If there is one thing I have learned in my year of parenting, it's that there is a great need for everyone in the family, parents included, to understand the principles of repentance, forgiveness, and saying "I'm sorry." We strive to teach our children these principles, but how often do we really apply them to ourselves when we make parenting mistakes?
My hope with this post is to explain how these principles of repentance and forgiveness can work miracles in our families. I hope to also touch on how the act of prayer can sanctify our relationships with each other and help us in the processes of repentance and forgiveness.
Why are Repentance and Forgiveness so Important?
"Repentance and forgiveness have historically been regarded by social scientists as religious issues only. However, since the 1990s, repentance and forgiveness have become increasingly prominent in professional literature. Mental health experts acknowledge that it is impossible to address emotional and physical well-being without considering the relevance of repentance and forgiveness" (Hawkins et al 202).
I want to compare a social science view of an "apology" or repentance with the process of repentance as it is outlined in gospel context.
But it's not all about repentance. Repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand, so let's move on to forgiveness...what it means and why it's important in family life.
How does the process of forgiveness work and how do you know if you have truly forgiven someone for hurt they have caused you? Social science has examined different models of the process of forgiveness, but a 5-step process of forgiveness highlighted by E. Worthington in the book Five Steps to Forgiveness: The Art and Science of Forgiving is the model of forgiveness that my textbook chose, so that is what I will be highlighting in this post today.
Although "scholars do not know exactly how forgiveness takes place, [they can see that] when genuine forgiveness is achieved, thoughts, emotions, motivations, and behaviors are changed" (Hawkins et al 206).
How does this process of forgiveness relate to families? Do we need to forgive family members? 100% yes is the answer to that question.
Whether it's a small offense or a large offense, forgiveness is a huge part of success in family life. I'm not saying that forgiveness comes easy, especially when it is an offense that involves abuse. But it is possible when we rely on the strength that comes through the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ.
"The most meaningful and growth-promoting repentance and forgiveness require a relationship with the Lord--the willingness and humility to be taught by the Spirit" (Hawkins et al 208). The Savior can heal any hurt, any offense to the heart, and any rift in family relationships, even when one of the parties is not willing to admit fault or go through the repentance/forgiveness process.
"All victims need to be relieved of the burden of resentment...One way to conceptualize the one-way, or unilateral, forgiveness process is to repent on behalf of the offender. [This does not imply] that the victim is taking the burden of repentance away from the offender. That is not possible--the responsibility will forever remain with the offender.
"When people perceive something as sacred, it changes the way they treat it" (Hawkins et al 196). Through prayer, repentance, and forgiveness we can view our family relationships as sacred which, in turn, changes the way we treat those relationships. As we include God as an active member in our family relationships, we increase our desire to make those relationships work, and also increase our protection against Satan who does not want our family relationships to work.
Have you ever heard the phrase, "When you don't feel like praying, that's when you need to pray the most?" It may seem cliche, but it's true. Prayer is a powerful tool that can soften heart and de-escalate tense situations. It's hard to yell at someone when you are kneeling in prayer with them. I love this quote from President Ezra T. Benson about how prayer can strengthen our families:
Hawkins, A. J., Dollahite, D. C., & Draper, T. (2012). Successful marriages and families: Proclamation principles and research perspectives. Provo, UT: BYU Studies and School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.