Repentance and forgiveness are major themes in the Bible. Not only are we as people called to repent from our evil ways before God, but we are called to forgive those who sin against us. The hardest words for someone to utter are “I am sorry, will you forgive me for…” I have watch all 5 of my children struggle to say these words. Sometimes they get the “I’m sorry”, other times they say “will you forgive me?” And occasionally they even way it and mean it, but to say the entire sentence, naming the transgression is almost more than they can bear.
Why is this?
Simply put, it sets our sin plainly before our eyes and no one wants to stare into their sinful ways. Yet, if someone cannot confess his or her sin plainly to those whom he or she can see and who have been offended, how can we ever expect them to admit their sin before God and receive his forgiveness? Confession and forgiveness are twin disciplines which lead us to the cross. 1 John 1:9-10 says,
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”
These are powerful words. If we can’t admit our sin, God’s word has no place in our lives. As Christian parents we desire the Word of God to dwell deeply and richly in our children, so this means we must teach them forgiveness and confession/repentance.
Like all of the disciplines, it is really rather simple: Start by modeling the practice to your children. We all sin against one another, and as parents we sin against our children. I have yelled at my kids, ignored them, said hurtful things to them, disciplined them harshly for minor infractions. So model repentance and confession by giving a full statement of contrition to your children for having sinned against them. It is hard, but the fruit is worth it. The first time I confessed my sin toward my girls we were both crying, but now my children know that I am sinful and not above the laws of God. it hasn’t undermined my authority, quite the contrary, it has strengthened my authority as a Biblical father and leader in my family. I practice the same thing with my wife and my friends, too.
Next, start by requiring a full confession of sin from your children when they sin against one another, you or anyone else. Have them state it clearly and in a tone that reflects contrition. There have been times it has taken a number of tries before the act is acceptable, particularly when the children were ages 2-6, but the habit has been instilled in my older girls and they are now quick to make amends.
When we say such words, we are teaching our children the discipline of confession. Finally, start incorporating confession into your family prayer life and invite your children to do the same. The benefits are out of this world and the training you establish now will bear fruit for eternity.