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Teaching teens forgiveness

By Nathan Rice

I knew the teenagers before me were hurting. None of them were old enough to drive, but life had already left them with scars on their hearts. We’d been discussing life’s scars for several weeks, and I told them there was hope and there was healing. Now it was time to get into some of the nitty-gritty aspects of healing.

I started by saying, “I have a feeling you won’t like what we’re going to discuss today, but I hope you’ll listen.” It got their attention as they wondered what this thing would be. “Today,” I said, “We’re going to talk about forgiving others.” Two of them glanced away immediately while one stated loudly and emphatically, “Forget that!”

Forgiving others can be difficult, but it’s a step they must take if they wish to begin the healing process. I knew it was important to bust through some myths regarding forgiveness if the teens in front of me would even consider forgiving those who have hurt them, so I explained several things.

First, forgiving others does not mean what someone did to you was right. It is not ignoring the offense. On the contrary, forgiving someone must begin by admitting that someone did something wrong to you. Otherwise, there is nothing to forgive.

Next, it does not mean that you have to pretend the offense never happened. Forgiving someone does not mean you have to continue the same relationship you had with them before they hurt you.

The third misconception about forgiveness is that we must feel like forgiving someone before we can do so. Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. Forgiving someone before you feel like doing so is difficult, but it can be done.

These misconceptions about forgiveness and the truth that exposes them are something we all need to remember, but it is especially important for teens. Teens today have a strong sense of justice, so they desire to see the ones who hurt them get their just deserts. Likewise, our culture is one that pushes getting even more than it does turning the other cheek.

Once these misconceptions about forgiveness are combatted, the difficult conversation about forgiving others can truly begin.

Refusing to forgive others will lead to bitterness, as their offense continues to live in your heart and mind. A life full of bitterness isn’t fulfilling, and bitterness makes it impossible for healing to begin. Bitterness also allows the person who offended you to keep an aspect of control in your life. Forgiving others, even when they haven’t asked for it, allows peace to enter.

Much like how you couldn’t begin to heal a physical wound if you were still yelling at the person who caused the wound, you are unable to begin healing an emotional wound if your focus remains on the person who caused the pain. Forgiving others doesn’t pretend the offense never happened, but it does allow us to change our focus from the person who hurt us to the process of healing.

When I teach teens forgiveness, I also bring in the spiritual portion of forgiving others. We have the offer to be forgiven for a tremendous wrong we have committed, so we must also offer forgiveness to those who have done wrong to us.

Forgiving others is difficult, so let’s be ready to help the teens in our lives take this important step by destroying the myths regarding forgiveness and explaining how forgiving others can help them begin the process of healing.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.