her a wet sponge to help me remove the marks from the wall. Regardless, she looked so sincerely repentant and I forgave her. What else could I do?
Fast forward about fourteen years. Two is no longer my daughter’s age, but the number of cars my teenage son had totaled in less than a year. Our cars, not his cars, I might add. Of course there were consequences, monetary ones, as well as not having the use of a car for a period of time. But, I was simply so glad he wasn’t injured – and he seemed to feel so bad – that I managed to forgive him.
I am not the first to say that being a parent has helped me to understand how God sees us and our transgressions, continuing to love us and forgive us.
Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of the Ascension, remembering when Jesus ascended into heaven. But the Easter season will continue for another ten days until Pentecost. Why am I talking about forgiveness during the Easter season? Aren’t repentance and forgiveness Lenten themes, not Easter ones? Many congregations don’t even say the confession during the Easter season! Well, in the Gospel of John, when the Risen Christ breathes the Spirit into his disciples, he links that Spirit with forgiveness: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23).
To be an Easter people, to live in the power of the Spirit, we need to practice forgiveness 24/7, 365 days of the year.
It might be easy for us to forgive our children, but forgiving others, forgiving our enemies, and forgiving those who wish us harm is hard work. In a world so full of suspicion, hatred, and violence, it is counter-cultural to forgive others. Yet as Christians, it is what we are called to do (seventy times seven!) and to pass on to our children. Like so many things, perhaps the best way we do it is to practice, and, through our own lives, to model forgiveness for our children. How do we do this? A few suggestions:
1. Use the words “I forgive you.” (Not simply, “it’s okay” or “nevermind”) Explain to children that you love them even if you don’t always love what they do.
2. Use the words “Forgive me” or “I am sorry” when you yourself say or do something in relation to your child that you later regret.
3. Pray the Lord’s Prayer together as a family daily. “Forgive us our sins (trespasses) as we forgive those who sin (trespass) against us.” Simply praying these word can help us live them out.
4. Model forgiveness with your spouse and others. Whether we know it or not, the children are watching how we adults relate to one another.
5. Forgive yourself! It’s okay not to be the perfect parent. Take yourself less seriously. Remember that you, too are a child of God.
I hope that those of you with younger children can skip the totaled cars of the teenage years, but undoubtedly you all will have your opportunities to forgive.
Because we ourselves are forgiven by God, we model forgiveness with our children so that they too learn how to forgive. And through forgiveness, the Spirit breathes reconciliation and peace into the world.
What are your suggestions for the practice of forgiveness?