Let’s face it. Forgiveness is TOUGH.
If you’re asking for forgiveness, it requires self-examination and humility. If you’re being asked for forgiveness, it requires you to make a choice…
Forgiveness is also POWERFUL. It is a tool, a life skill that we all need to be practicing.
I like to think of forgiveness like a muscle – if I’m not working it out regularly, small “weights” like a snarky comment or terseness in my daily interactions become heavier and harder to lift. My pride gets bigger and I don’t want to own up to my bad attitude. Over time, I justify my negative actions until I can’t apologize for something small, let alone for something big. I end up feeling angry and discouraged…life just feels heavy. Can you relate?
We’ve all been there but it’s not okay to be stuck there. It’s painful to live in unforgiveness and I can promise you that others (including your kids) can sense it. As parents, we need to be modeling what healthy relationships, conflict, and discussion look like – and that means a lot of forgiveness. If this seems intimidating or it was something you never saw modeled at home, don’t worry! I’m here to give you a crash course, and the good news is, it’s pretty simple.
When you need to forgive
Take a brief moment and think back to a time when somebody upset/hurt/wronged you. You can probably remember it pretty vividly. How did you react in the moment? Did you shut down or erupt in anger? Thinking back on your reaction and the hurt you felt is a helpful exercise to identify what it was that actually upset you in the first place. Now, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I hurt because they really did something wrong or is it because I took something too personally?
- Am I hurt because what they did was offensive to me or someone else?
- Am I hurt because what they did hurt a friend or a loved one, but not me specifically?
- Am I hurt because they directly hurt me intentionally, or unintentionally?
Now that you’ve identified how the hurt came about, it’s time for the next step.
How do we forgive?
We always hope that the person who hurt us will recognize they need to ask us for forgiveness, but that doesn’t always happen. So, when you’re the one approaching them for an apology, here’s what I suggest:
- Be clear about the offense and how it made you feel. Try not to blow up at them – be honest, but don’t be cruel.
- Tell the person that you forgive them (and actually do) and ask them to please not do the thing again.
The act of forgiveness is literally removing the burden and weight of anger and resentment from your shoulders.
That doesn’t mean that you won’t feel hurt from what they did – It will take time for that to go away. But that’s OK. That is very normal. Forgiving them is a BIG step in the direction of healing.
When you need to ask for Forgiveness
This can be tricky because when you hurt someone you either do it without thinking OR you do it intentionally to get back at them. We can also hurt others not because we are mad at them but because we are mad and they happen to be in the line of fire. We do this frequently with our kids – and we need to recognize it and make a change. This can have a truly damaging impact in the long run if left unchecked.
When you’re blowing up at those around you, make sure to take a breath and ask yourself: Is what you did really about them or was it because of something/someone else?
How to ask for Forgiveness
This is the hardest part because it requires you to admit that you were wrong and/or that you did something painful to another person. It makes us humble, sometimes ashamed and contrite. Recognizing and admitting that you hurt someone (especially your kids) can be heartbreaking. But don’t let it stop you from asking for forgiveness! Here’s what to do in this situation:
- Go to the person face to face (if possible) and ask for forgiveness. Don’t be general/vague, i.e. “I’m sorry I hurt you” – be specific: “I’m sorry that I yelled at you – that was wrong”.
- Then, be specific about how you made that person feel: “I’m sorry that when I did that I caused you to feel sad/angry/etc.”. If you don’t know exactly how you made them feel, ask them. Listen. Don’t interject – and then apologize specifically.
- Next, make a point of saying how hard you’ll try to not do that thing again. You can even ask the person you’re apologizing to to gently let you know when you’re falling back into that same behavior (Kids adore this one. There’s nothing like your 5-year-old telling you, “Hey, you’re using your outside voice again!” to stop you in your tracks!).
Asking for forgiveness requires your humility. It’s painful and awkward at times, but the more you do it, the easier it will get. Just like exercise!
Eventually, the act of asking for forgiveness will be second-nature and your kids will watch you do it with ease – meaning it doesn’t end up being scary for them – and they’ll be ready and willing to ask for and forgive others as they grow.
Keep the muscle of forgiveness strong. Don’t let fear or shame keep it weak. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful things you possess and it will shape your relationships for good, if you work at it.
*Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting what has happened – especially if it involves a dangerous situation or unsafe person. Sometimes you must choose to forgive while also removing yourself from the problem for you and your family’s safety.