We’ve all been there. One of our kids has hurt a sibling in some fashion, either physically or emotionally. So we provide the consequence (as is our duty) and then require an apology. The offending child may comply with an apology that looks something like this: head hung low, scowl on face, and a barely audible “I’m sorry” with little or no eye contact. He then dashes away with a cloud of anger in his wake. Was this a successful apology? Did it have any meaning at all? Very little. We need to aim higher. Let’s seek to transform hearts, not just words.
First we need to talk about what repentance really is. The word repentance implies the notion of “turning around.” If someone is truly repentant, they will demonstrate this with a change in behavior and attitude. They have turned from what they were doing and are now doing something different. We see this process at conversion. A person admits his sins and helplessness to atone for them, seeks forgiveness and then becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”). It is the transformation that gives proof that the repentance with real and heart felt. Without an outward demonstration of or desire for repentance (turning from sin), one may wonder about the reality of the conversion.
The same is true for our children. A true apology must be accompanied by true repentance (a change of behavior and attitude) to have any meaning to the giver or the receiver. An “I’m sorry” said with disinterest is much different from an “I’m sorry” followed by a “Will you forgive me?” Let’s strive for the latter.
Let’s look at an example. One of your children intentionally hurts a sibling. After a period of separation, assess the state of his heart. Ask him what he did wrong and discuss the underlying heart problem that led to it (selfishness, pride, lack of self-control, etc). Next, ask if he feels any sorrow for what he did. If he claims that he does, discuss different ways that he could show his sibling that he is sorry. Explain that his outward attitude and behavior is a window into his heart. Sorry hearts will want to make it right. Hard hearts will show anger for being caught. Some ideas for showing repentance include: serving the sibling lunch or a snack, playing a game of the sibling’s choosing, “donating” a portion of computer or T.V. time, cleaning up after the sibling, doing a chore for the sibling, etc. The child can then approach the offended sibling and say something like, “I am sorry that I hurt you. I want to show you that I am sorry so I am going to read you your favorite story.”
On the other hand, if your child does not show a changed heart and is unwilling to apologize or make amends, talk about the broken relationship that comes from hurting another person. Explain that the person who does the hurting has created a wall between the two parties. It is the responsibility of the one who did the offending to break down that wall. It is broken down when the offender stands humbly on the other side and knocks. Try to talk to your child about the underlying causes of his unrepentant heart. Does he have past hurts? Is something else bothering him? Would he like to pray? Give him some time to think and process his feelings. If he still chooses the way of a hard heart, remind him that he will then have to live on that lonely side of the wall. Emphasize that the choice is his, but that choice will have consequences, not the least of which is a lack of inner peace that comes when one makes things right.
Don’t forget the forgiveness piece in all of this. Privately remind the offended child that he or she needs to be ready to forgive when approached with genuine repentance. We are to forgive “70 times 7” those who do wrong against us. Encourage him or her to see that God’s forgiveness is open to anyone – anyone who is willing to humbly confess his sins and believe He is Lord.