For most of us it is not until parenthood that we are forced to really articulate what we believe about tough stuff. I think the reason is you have to really put thought into how to explain hard concepts to small children. They don’t come out “just knowing” what you mean. I don’t know about you but for me defining things so simply has the profound effect of really touching my heart. It can highlight my own shortcomings. As an adult I am then aware before God and man (mostly my children and spouse) of my own expectations of behavior. One such instance with my children was explaining the difference between saying “I’m sorry” and asking forgiveness. I’ve pondered on the vast difference between the two and what lasting effects it can have. So with scripture as my guide, here is what I came up with for my kids…and myself.
Saying “I’m sorry” is an important lesson to learn. “I’m sorry” is appropriate for when there is truly no sin issue, sometimes unintentional things like “I’m sorry…I was late…I stepped on your toe…I forgot to do my chore…etc. For these things the basic principle is…my behavior was unacceptable by some standard, it was not sinful but I know it was hurtful. To help MY kids understand this I’ve come up with this…for my kids:”Brother, I stepped on your toe, it was an accident but it hurt you and I’m sorry.” For me: “Honey, I know I told you I would send off that paperwork…again… I did forget. I know it was important and I am sorry for not following through.” As the receiving parent or spouse extending grace for the apology builds an atmosphere of grace. Even if the kids aren’t getting it yet or you are the only one who is doing this… this changes you and enables you to deal with the bigger issue of forgiveness…ouch.
Asking for forgiveness is appropriate when sin is at the heart of the action. When at the root there was “selfish ambition or vein conceit” as scripture puts it. We sin against each other more often that we think and we cover it up with no more than an apology. Just an “I’m sorry” in these instances, never deals with our heart and never leads us reckon with our own ugly sin. Scripture is clear about the effects of sin…it is WAITING to devour you, it easily entangles and it gives root to bitterness that eventually gives birth to death. For those who think I’m over-thinking this, hang with me…Who better to teach our kids how to recognize and uproot sin in their own hearts and live in freedom than mom or dad…yeah…ouch, that hurt. In my adult life I don’t think I asked forgiveness of someone other than God but maybe a handful of times. The funny thing was…I expected it of my kids?! When I started asking forgiveness for my sinful actions not too long ago, I’m not going to lie, it felt and sounded really awkward. Asking forgiveness owns sin and uproots sin like nothing else. The exposing and vulnerable nature of it keeps you real about what is at the root of your behavior. In my mind, the way this transfers to real life is something like this…”Sister, I’m sorry for tearing up your doll, I was angry wanted to hurt you, will you forgive me?” Or…”Brother, I’m sorry for spitting in your face on purpose…I was frustrated when you wouldn’t listen and I wanted to get back at you, will you forgive me? Or…for me “Honey, I’m sorry for calling you a lousy husband (name the specific offense, being general DOES NOT COUNT), I said it to hurt you. Will you forgive me? Big difference between that and “I’m sorry for what I said”.
It has only been through trial and error, error, error in my own life and the gentle chastisement of scripture that these lessons have come to breathe life into myself and hopefully my family. Hope it is helpful for you and yours.