What Does It Mean to Forgive?

Forgiveness. It's a big word for little brains to wrap themselves around. We encourage our kids to practice forgiveness, but do we ever really stop to make sure they know what it means? When my daughters were in second grade, they had a teacher who understood the concept of forgiveness. Whenever two kids were embroiled in a situation where one needed to ask forgiveness, she always had the forgiving child reply to the apology with the statement, "It's not OK that you did that, but I forgive you."

You see, too often forgiveness gets confused with approval. When you forgive someone, you're not approving of what they did. You're simply accepting their apology and releasing yourself from the bitterness and anger that goes with unforgiveness.

Sometimes, we lead our kids to believe that forgiving someone fixes everything, and sometimes it does. However, forgiveness doesn't always lead to a restored relationship. Sometimes it simply means that we remove the bitterness, the grudge that we've been holding toward someone. Forgiveness releases us from the burden of anger and bitterness, whether it restores the relationship or not.

Forgiveness simply means refusing to carry a grudge. It doesn't mean that what the other person has done is OK. It doesn't mean that you automatically return your trust to the person who has broken it. Forgiveness is often more about us and less about someone else.

It's so important for our kids to understand forgiveness because without God's forgiveness, we would all still be held responsible for our sin. 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." God forgives us, so we should forgive others.

Kids aren't generally gracious forgivers. How many times have you watched your kids stand with arms crossed while one child says, "I'm sorry," and the other grumbles, "That's OK"?

Help your kids understand the importance of forgiveness by reminding your kids that God chooses to forgive our sins. Remind them that forgiveness is a choice and that carrying a grudge only hurts the person carrying it.