I work to have lots of conversations throughout the day with my boys on various topics. My boys are quite verbal and enjoy most of our discussion. All the while, I’m mining their hearts to see what is being nurtured within.

One practice I have is asking them to define words or concepts for me. “What is the sun?” “Where do we live?” “What does being frustrated mean? What does it look like?”

The results can often be hilarious. Like: “Doctors can tell whether a baby is a boy or girl by looking at their faces.”

More often, my sons’ answers are telling of their spiritual growth and awareness. I recently asked my six year old son what forgiveness meant. His circular definition: “It means we forgive the person who did bad, and tell them we aren’t mad.” I was pleased he understood what we do when we forgive. But I want him to understand forgiveness at a deeper level. To see the beautiful mirror: our forgiveness of others is merely a reflection of God’s love and forgiveness towards us.

Forgiveness isn’t a blasé phrase we toss around to make problems disappear; forgiveness is a conscious decision we make time after four-hundred and ninetieth time.

Here are five things I want my boys to know about biblical forgiveness:

1. Forgiveness is humbling.

For God to offer us forgiveness, He had to come a long way down. From God to man; from heaven to earth, from perfection to sin for us.

The experience was so powerfully humbling, Christ wept tears of blood, asking for this Cup of suffering to be removed. When our boys struggle to forgive, I’m grateful for the example of the Savior, who in His struggle still said, “Not my will, but Thine.”

I pray our boys grow into men who can humble themselves in forgiving others.

2. Forgiveness is our duty.

Giving children time to develop a genuine forgiving spirit also allows us to teach them about being in God’s will. We’re called and commanded to forgive “even as God has forgiven you.” When we help our boys see forgiveness as following God’s will, we deepen the eternal value of forgiveness.

Forgiveness can take time. Forgiveness is a weighty thing; a decision in its own right. A glib or rote “I forgive you” erases a valuable learning opportunity, and this easy-come attitude can leave hurt feelings under the surface to fester for years. I’ve heard too many stories of adult heartache that has unforgiveness at its core.

Our boys may need to be walked through the emotions of forgiveness. An effective way I’ve found to talk about emotions with my boys is through prayer; as I pray with them, I name the emotions they are likely feeling, asking God to touch and heal their hurting hearts. We read simple verses about forgiveness. Sometimes, our children just need the vocabulary to grasp the conflicting feelings of hurt and offering forgiveness.

3. Forgiveness gives God His rightful place.

When we are unforgiving, we make ourselves the executor of justice and judgment. Yet it is God who is the righteous judge, not us. Forgiving others puts God back in charge of our life, and helps us follow His command to overcome evil with good.

4. Forgiveness is a lifelong endeavor.

It has certainly been humbling for me to allow my children to see me as less than perfect. To see me upset, sad, hurting.  But I believe modeling is an important teaching tool, so within reason, I purposefully allow them to see me struggle to collect my emotions, ask for a minute to calm down.

They hear me “talk aloud” through the idea that my heart hurt, that this is hard, that I need to ask Jesus for help. My desire is for my boys to see in me a conscious decision to follow God’s Will in offering forgiveness.

5. Forgiveness offers freedom.

Sadly, our boys will battle human nature when they are wronged, and that’s not easy to brush aside. Yet, when they offer forgiveness, they are offering freedom to themselves and the offending party.

The freedom to try again, to restore a friendship. Liberty from years of resentment, hurt feelings, and bitterness.

Learning these truths about forgiveness can help our boys learn to communicate well, with others and with God. In understanding true forgiveness, our children acknowledge their own need for forgiveness… drawing them closer to a relationship with a loving and forgiving God.