Again and again.
Family – that messy, intimate, painful, glorious creation. It’s the place where the Divine takes ingredients from two separate families, blends them together, and observes the results. I imagine God probably sighed a lot during those first years of our marriage. I know I did.
After all, He took two people who had never lived under the same roof, who each had a loving family, full of their own traditions, idiosyncrasies, and expectations. It was a steep learning curve. The dishes go on the right side of the sink, people.
A little while later, God reached down and stirred the pot with His pinky finger, tasted it, and added Child the First. In 2011, Child the Second arrived, and shortly after his advent, Child the Third.
A few years ago, something started bugging me. One of my kids would wrong one of her siblings, and under great duress, apologize. The response was a theatrically sighed, “It’s okay.”
So we stopped forcing our kids to apologize to each other, and we stopped making the injured party immediately forgive the transgressor. Instead, the one who screwed up had to think about why the other person was upset and consider her own reaction in a similar situation. The result (usually) was a sincere apology.
When the wronged party hears the apology, he doesn’t have to forgive, but he does need to accept that the apology was genuine and consider how God forgives us. When they’re ready to forgive, they say, “I forgive you.” They think together about a way to make it right, not as a condition of forgiveness, but as a way of restoring the relationship.
This seems laborious at times, but the result is — I hope — a lesson in how injured relationships are healed by repentance and forgiveness. (NB: This is a work in progress. In the middle of Target, I’ll still settle for a sullen “Sorry”/”S’okay”.)
In my pre-Catholic days, I made a retreat that included an afternoon session for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Fr. Alvaro listened as I expressed my skepticism of this whole “confession thing”, but I confessed my sins. I listened as Fr. Alvaro showered God’s boundless forgiveness on me. In all my years at church, no one had ever said to me “Your sins are forgiven.”
In that moment, I realized the importance of hearing that phrase. It didn’t pretend my foul-ups didn’t happen. It didn’t mean I could escape the natural consequences of my sin. It did mean that God wanted our relationship restored. Again and again and again.
This is marriage and family and friendship. Our family is a riot of ruined science projects and torn artwork and late dinners and tender feelings. We hurt each other again and again and again. We apologize again and again and again. We forgive again and again and again.
God restores our family again and again and again.
Tiff is a homeschooling mama of three, the wife of the best man she’s ever known, a writer, a milliner, and occasionally an attorney. She loves her current home of Kentucky, where fine bourbon and very large hats are in plentiful supply.