It has been almost a year since my wife and I lost our sanity and accepted the call to become Winshape foster parents. In that time I have learned many things, mainly about my own selfishness, my impatience, and my utter dependence on God’s grace and guidance in parenting my unique family.
In that year, my wife and I have come up with a vision for what we are trying to do in this ministry, a vision that most days is easier said then done. We don’t know how to run a home for troubled children, although we may be good at running a troubled home for children. What we do know how to do, if only in theory some days, is live life as a family pursuing the glory of God and His Gospel in all that we do as a family. So that’s what we continue to do as best we can, inviting as many children as God brings our way into that family.
Some take hold of that invitation right away and fit right in. Others take longer, and still others may never accept our invitations.
In parenting these children I have noticed a distinction when it comes to the process of restoration and forgiveness that we can easily miss, but just might be vitally important for our children to understand.
Before starting this job, my wife and I were working hard to parent our children so as to mirror the gospel and the Heavenly Father’s heart for them. We tried to make the Gospel the foundation of our discipline and instruction. That is why it was very important that even from a young age, as soon as they could get the words out, we had our children practice asking for forgiveness whenever they had done something against my wife and I’s rules, wishes, or expectations. We also taught them that since Jesus had forgiven us of our sins we could offer them the same grace by forgiving them. They got to experience a type of restoration in the family that they would one day face at the foot of the Cross. This was the rhythm of life. And our kids had grown accustom to the language we used in discipline and instruction.
Fast forward a couple of months. Since we had been doing this kind of thing since Gideon was 2 I forgot that it was something we had taught him until we added more children to our family. And in the craziness of life too often we settled for a fake restoration. One that didn’t point our children to the cross and didn’t help them at all. Let me give you an example. One of our new children would do something against the rules, let’s say lie. We would confront this child about their offense. Here’s how it would go down:
Me:”Johnny and/or Jill, You lied to mom and dad! Lying is wrong and lying is a sin. It hurts mom and dad and makes it hard for us to trust you with bigger and more fun things.”
Johnny/or Jill :”I’m sorry, Dad I won’t do it again.”
Me: “Okay, Son/ or daughter, you’re forgiven”
This is fake restoration. Let me point out why.
Kids are amazing. They are innocent in so many ways and amazingly manipulative in others. I know that almost every parent has heard their child say “I’m sorry” knowing that the only thing they are sorry about is getting caught. We deal with this all the time. I can hear my mom’s voice in my head (I’m not sure she actually said anything like this to me, it just the voice I hear).
“You’re sorry? You’re sorry? Sorry for what? That you got caught?” No child is ever going to answer that question honestly.
“I’m sorry” is an ambiguous term we often don’t mine the depths of. When kids state that they are sorry, we assume that means they feel bad for what they’ve done, accept responsibility for their actions, and we can therefore both be restored. That’s a dangerous and unhelpful assumption for a couple of reasons.
1. “I’m sorry” is an expression, however real or felt, of emotions. It is not an acceptance of guilt. A child can say “I’m sorry”, but that doesn’t equal “I take responsibility”. It is ambiguous and confusing at best if we don’t make the distinction for our children early on.
2. When we make that assumption and teach our children to do the same we take away our children’s ability to handle, in a mature and empathetic way, certain interpersonal situations in the future with friends, family, and people they may lead or follow. We need to teach our children that being sorry isn’t an admission of guilt. That we can be sorry about certain situations without taking responsibility for them.
For example, as a boss you might have situations that your co-workers don’t like. You can be sorry that they have reacted the way they did, that they don’t agree with your stance, but also hold to your convictions in your decisions (i.e., I’m sorry that you feel that way, but that doesn’t mean I made the wrong decision.) Or as a teenager, you can be sorry that your friends are mad at you because you wouldn’t bow down to their peer pressure to do stupid things, but it will be helpful if you grew up knowing that being sorry didn’t mean that it was your fault your friends are mad at you.
3. “I’m sorry” isn’t that helpful because when you have truly wronged somebody by your actions, the last thing that they care about is how you feel. Sure its a little helpful if you feel genuine emotion. Most of the time, I don’t care as much that people are sorry that they got caught, sorry that I am mad at them, or sorry for what they did. What I tend to want the most is for them to take responsibility for their actions and go about restoring things. “I’m sorry” does none of that.
Real Restoration involves forgiveness.
Teaching our children to ask for forgiveness is a precious gift. We can fake emotions, but it is much harder to fake feeling responsible for something you think you didn’t do. Teaching our children to ask for forgiveness and by giving it to them, the way Christ gave it to us, we:
Teach them how to bring restoration to relationships.
Build their self-confidence because they don’t’ have to hide who they are or what they have done.
Teach them to be responsible for their actions.
Teach them to communicate clearly.
Point them towards the Gospel of Christ.
Like I said, I think its an important distinction. If you don’t see it that way, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.