Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2010
When our daughter, Gracie, was around three years old, I heard my Dad talking about how John and Charles Wesley learned to pray “The Lord’s Prayer” as soon as they could talk. Their mother, Susanna, was very devout, and wanted to instill a love and reverence for God in her children at the earliest possible age.
This story made a great impression on my wife, Susanne, and on me. So, we began immediately to teach Gracie the Lord’s prayer, and we did so through the song version. She took to it like a duck to water, and very soon, our evenings were filled with Gracie’s robust and enthusiastic and, quite sincere singing of “The Lord’s Prayer”.
There were a few bits that had to be clarified, of course. For instance, she would sing, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our dead horsies!” Being a horse lover, she sang that line with great empathy. So, we worked with her to understand the meanings of “debt” and “debtor,” particularly with regard to our relationship with God, and we were tremendously grateful when she received Jesus as her Lord and Savior at a young age.
Sometimes, I think about those times, always with happy memories. And I have thought about those “dead horsies”, and the subject of forgiveness. Few lessons are more important to teach our children than the grace of forgiveness-the ability to release any bitterness or hurts into God’s hands. You’ve heard the phrase: “Beating a dead horse.” Maybe it’s time for some of us to “forgive our dead horsies”.
I’ve heard our friend Gary Henley describe unforgiveness as being “like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” So often, we go to tremendous lengths to keep our kids safe from toxins that exist in household cleaners, in lead paint, in the atmosphere, or even the toxins that can be found on television, the internet, or video games. Yet, too many parents allow the poison of bitterness to flow out of their own hearts and throughout their homes, scorching and scarring the hearts of their children.
It’s one thing to tell your children, “You should forgive those who wronged you.” It’s quiet another to actually model that forgiveness. And as writer Robert Fulgham so famously said, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” Platitudes are nice, but it’s the living example that they see from you that will stick with them. Beyond that, there is the principal of impartation: if we say “peace”, but have war in our hearts, what our kids will receive is “war “. The spirit behind the word is far more contagious than the word itself.
FREELY YOU HAVE RECEIVED
So, before we can instruct our children on the blessings of forgiveness, perhaps we need to be refreshed in this freedom ourselves. Author Don Basham once described unforgiveness as being like a giant sack that we carry around on our backs, where we collect and store all of our little hurts – real or perceived – until the sack becomes unbearably heavy.
Sometimes, we unload all of our hurts from the past on some poor unfortunate soul who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time!
Perhaps sharing forgiveness really starts with receiving forgiveness. If you are in Christ Jesus, you are forgiven – your sins and failures are covered by His sacrifice on the Cross. Most of us know this intellectually or theologically, but sometimes we have a hard time believing it could really be so, or that it could be so for us. Other times, we believe we are forgiven, but we forget the command of Jesus: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). This is true not only of physical healing, but of forgiveness and any other gift we have received from God.
In the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples, He told them to seek God’s forgiveness according to the way that they forgave others (see Matthew 6 and Luke 11.) Sobering, isn’t it? How often do we desire mercy for ourselves and judgment upon those that who have wronged us? It doesn’t work that way!
The Good News is this: having received the grace and forgiveness of God for our own sins, how can we not extend the same to others? In fact, I would submit that this very same grace from God to us carries within it power and even desire to share it with others! And how much more should we desire this grace, knowing that our children will be the chief beneficiaries of our own transformed hearts? Or … should we refuse this grace, they may become the chief victims of our toxicity.
So the next time you are tempted to air your feelings out around your children about mean old Uncle Goofus or grumpy old Grandma Gristle – or the snoopy neighbor, the unfair boss, or the meddling pastor – consider the impact that your example will have on your own kids. If you get hurt, and we all do, take it to the Lord first and then take it to the offending party … but don’t take it to your home. In so doing, it will be much easier, and you will have infinitely more credibility, when you need to encourage your children to forgive or to take a problem to the Lord.
A final word of caution: we all love our kids, and are eager to protect them. But be careful not to enable them in nursing along a hurt or slight. Don’t automatically assume that they are blameless, or that the other party is 100% wrong. Yes, we need to stand with our children, but a big part of truly standing with them is speaking the truth in love and helping them learn to stand on Christ themselves.
This is all easier said than done. I’ve had to deal with a few “dead horsies” in my life, but the quicker we can stop beating them and start burying them, the more peace we will have and share in our homes.
Scripture Reference: Matthew 10:8; Matthew 6; Luke 11
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.