Forgiveness as a household practice

Last week, I suggested some practical actions to help move towards forgiveness. This week, I’ll focus on forgiveness as a household practice, drawing heavily from a little book by Carol Luebering, The Forgiving Family (now sadly out of print). Luebering observes that it is in the family that most of us first learn to love, but that love must be cultivated and practised. One of the disciplines which cultivates love is, of course, forgiveness. What follows are four suggestions for forgiveness within a household; of course, most of them are helpful in other relationships, too.

Idea 1: Wash away minor hurts and frustrations. Most (all?) of us who live with others can attest that living with people means enduring constant small hurts, abrasions, frustrations, annoyances, and bickering; and it all becomes very wearying. But we have a choice. We can accumulate the hurts, gradually collecting a sackful of grievances ready to dump all over someone, or we can let go every day, perhaps using some of the tools suggested last week. Read or sing Lamentations 3:22-24. Give thanks to God that love and mercy are new every morning; and ask God that you, too, can begin each day in your household free from grudges, and with a renewed spirit. Perhaps you can use your bath or shower time not only to wash away grime, but also to intentionally name and wash away minor hurts and frustrations. Let them swirl down the plughole as you emerge, refreshed, to engage with your loved ones with a clean slate.

Idea 2: Accept people as they are. Often we feel hurt when people, including partners, parents, siblings, and children, do not live up to our ideals or demands. When we put people into boxes or onto pedestals, or plaster our expectations over them, we are heading for disappointment and conflict. Instead, we must learn to accept people for who they are, not for whom we want them to be. Read the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19). Then take time to name some things you particularly value about the person who has disappointed you. Be very specific: don’t name vague qualities so much as particular actions which you have noticed and appreciated. Give thanks to God for who that person actually is. If you can, do this with the person, and then share a big, warm, all-encompassing hug.

Idea 3: Admit that you’re not perfect, either. Read Matthew 5:23-24. It’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to be the first to say “I’m sorry.” So do it! If you have wounded someone, seek them out, apologise, and ask that the other person will hold your hand and pray the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) with you. Pray it aloud together, slowly, paying attention together to the words. Traditionally, Christians have sealed reconciliation with a kiss of peace: if it’s appropriate, you might like to do this, too!

Idea 4: Develop a regular ritual to affirm and forgive one another. Luebering suggests periodically taking time at an evening meal to acknowledge our need to forgive and be forgiven, and to be called back into loving unity. Perhaps include a blessing cup. Choose a special glass, fill it with a drink all can share (one local household uses cranberry juice), and put it in the centre of the table. Ask your children to set the table as beautifully as they can. Before the meal is served, sit down together and pause. Remember how much you love one another. Perhaps take turns naming what you appreciate about each other (e.g. what do each of us particularly appreciate about mum this week? dad? kid? boarder? etc.). Read Colossians 3:12-17 or similar aloud. Then reflect on the ways we have hurt each other, failed to recognise each other as a gift, or failed to forgive. Things may be spoken aloud, or mulled over in silence. Let someone pray for the household, seeking God’s forgiveness for all. Then pass the blessing cup around, and drink deeply.


Emailed to Sanctuary 27 June 2018 © Sanctuary, 2018. Image credit: Kelovy – Own work, Public Domain, found here.

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