Without a doubt, the hardest part of life is doing it with other people. The very things that make us human make it difficult for us to be human together, especially with the same people for a length of time. There is a cruelly comical irony in this fact. The hardest part of life is also one of the most crucial, rewarding, and foundational. Those very individuals with which we struggle to get along are those we cherish most passionately, those that mean the most to us. We can’t live without them, so why do we find it so hard to live with them?
Family friction is an almost unavoidable aspect of family life. We inevitably disagree on some topics, and we tend to allow our own desires and emotions to dominate our actions, rather than our concern for the desires of others. Small differences in opinion escalate out of control, and we hurt each other. But our gravitational pull towards conflict and offense doesn’t change the fact that we need each other, and that relationships are one of the most essential areas of our lives. So we need a mechanism for raising the flag of truce and rebuilding the burnt bridge. Not only do we need to reestablish contact with our estranged loved ones, but we also need to deal with the hurt feelings, getting them out of the way so they don’t cause bitterness or a decline in the quality of the relationship. We need to bring the walls down. We need to forgive.
Forgiveness is more than excusing an offense, more than saying “It’s okay.” More even than preventing anger from causing further damage or letting it sour our emotions towards those we care about. Forgiveness is about giving others back the power to harm us, even when we are afraid they might abuse that power. When we close ourselves off from a relationship, we do so to avoid the possibility of any further pain. But relationships are fundamentally based on openness and on trust, and when we clam up, both are restricted. To truly forgive is to extend that trust, even when the possibility of damage still exists. It’s counterintuitive to our natural mindsets…when we experience pain, it seems only logical that we should protect ourselves. But when we take control of the free exchange of emotions, we create distance, which can only weaken our ties to the ones we love.
Effective forgiveness is a core element of effective parenting. We have a tremendous responsibility to teach our children to forgive well, for the sake of their own relationships. Forgiveness is what makes family possible in the first place, in an imperfect world populated by flawed people. Because of this, we as parents need to discuss regularly with our children how and why we should forgive. The most effective way to teach a behavior to our children, however, is not just to discuss it…we need to model it in our own habits. Forgiveness must be a core part of the way we interact with others, especially our spouses. The way we handle pain and anger will absolutely shape our kids’ future relationships, for better or for worse. As dads, we should make it an ongoing goal to be the best forgivers we can, not just for our own sakes, and not just for the sakes of those receiving the forgiveness, but because we love our children.