“I’m sorry, sis. Forgive me. I won’t do it again.”
“Well, you know what? You say this all the time. If you’re really sorry, you’ll stop doing it.”
“I know. I’m sorry sis.”
“Fine. Stop telling me you’re sorry and just stop being so annoying.”
The conversation went something like that. It was many years ago, and I can’t quite remember what it was all about. But, I still remember saying these words to my brother.
I, like Peter, would have asked Jesus the question. “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
Jesus’ answer to him was, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (v.22)
Where we want to put a limit on the number of forgiveness offered to my brother on repeated offense, Jesus teaches us to forgive as often as there is an occasion to forgive.
If there is any place to practice Jesus’ words of forgiving our brother or sister seventy-seven times, it is in the family.
We get plenty of opportunities to practice grace, and we get to receive lots of grace. Often we forget that we need grace seventy-seven times, and focus on the seventy-seven offenses our family members have committed against us. Perhaps this is why Jesus talks about taking out the log out of our eyes, and tells parables concerning forgiveness.
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If your heart is anything like mine, it takes intentionality in offering and seeking grace.
It doesn’t come naturally. This reality is even truer in the family, as it is easy to assume that we are all okay and just brush it under the rug. But, how true it is that the dirt under the rug keeps piling up. Eventually, we walk around it, we avoid it, and ultimately avoiding one another.
One of the stories that I love in the Bible is the story of a woman named Mary, who pours a very expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ feet. The crowd who witness this act criticizes her for being so careless with her resources and wasting it. (John 12:3-8)
Who pours perfume on the feet, especially an expensive one at that? It is wasteful.
But, Jesus, he praises her act and declares that her extravagant act of love will be told from that day forward. Furthermore, he shares that she is an example of one who loves much because she’s been forgiven much. But, those who are forgiven little loves little.
The byproduct of grace is more love.
Our kids have the opportunity to experience God’s love through us. How incredible to realize that we are their first experience of love and grace. Us, the imperfect sinful human beings, being changed by Jesus day by day are given the task of teaching grace. God’s grace abounds.
So here are 4 things we try to do to live and teach grace in our family.
- We’re explicit. After someone says, “I’m sorry,” we teach our kids to not just say, “Okay.” We say, “I forgive you,” so that the person knows they are forgiven. In important situations, if we’ve messed up, we don’t just say to our kids, “I’m sorry.” We say, “I’m sorry for the tone of my voice, will you forgive me?”
- We forgive quickly. Once the issue is clear and someone has expressed remorse, we express forgiveness and move on quickly. This means that I as a mom have to discipline myself to not keep bringing up the offense again because there are times I want to repeat to reiterate my point.
- We admit we’re wrong when we make mistakes. I think it is hard for kids to understand grace, if, when their parents need grace what they see is people hiding their sin and pretending everything they do is okay. We say we forgive them, but what we model is that, when you get big, you don’t really need grace – or worse, that mistakes are really too shameful to admit, so we have to hide them. Kids smell inconsistency and hypocrisy from a mile away.
- After we work through clarity about sin and forgiveness, we work hard on connecting. We make sure we connect with our kids after a conflict with love, hugs, and things that speak their love languages.
We are not perfect at it.
Perhaps this is why we value it so much. We desperately need grace in our family.
Kara Powell, the author of, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, writes “In a comprehensive study of relational dynamics in more than 300 families spanning 35 years, family warmth was more correlated with faith transmission than any other relational factor (including the amount of contact between the generations, the type of contact, and the number of children in the family).”
The truth is that we as parents mess up even as we correct our kids.
We mess up and we need to correct ourselves. There have been many times when I was harsh with my kids while disciplining them and I had to seek forgiveness from them. One of my major areas of growth goals for 2018 is the tone of my voice I use when I am frustrated with them. The tone of my voice breaks down warmth and connection. I have decided that it is possible to still keep warmth even in midst of conflict and I need to work hard at it.
As our kids get older, they will point out things in us that need to be corrected! Raising kids is filled with these big and little points of conflict. We need to have a culture of connection and warmth so we can weather these conflicts, and after conflicts, we have to make an intentional effort to rebuild connections. Especially in those seasons where we feel we are having to forgive seventy-seven times, we have to make sure we keep our connections strong. If you want to read more about ways to keep our connection strong, you can read about the five warmth killers that Dr. Powell wrote.
Grace creates warmth and forgiveness brings restoration.
The good news is this: it is never too late to give and receive grace. Jesus is always extending his grace to us and is in the business of bringing reconciliation and grace between people.
About a month ago, I received a text message from my dad. He wrote in his broken English,
“I am reading a book, I confess my fault when you were young, I couldn’t keep promise for pick up for come back home.”
You might be wondering what in the world he is talking about, but I knew exactly what he was talking about. My father was late 95% of the time when picking up my brother and me after school. We were usually the last ones picked up and sometimes we would wait for an hour or more after school sitting on the grass waiting for him to come. Sometimes I was seething inside that he was late again. It was a sore spot for me growing up and, obviously, I had voiced my complaint many times. In middle school, I took care of it by riding my bike six miles to and from school every day.
He knew it was a big sore spot for me. He apologized many times. I wonder if I made a comment similar to what I said to my brother. Knowing me, it is likely that I did. I complained and made a big hoot about it, but it didn’t really change his behavior.
I forgave him in my heart as I entered young adulthood because I began to understand some of the factors that contributed to his lateness. But, receiving this text was a pleasant surprise. I really appreciated that, after 35 years, he had the courage to ask for forgiveness again. This time, I think he realized the effect that this pattern of behavior had on me. Furthermore, I believe my dad also needed to know that I forgive him and that I forgave him from my heart.
Grace always triumphs, even after 35 years.
Seventy-seven times forgiveness is what we want to live out and model for our kids.
Seventy-seven times forgiveness restores warmth.
What are some ways that you have seen grace triumph in your life? How about with your kids and with your spouse? I’d love to hear from you about how you encourage forgiveness in your family.
You can read about my kids’ suggestions on how to keep warmth and connection with them as a mom here.