This summer kicked.my.butt. Having both kids home every day did a number on our peace and my sanity. Constant bickering over toys and seats and who needs to go to the bathroom more (I kid you not) left me feeling frazzled most of the time. With my nerves shot and my patience thin, I must admit, I raised my voice and used less than gentle words a time or two (okay, maybe 10 or 20, but who’s counting?).
But after most outbursts, I pulled myself together feeling God’s grace lead me to ask for forgiveness. What a beautiful picture of his redemptive love that uses our shortcomings to teach our children how to live.
I’d bend down low so they could see my face and understand my heart. “I’m sorry,” I’d say, “Mommy should not have yelled like that. Do you forgive me?”
And the answer was always yes. Because kids don’t quite yet know how to hold on to things. Their whimsical hearts move on and their developing brains easily forget. What a beautiful picture of his redemptive love that uses our children to teach us how to live.
One of the best ways we can teach our children anything is through modeling. I suppose it’s a good thing I do a stellar job modeling the need for forgiveness. And I’m learning the balance that gives them boundaries while teaching them about the grace that is available when they make mistakes, modeling their opportunity to receive forgiveness.
As summer settles down and we head back-to-school and into the rhythm of fall, I’m focusing more and more on teaching my children about forgiveness. The more life experiences they encounter, the more ready they will need to be to offer and accept genuine forgiveness.
3 Bible Stories That Teach Kids About Forgiveness
“And when they came to the place. . . there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ . . . Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ And having said this he breathed his last.” Luke 23:33-34, 46
(Consider reading the Gospel story in a children’s Bible in addition to traditional text.)
Jesus is the reason we can be forgiven and he is the reason we can forgive others. While I don’t want my children to carry an identity of sin and feel a constant need for forgiveness, I want them to understand that we all make mistakes and because of Jesus, we are forgiven. Use the story of Jesus dying on the cross to share the gospel with your child. Even if you’ve shared it before, focus on the fact that nothing they do or say or think can separate them from the love of Jesus. Share that when we come to him and admit our need for his forgiveness, he responds to us with outstretched arms. Because of Jesus’ example, we know how to respond to others. We love (and forgive) because he first loved (and forgave) us.
Related verse: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present or things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
2. The Prodigal Son
“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:11-32
Because we are part of God’s family, we are forgiven and welcome no matter what. In this story, a man’s son asks for his inheritance then leaves home and squanders it all away. Because of his poor choices, he’s left in great need. When he realizes his mistake, he humbles himself and goes back to his father. He plans to beg that his father will take him back as a servant. Instead, his father welcomes him home as a son.
Use this story to share that we are a part of God’s family. . .we are his children. No matter what we do, he loves us and forgives us. This is not a free pass to do whatever we want but should instead be a great motivation to do what’s right in every situation. When we do make bad choices we are still part of God’s family. Just like parents do not leave their children just because they do something wrong, God does not abandon us. When we realize our mistakes and ask for forgiveness, he is always ready to love us and welcome us home.
Related verse: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” 1 John 3:1
3. Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” Matthew 18:21-22
(Consider reading all of the story in Matthew 18:21-35.)
Jesus instructs us to forgive others over and over again just like he does for us. He clearly teaches his disciples in this story that they are to forgive “seventy seven times” or over and over again. Just like his forgiveness doesn’t run out, neither should our own. Use this story to share with your child that we should forgive others just as he forgives us. Jesus provided the way and the model for humility and forgiveness. His example is one we can follow daily because parents, siblings, teachers, friends and loved ones will make mistakes that affect us.
Spend time helping your child also understand that when they make mistakes that affect others, it is important to humbly ask for forgiveness. We are not responsible for someone else’s willingness or ability to forgive but we can be at peace knowing we recognized our mistake and asked their forgiveness.
Related verse: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
What stories or examples are you using to teach your child about forgiveness?
Jessica Wolstenholm is co-founder of Grace for Moms. After 15 years in the music and publishing industries, Jessica came home to be with her two small children. Although the transition from the corporate world to the playground has been an adjustment, she is learning every day to access the grace available to us through Christ as she navigates the full time job of motherhood. She is the co-author of The Pregnancy Companion: A Faith-Filled Guide for Your Journey to Motherhood and The Baby Companion: A Faith-Filled Guide for Your Journey Through Baby’s First Year. Jessica lives in Nolensville, TN with her husband, Dave and two miracle babies, Hope (6) and Joshua (2).