By Kim Longden
I like to think of our home as a proving ground—a place where things are tested and tried out. One of the things we have been testing and trying out over the years is the practice of saying “I’m sorry” when we offend each other.
Awhile back, though, we realized that something was missing from this process. We were saying “I’m sorry,” but often the person receiving the apology, not knowing what to say, would mumble “that’s OK”—which was confusing because what the offender did likely wasn’t OK.
Sometimes receiving an apology is even more difficult than giving one. This left the situation unresolved, so we saw that we also needed to test and try out offering words of forgiveness as well.
Offering actual words of forgiveness is a much less ambiguous—and a more healing—look at the situation. Does the offender deserve the forgiveness? How many times should I forgive? Those questions have definitely been discussed in our family! But these are good conversations to have because they can take us back to the message of the cross.
By forgiving each other, we model what Christ offers us through the cross—not some kind of vague glossing over of our wrongs with no real resolution—but acknowledgement that even though we have done wrong over and over, we have forgiveness because of His great love for us. We do not deserve this forgiveness. We love because He first loved us. We forgive because we have been forgiven.
In our home we started practicing saying, “I forgive you” when apologized to. We want these simple words to convey the message “even though what you did wasn’t OK, I won’t hold it against you, and our relationship is still intact.”
Does that mean I’m ready to go back to playing with you right away? Maybe not. Unfortunately, we do not sin in a vacuum, and there are consequences for our actions—one of which may be that trust and friendship need to be rebuilt. The ultimate goal of practicing words of forgiveness in the home is walking the road toward restored relationships—and sometimes that road is longer than others, depending on the situation. Offering words of forgiveness assures the other person, however, that you still love them and are willing to pursue restoration.
Recently one of our younger sons said something hurtful to our oldest son during an argument. After the storm was over, he came and apologized. My oldest son looked him in the eyes, said his name, and then the words: “I forgive you.” I could see the look of relief and joy that spread across my younger son’s face as he heard these words (unprompted by mom!). What a gift is forgiveness freely given!
I could give many other examples of how this has played out in our home—we have tested this over and over, and have experienced the blessings of trying, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to walk out “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
So, here is an invitation: Your family is probably together more than you’re used to right now. You’re all a little stressed and on edge. You’re going to mess up and offend each other. Use this time to practice not only apologizing, but also experimenting with words of forgiveness. “I forgive you,” is short and sweet, and can convey the important message, “I still love you, and I won’t hold this against you.”
Being deliberate with forgiveness will be awkward at first—it was for us. But that is why home is such a great proving ground. There are plenty of opportunities to try this out, over and over—every single day.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22