Monday, April 6, 2009

Life or Death

“Fathers, don't exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” Ephesians 6:4 (MSG)

His little quivering lip said it all.

I had lost my temper and overreacted in a loud way that could have damaged my young son's spirit. It was a situation I'm sure most of you can relate to, if not with kids, then with a coworker, family member or friend. I was having a tough time at work and the lack of sleep and high levels of stress were turning into a perfect storm of “mean daddy syndrome.” But that was no excuse, so I had to make it right. Fortunately, I had been given the tools to do just that.

Early on in our marriage my wife and I were exposed to some very healthy biblical teaching on relationships. One memorable lesson taught us to take the initiative if we had sinned against another. It was our job to approach the offended party and (knowing that we were forgiven by our heavenly Father) say, “I'm sorry, will you please forgive me.” If I was wrong, then I am called to, as much as it's up to me, make things right. That's what God instructs us to do as His followers.(1) And I needed to make it right with my son. (2)

I remember the time and place vividly. I called my boy back into the kitchen (where mean daddy “got his grumpy on” a few minutes before) and dropped to one knee. Looking him in the eye I said, “I was just loud and sounded kinda mean, didn't I?” His slightly stooped head shook up and down as he wore a frown. “Well, that was wrong and I'm sorry that I did that. Will you please forgive me?” A smile quickly rose across his face as he jumped to hug me and say, “I always forgive you daddy!” Our interaction ended up as a powerful, life giving point of reconciliation for both of us.

This encounter, and the truths behind it, were powerful and accomplished a few things for both of us. First, my child's faith in authority was repaired. He felt sad, scared, and violated by his most important authority figure on earth, daddy. If life just continued on as if all was normal and my outbursts were repeated (even in sporadic intervals) without any reconciliation, then my son would learn that the authorities in his life were untrustworthy and unsafe. This would have a negative affect on his ability to function well in society. It would also color his view of our ultimate authority, God. How attractive would a relationship with Him look through the lens of a lifetime of interactions with “mean daddy?”

On my side, by working through the act of an apology (to my son and my God) I was forced to step back and assess my actions (or more accurately my re-actions), my mood, and how I could better manage my stress. It was transformational because I allowed my mistake to teach me.

Finally, my act of apologizing and asking for forgiveness modeled for my son the way a follower of Christ should respond when they injure another with their tongue. I showed him the steps he must take to reconcile a relationship when he messes up. Also, since I was able to admit I was wrong, it will now be easier for my son to admit he was wrong when he sins against me. It will help my boy to honor God and preserve our relationship in the future.

Overall, the ideas of forgiveness and reconciliation are simple, profound and necessary to sustain long term healthy relationships. But by no means are they easy to do. The tongue has the power to give life and to take it (see James 3), but even if we mistakenly use our words as daggers we have the chance to help heal the wounds we've created; even old ones. The question is will we choose (as much as it is up to us) to breath new life into our relationships, or let them die a slow painful death?

Who has wronged you that you need to forgive?
Who have you wronged and therefore need to ask for their forgiveness?

Thank you Lord Jesus for modeling reconciliation to us by paying the ultimate sacrifice so we can experience your grace and extend it to others. Help us to pursue healthy relationships through prayer, humility and steps of faith, so we can give and ask for forgiveness when and where it is needed. In your holy grace and truth name, Amen.

(1) Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV) "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

(2) Lon Solomon, Sermon: How to Fight Fair, McLean Bible Church, Vienna, VA.

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