A while ago I had a parent ask me for some discipline ideas. Her daughter got in trouble at school for fighting to be the line leader. Evidently she had pushed a classmate out of the way in order to be first. The mother told me she had her daughter apologize to the teacher, but wanted her daughter to have to do something else as well. I suggested that the mother have her daughter write an apology letter to her classmate and maybe make a little gift to give as well. The mother thought this sounded like a good idea and decided to give it a try.
The next time I saw them, the mother told me that they tried it. Her daughter wrote the letter and was waiting for the first chance to give it to her classmate. The mother thanked me again for the idea and said it seemed to work well. I share this story because I think that this “punishment” can be effective in a number of circumstances. Let me explain:
Some of the hardest words for us to say in the English language (and genuinely mean them) are: “I am sorry. Please forgive me.” When children fight or get in trouble for something they did to someone else, we’re quick to tell them to apologize. This is good and children need to learn to say it, but children can also start to think that by saying “I’m sorry” they can attempt to avoid more consequences. They may, like so many of us, be sorry that they got in trouble but not because they did something wrong. It’s similar to saying a biting remark or doing something mean, then saying “I was only joking” to cover up the act. I can’t help but think of this verse on such occasions:
“Like a madman who throws flaming darts and deadly arrows,
So is the man who deceives his neighbor
and says, ‘I was only joking!'”
Proverbs 26:18-19 (HCSB)
The trouble comes when we say “I’m sorry” without really meaning it. We say it to get the teacher, our parents, or the person we hurt, off our backs. But thoughtless apologies don’t mean a thing! People can tell when you aren’t truly sorry.
When you write an apology letter (not just a quick note), you get a chance to really think about what happened and what you did that was wrong. You can take responsibility for your sin and put it into words. Then you can ask forgiveness for the specific thing you did. Admitting fault and asking forgiveness breaks down our pride and humbles us inside.
This activity can be powerful one for kids, especially those who already have a relationship with the Lord (and for adults too). My brothers and I have done this before on separate occasions and in varying circumstances. Sometimes it went over better than others (as you can probably imagine). One thing to remember if you do this is that we are not responsible for the reactions of others, but we ARE responsible for the condition of our own hearts. Actively seeking forgiveness teaches us humility. And parents, it is really good for your kids to see you apologize and ask forgiveness! You’ll be amazed to see how it can impact their lives!
When it comes down to it, saying “sorry” and asking forgiveness are part of God’s command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) We cannot apologize as we ought if we don’t love our neighbor and put their needs above our own.
And as for wanting to be the leader? We all want to be the best, to be noticed and feel important (like we’re higher up than everyone else). But this is not what we see in the example of Jesus and not what He told us to do. Instead, Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) This is how one is considered “great” in the Kingdom of God. Leaders in the Kingdom of God should not puff themselves up, but rather think of themselves humbly and serve others with their lives.
This is a hard lesson to learn, even as adults. We like to look out for our own interests and try to get ahead. The only way to combat this is with the Lord’s help and dying to ourselves. Let’s ask God to help us live this way and to give us His wisdom to teach and model for our kids to do the same!