I can’t remember how old I was, but I do remember where I was sitting. It was in my parents’ bedroom, on the rocking chair my mother had by the glass doors that led out to their balcony. Not long after I’d been disciplined for something I did wrong, she called me in to talk. I expected to hear more about the incident and the mistake I’d made.
Instead, my mother—who in my eyes was practically perfect—squatted in front of the chair and apologized to me for being too harsh. I remember being floored. I didn’t think adults had to do that, especially not parents. They were always right . . . weren’t they?
I was caught off guard. It almost felt wrong. They’d upset the delicate, natural balance of my universe where they were the ultimate good, and I was as uncomfortable as a young child could be. How could my parents need to say “sorry”? It didn’t feel right for me to have to say “‘I forgive you” or even “It’s OK.” I didn’t understand that humility and admitting to mistakes were also part of being the authority.
In that moment, I was introduced to a practical example of the gospel.
My parents, authorities in my life, understood they, too, were sinful. They knew that because of the grace God has given us, we extend forgiveness to others and seek to receive it as well. I didn’t realize it then, but their actions were setting up a foundation for my understanding of what Christ did for me.
I didn’t understand that humility and admitting to mistakes were also part of being the authority.
This was the first time I remembered my parents apologizing, but it wasn’t the last.
Over and over, my parents made the effort to listen to me if I felt wronged and apologize when they made a mistake. It wasn’t until years later that I really learned to appreciate and understand this lesson. I was taught the balance between discipline and anger, and I learned my parents were sinful just like I was—that asking forgiveness was something we all needed to do. From talking with others my age throughout my childhood, I realized having parents who were willing to apologize when they disciplined out of anger, lashed out, or simply made a mistake wasn’t all that common.
This childhood experience stretched out throughout my life to model the kind of humble heart Christians should have toward each other. My parents could easily have played tyrant and never apologized to me, brushing me off as a child who didn’t need apologies from those who were her guides in life. They could have hidden behind their God-given roles as parents and forgone their roles as my fellow Christians.
Instead, they chose to open themselves up and be vulnerable. They helped me develop my willingness to kneel before God and ask for forgiveness. Each and every day, my parents reminded me of important truths: we’re all sinners, and we need the saving mercies of God to show grace to each other as well.
Learning and Teaching
The street of forgiveness goes both ways. The older I got, the more often I was in the position not of the little girl in the rocking chair but of the adult asking for forgiveness. That was when I understood how difficult it can be. Our instinct is toward pride, assuming we’re the ones in the right. I often had to face this tendency in my relationship with my younger brother. Having to admit to him that I’d done something wrong or that my words had hurt him felt like a blow to my armor.
As the older sister, my urge is to always lord that position over him and assume I know best. When the time comes to confront the reality that I need to ask for his forgiveness, it’s far from easy. But I have examples right in front of me: My mother, kneeling beside the rocking chair to look me in the eye when she asked for forgiveness. My father, doing the same when I explained I was hurt by the way he spoke to me. My own heart, prompted by my sinfulness to humble myself before a holy God whose mercy I desperately need.
Time and time again, my parents have laid the foundation for me, a narrow path of humility that I could choose to follow, an example they created from biblical truth. And when I’ve chosen to walk on it, I’ve seen its importance.
Time and time again, my parents have laid the foundation for me, a narrow path of humility that I could choose to follow.
But more importantly, I’ve been able to understand why we ask for forgiveness. I’ve connected my parents’ lesson with the greatest lesson of all: because of our sin, we need God’s forgiveness but don’t deserve it. And yet he chooses to forgive us of his own will and mercy, out of love. The same humility God asks us to have before him, we should have with others, and I continue to try to incorporate it in all my relationships, including with my brother.
The example my parents gave me pointed me to the most important truth—the gospel—and by the grace of the Lord, I hope to set that example myself.