It ought to be easy to forgive. Those of us who have been forgiven by God realize what a great gift that is. But when it comes to forgiving those who bring us a lot of grief, especially when it comes to those in our family who wrong us, that seems to be a different story entirely.
For years a man I know carried a burden of anger and bitterness toward his father. The older he got, the more he realized how much he missed out on in terms of having a relationship with his dad. As he fathered his own son, he found that the pain of what he hadn’t had as a child was also impacting the way he interacted with him. He recalled thinking at one point, “I need to forgive him, but I can’t.”
One night he dreamed that he died and went to Heaven. Standing next to God was his father. He looked at God and said, “What is he doing here?” God responded, “I have been using him in your life for the last fifty-three years to mold you into the person I wanted you to be.” When he woke up, he started thinking of his father differently.
Forgiveness is giving up the hope that you will ever have a better past. Let me repeat that . . . forgiveness is giving up the hope that you will ever have a better past. Eventually this man came to realize that what he had viewed as his father doing to him, God was doing for him. It changed his perception of his entire life. Not that everything that happened had been right or good, but he came to understand that God had been involved in it, and had used those experiences to prepare him for the work He wanted him to do.
With that story in mind, I’d like to share with you some thoughts to help you extend forgiveness to your teen.
Acknowledge that it hurts. There is real pain involved when someone you love and have given to over and over again does something that wounds you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the bad behavior is excused; rather it means that you let go of what is past. You don’t want to carry that pain for years and years, but if you try to pretend like it isn’t there, it’s going to be hard to forgive.
It’s okay to let your teen know that they have hurt you. On the other hand, if you’ve forgiven them, then it shouldn’t ever be brought up again. Corrie ten Boom said that when God forgives us, He buries our sin in the deepest ocean and then puts up a sign that says, “No Fishing.” Today if this man talked to his father, he would never bring up the things that caused him pain. The pain was real, but it doesn’t control his emotions or his relationship with him anymore.
Failure to forgive limits your parenting. If we teach our teens by example that it’s okay to hold grudges and not forgive, we’re not just setting a bad pattern they are likely to follow, but we are building a wall between their hearts and ours. You’re not going to be able to hold a grudge over something they did or didn’t do without them knowing it.
The message that sends to your child is that they are only loved if they do right. I want them to know that they are loved even if they offend me. I want my relationship with my children to continue to develop and improve, but that can only happen if I forgive them (and they forgive me). Are they going to disappoint and fail? Of course. Am I? Yes. So if our relationship is going to be what it should be, forgiveness is going to be a two way street. As the adult, I have the responsibility to model and demonstrate forgiveness to my children.
Remember the grace God has given you. God doesn’t forgive us because we deserve it; He forgives us because of grace. He invented grace. The same grace He gives so abundantly should be growing in our hearts as well. We should never forget that to a large degree our children draw their picture of God largely from the example we show them. For them to know and appreciate the grace and character of God, we need to be forgiving as parents. Seek His grace to help you forgive, and you will find it produces amazing results.
When our teens hurt us but repent, it’s not too hard to forgive. When you can see genuine sorrow for what they’ve done, you can say, “I forgive you” with ease. But when they are continuing to disappoint, disagree and defy, how do you forgive? Only by grace. You can give forgiveness even if it is not accepted. If you really forgive, it will change the way you view the child and the relationship for the better.
Balance forgiveness with consequences. While we have a responsibility to forgive, even if there are ongoing problems, that doesn’t mean that the child should always escape the consequences of their actions. In fact they normally need to go through what they’ve brought down on their own heads to help them not repeat the same mistakes in the future.
If your child is breaking family rules, doing things that put themselves or others in danger or acting out, you have every right to enforce the boundaries you have set; in fact, you must. You always need to be willing to forgive, but it’s vitally important not to enable them to continue to do things that are destructive as part of that forgiveness. Once they stop, put it in the past and leave it there.
It can be frustrating to be a parent. When our children are disrespectful or do something that we’ve repeatedly warned them about, we can be hesitant to forgive them. That’s when we need to dig deep into the well of grace and offer forgiveness anyway, even when it is undeserved, for that is what God teaches us to do.
We talked about this issue in depth on our radio program called “Forgiveness.” To listen online look for the program dated August 27, 2011 at http://www.parentingtodaysteens.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a therapeutic boarding school located in East Texas. Call 903-668-2173. Visit http://www.heartlightministries.org, or to read other articles by Mark, visit http://www.markgregston.com.