Monday, September 17, 2007

Teaching Forgiveness To Children: Part One

Teaching children Inside the Classroom has taught me to think about great theological concepts in simple terms and with concrete examples. When we teach children, we often use object lessons, illustrations, and bible stories to teach these great biblical truths. I find that when I’m outside the classroom, my mind still tends to think in those terms.

Take forgiveness for example. Forgiveness is one of those virtues, let’s face it, that even the most mature of Christians still struggles to understand and emulate. What is forgiveness? How do I know when I have been successful in forgiving someone who has wronged me?

I use Site Meter to track how many of you visit my site. Site Meter also tells me what searches people used to bring them to my site. Lately I’ve noticed a number of people looking for information on how to teach forgiveness to children. I’ve pondered this a lot in the last two weeks How do we teach this incredibly important yet difficult subject to kids? How do we teach what we ourselves have trouble grasping, much less getting a grip on? Learning to put the concept of forgiveness in the concrete terms a child could understand has helped me in my ability to forgive.

Suppose you buy two pounds of bulk candy and the store only gives you one pound, still charging you for two pounds? What are you going to do? You’ve been cheated out of that one pound of candy! You have three choices: You can insist that you get the candy or your money back, you can forgive and forget, or you can inwardly resent that you never got your candy and hold the candy store responsible in your mind for cheating you out of your candy.

Let’s say you try to get your candy or your money back, and the store refuses to make it right. Or even though the store is sorry for the mistake, they don’t have the money or candy to give to you. You are left with two choices. Resentment only hurts you so you are left with the choice to forgive and let it go. That’s fine, but there is one problem. You still don’t have your candy and you are still out the money you paid for it. Who is going to pay for that candy?

Forgiveness is being willing to pay the price. In Jesus’ story of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35), the servant owed far more than he could possibly pay. So his master forgave the debt. There’s one problem. Who paid the debt. The master was stilled owed all that money. We can assume that the master paid the debt. That means the master was out millions of dollars. He had to pay the debt.

In any wrong, there is a debt to be paid whether it’s for a pound of candy we didn’t get, a life that we must live without, or a fracture in a relationship that has caused us hurt and inconvenience. Who’s going to pay the debt? Are you going to insist the other person pay and make it right? If so, what action will satisfy your desire to balance the books of justice?

Forgiveness costs. It’s too easy to mouth the words, “I forgive you,” without realizing the cost we are agreeing to pay in order to forgive. True forgiveness is willingness to endure the harm caused without seeking revenge or insisting on doling out punishment to the other person.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the prerequisites of forgiveness; what we need to teach children before we can teach them to forgive.

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