Forgive From the Outset

Let's think about Christ in relation to parenting. Jesus' words remind us to be (and that we can be) compassionate and non-judgmental in our interactions with our children.

By Amy Sparkman

Categories: Easter (Passion Week), Jesus' Commandment - To Love as He Loved, Love

Jesus is on the cross—it's the capstone event of the Passion Week. Onlookers are split between those in agony over how much they are certain he is suffering and those in ecstasy over their successful persecution of this unusual man and his teachings. In hindsight, we know that Jesus' "suffering" was completely misunderstood—that neither the pitying nor the gloating viewers understood what was really going on before their eyes: the life of Christ was being proven to be eternal.

At the moment that appears to be the most agonizing for him, Jesus says, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). To me, these words are a prayer for all mankind. It would never have occurred to Jesus to advise God or to implore God to be a kind God. Jesus knows that the "I AM THAT I AM" of Moses' day is unchanging and eternal. "I AM" will never become "I WAS." Jesus' words were an affirmation of his recognition that "Our Father" (from the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9) sees us as He created us: good. ("And behold, it was very good" Genesis 1:31). His words attest to man's direct relationship to God; and they suggest that each of us must discover and explore this God-centered relationship—must "work out (our) own salvation" (Phil. 2:12).

The Christ is the ever-appearing nature of God evident in daily life. The Christ is ever-present, guiding, protecting, sustaining each of us. If we are aware of the Christ, we experience the Christ operating in our lives, in everyone's life – and we see it more and more easily, we trust it more and more confidently, and we turn to it more and more regularly and willingly. The Christ dissolves discord, resolves conflict, restores harmony—and the most all-encompassing example of this is Jesus' life, culminating in the crucifixion and resurrection.

Let's think, now, about Christ in relation to parenting. Jesus' words remind us to be (and that we can be) compassionate and non-judgmental in our interactions with our children. I remember walking down a school corridor with a colleague – we were both in our first year of teaching middle school girls. As we turned a corner, we came upon three students huddled around the drinking fountain. It was the middle of a class period, so the scene was unusual. My fellow teacher and I spoke simultaneously. I said, "Hey, girls, what's up?" as she said, "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!" Instantly, two of the girls backed against the wall, terrified and mute; we could then see the third girl doubled over the drinking fountain, moaning.

My fellow teacher later asked me, "How did you know not to reprimand them?" I explained my conviction that people are naturally good and that misbehavior does not respond to a tongue-lashing. This teacher realized that she doesn't trust people to be good, but sees them as guilty first. Our conversation proved to be a turning point in her attitude and approach to others.

Loaded and accusing words erect a wall of mistrust, effectively eliminating open, honest and productive communication. We have all felt "crucified" by a situation – we have either suffered from a sense of personal affront or grimaced over the battle we are determined to win. But as the adult and the parent, we must climb above the fray to the point of being able to see what Jesus saw as he looked out across the sea of faces before him: We must forgive them…even before we know the whole story.

Jesus' words resound for our children, too. Jesus refused to see the people before him as cruel, ignorant, or pitiable – as unworthy of forgiveness. His words actually blessed them! It gave voice to the fact that all of us deserve to know God and to feel the presence and power of the Christ in our daily lives. I recall the first time one of my sons was "dumped" by a girl. She wrote a really raunchy email telling him he was a loser and that she didn't want anything more to do with him. He was hurt and angry, and determined to write her just as crude a reply. Frankly, I thought she deserved it! Instead, I explained to him that he was bigger than that kind of response and that he didn't want to stoop to her level; if he could act like a gentleman, he would honor both his and her true nature—their God-given nature. Mind you, this is a quick summary of what took several hours to work through with my son. And, yes, I had to shut off the Internet for a while so that he couldn't give into the temptation to react rudely.

One of the key points my son latched onto was the idea that taking the higher road would play to his advantage not only with her, eventually, but with their mutual friends. Forgiving her without receiving an apology or even an explanation for her nasty email had to come from a different perspective than the "you hurt me, so now I'm going to hurt you" viewpoint. It had to come from God—it had to be expressed through the Christ. My son did reply to the email: he told her he was sorry about the way she felt, and that he would always value their friendship. He spoke the truth, and that had an immediate healing effect on how he felt about himself.

Not surprisingly, this girl did apologize two years later. What's more, she told him that what she never forgot was the gentlemanly way he conducted himself at the time. They remain good friends.

"Forgive them for they know not what they do" is not reserved for big-deal moments. Truly, it's one of the most calming statements in a parent's mental toolbox. It might be helpful to make a family list of the little and big things that are frustrating or annoying. The list is not meant to point a finger at anyone; it's to highlight instances where a forgiving thought – a genuinely loving, Christ-like thought – would keep the peace, even change the outcome. Here's a start to a family list from my perspective as a parent:

  • texting during dinner
  • texting during a conversation
  • dropping clothing where it’s taken off, and leaving it there
  • interrupting Mom or Dad when they are on the phone
  • saying “I’ll do it” and forgetting to do it
  • saying “I’m sorry” but not making an effort to change.

A teen's perspective might include:

  • hounding and nagging
  • always seeing what’s wrong or what I could have done better
  • being busy all the time—too busy to listen
  • talking about me right in front of me
  • telling me how to act, but not acting that way yourself
  • sighing or looking annoyed all the time; only laughing when I’m not around

To a younger child, the list might include:

  • not having time to play/read/talk with me
  • not letting me keep my stuff out when I’m in the middle of a project
  • not recognizing that what I’m doing is pretty cool, and pretty complex, and very important to me, even if it looks like nothing very cool, complex, or important to you

It's really not hard to forgive "them" for any item on this list, and I am confident that items your family adds will be just as forgive-able. It does take a deeper and more abiding Love than we might usually feel or express. It takes a spiritual, Christ-based Love. But we all have it and it never runs out because it originates in God, infinite good.

I can't tell you how often Jesus' words come to mind. Often they apply to me; often they apply to my children; and often they apply to all mankind, given the scrapes and kerfuffles of daily life around the world. "Forgive them for they know not what they do" is a universal prayer that inspires patience, persistence and compassion—that is, the ineffable love Jesus had, even on the cross.