Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect l harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.Colossians 3:12-16 (ESV)
We are terrible at forgiveness. We’re terrible at understanding it. We’re terrible at giving it. I don’t blame us. We weren’t really taught a biblical form of forgiveness. We were taught to “just brush it off and move on”. Or hold a grudge and say we’ve moved on. Because authentic forgiveness is awkward.
When we’ve wronged someone, especially when that wasn’t the intended result, it is very easy for us to explain the offense away. We might give a trite “apology” to get us off the hook so that if they are still upset, they’re the unreasonable one. We didn’t even have to apologize because we didn’t mean the offense. (And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about bending over backwards to make sure not to offend people. I’m talking about those times we know we were wrong. We missed our intended mark. The other person has every right to be offended because we legitimately wronged them.)
When someone has wronged us, our first instinct when they say, “I’m sorry,” is to say, “It’s okay.” But that is the rub; isn’t it? If it was okay, they wouldn’t need to apologize. We never really offer genuine forgiveness; we just offer a pass from being on the hook.
But as the Body, we can be more. We can offer one another more. We can offer one another the opportunity to look into the eyes of another person and hear a genuine, heartfelt “I forgive you”. Yes, that is awkward. But it is so much more healing than simply being brushed aside. We can offer one another a genuine apology and a genuine attempt to make things right.
This is one area in which I think we parents can really help the next generation of believers. We can embrace the awkward messiness of forgiveness and show them how to really forgive and bear with one another. Instead of living Christian lives as consumers, finding what fits me perfectly and best, we can really be the Body—not just pretend to be the Body. We can model this forgiveness for the next generation, but we can also teach them how to better “bear with one another”.
With my kids, I have taught them that the appropriate response to “I’m sorry” is never “It’s okay”. Even if they weren’t offended or didn’t feel they were done wrong, if someone thinks they need to apologize and asks for forgiveness, dismissing their request is wrong. The appropriate response is, “I forgive you.” Sometimes, they aren’t ready for that step. Then, they can learn to say, “I’m not ready to forgive just yet.” Sometimes, the apology needs to wait while the one who is hurt works through their pain—physical and emotional. With kids, it is usually pretty quick. With adults, it may take us more time. But at some point, it is your responsibility to work through your own hurt and offer the other person the forgiveness you so readily find in Jesus.
People generally respond awkwardly when they hear “I forgive you” in response to an apology. Often because I don’t think they meant the apology. But often, I think it is that we aren’t used to finding that in others. We aren’t used to hearing someone say, “I forgive you.” It is such a powerful statement. The harmony and peace we all seek—it comes after this forgiveness. And as the Body, we need to be especially gracious with one another. We know how much God has done for us, how can we not share that with a brother or sister? We are all on the same team. We’re supposed to be helping one another—not competing, not bashing, and not bringing one another down.
I encourage you: model biblical forgiveness, even when it is awkward. Learn to say, “I’m sorry,” when you were off the mark, even to your children. Teach them to forgive. Teach them to bear with one another. Model it. Teach it.