Navigating Your Children through Friend Problems
Children love stories. In fact, I think we all love them. Who of us does not like a story that thrills us or challenges us to make right choices? And if the story is true, then all the better!
Being a parent is the greatest blessing imaginable, yet with it comes the warning label, “Be wise. Your kids depend on it.” From the time they’re tiny tots till they’re late teens, they’ll face painful skirmishes in relationships, one of them being friend problems. He slapped me on the back, or She stood up in the bus this morning and yelled about me, I hate her. I must admit that I faced both of these comments with children. And I wasn’t a happy camper! Yet, how can we as parents put aside our own emotions and remember the label: “Be wise. Your kids depend on it.” Here’s how. We tell them a story; yes, a true one about Philemon in the Bible and his choice to forgive an offense.
Slavery was a fact of life in Paul’s day, a reality he could not change. Yet, in spite of its injustice, God was still at work. Philemon was Paul’s close friend, a rich man with a slave, Onesimus. One day Onesimus ran away, leaving Philemon violated and likely very angry. According to Roman law, a runaway slave if retrieved was punishable by death. In another city, Onesimus met Paul who brought him to Christ and nurtured him in the faith. Eventually, Paul made arrangements for Onesimus to go back to Philemon in order to restore the wrong committed. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon (the book of Philemon in the Bible) asking him to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ not as a fugitive. What a courageous act on Onesimus part to hope Philemon would forgive the offense! Would you have returned if you would have been the slave?
The lesson in this story for our children is this: What do we do when we’ve been offended? How do we respond to the person who slapped us on the back or shouted I hate you on the bus? How do we navigate our children to the other side of releasing the wrong that was committed where they choose to “forgive and forget” rather than to “resent and remember?
Let’s remind them of three things.
#1 - We forgive others because God first forgave us. When my kids were young, they sang a little song to the words of Ephesians 4:32 – Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you. To this day my adult children sometimes hum that tune. And we remember Colossians 3:13 – Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. There are no less than seventy-five different word pictures about forgiveness in God’s Word. Since God’s the God of creativity, we need to ask Him to show us how to make this principal “stick.”
#2 - We remember the consequences of unforgiveness. Failure to forgive leaves us married to the offender. If I had not practiced this principal myself, the girl who shouted, “I hate her” on the bus might likely be dead right now. Unforgiveness keeps the pain alive where the offense can never heal. Unforgiveness can’t be hidden. It eventually leaks. What starts out as an offense turns into an infection that poisons the soul, and who in their right mind would inflict on themselves a slow death? And unforgiveness gives Satan entrance into our lives. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 says that resentment is an open door for the enemy to take advantage of you. And unforgiveness does something else. It hurts our fellowship with God. By choosing to let the offender “off the hook,” we position ourselves to be in a place of blessing with the Lord.
#3 – We have fun visualizing what it looks like to forgive. Try acting this out with visual aids in hand.
- To forgive is to turn the key, open the cell door, and let the prisoner walk free.
- To forgive is to write in large letters across a debt, “Nothing owed.”
- To forgive is to pound the gavel in a courtroom and declare, “Not Guilty!”
- To forgive is to shoot an arrow so high and so far that it can never be found again.
- To forgive is to sandblast a wall of graffiti, leaving it looking like new.
- To forgive is to relax a stranglehold on a wrestling opponent.
- To forgive is to bundle up the trash and dispose of it, leaving the house fresh and clean.
- To forgive is to smash a clay pot into a thousand pieces so it can never be pieced together again. (All of these taken from John McArthur, John Nieder and Thomas Thompson)
So what about the boy who slapped my kid on the back or the girl that shouted “I hate her” on the bus? What boy? What girl?