If you have more than one child, you have probably experienced your share of sibling disagreements. They may seem minor enough now, but the sibling relationship can become so battered, it eventually dissolves. Siblings are going to disagree. How you help them handle their conflicts is critical.
Perhaps even more important is teaching them how to apologize to each other properly for offenses. Apologies are meant to begin repairing relationships, but most apologies do more harm to the relationship than good. If you’ve ever had someone do something hateful towards you and then apologize with, “I’m sorry if I did anything to hurt your feelings,” you understand the problem.
The standard, “Tell your sibling you’re sorry,” isn’t ideal either. Jacob, oddly enough, was one of the better examples of a great apology we have in the Bible. If you remember, Jacob had tricked Esau into giving up his birthright and then tricked Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing. I would imagine there was quite a bit of bad blood when they parted ways. Years later, Jacob decided it was time to apologize.
If you read the entire story in Genesis (chapters 32-33), you will see Jacob didn’t just say “Sorry” and kick the dirt like a petulant five year old. He didn’t say “I apologize if I did anything to make you mad.” (Seriously, you don’t know what you did to make Esau mad?) Instead, he had a multi part apology that took several days to execute. Yet in the end, it restored their relationship.
So what did Jacob do to apologize? (Note: Gary Chapman does a great job in describing the languages of apology which gave me the idea for this post.) What do you need to teach your children about a great apology?
- He arranged a meeting and prayed about the situation. This may not be necessary for minor offenses, but for those things that cause huge rifts, the formality of requesting a meeting and praying before are a great idea.
- He humbled himself before Esau. Jacob used the customs of the time – bowing seven times as he approached Esau – to show humility. In our times, humility is saying I am sorry, but then backing it up with the words and attitude that your children know they were wrong in what they did and they understand they should never have said or done whatever it was. Humility is taking personal responsibility for one’s words and actions.
- He tried to make things right as much as he could. In effect, Jacob had stolen a lot of wealth from Esau (among other things). He gave Esau a lot of his personal wealth to try and make restitution for what he had done in robbing Esau of what would have been his larger inheritance. Your children need to be taught part of an apology is asking what they can do to make things right. It probably won’t be sheep or money, but sometimes they can make things better in some way for the person they hurt. Encourage them to think of something to offer if the person can’t think of anything. (They must also be willing to deliver the promise of restitution!)
- He offered evidence he was willing to change his behavior from the past. The younger selfish Jacob would not have offered so much of his personal wealth to Esau. He wouldn’t have allowed Esau to leave and not wait for Jacob and his herds. Jacob, while not perfect, at least attempted to show Esau how he had changed from their previous negative encounters. Your children need to share with the person they have wronged what they are doing to keep the offense from happening again. What did they learn? What are they changing? Sharing that with the person they wronged can also help healing.
- He asked Esau to forgive him. Once again the customs of the time were not quite as direct as today, but in everything he did and said it was their way of asking for forgiveness and for the relationship to be restored. Your children need to learn “I’m sorry” is not the same as saying “Will you please forgive me?” It is acknowledging the other person has the “power” in the situation. It is another way of being humble and showing repentance.
Teaching your children how to apologize appropriately will help restore their relationships in life. More importantly, it is a model for repentance when they have sinned (We don’t talk about it much, but ever think about the restitution Zacchaeus and others made even after being forgiven by Jesus?). Working with your kids and how they apologize can have eternal consequences as well. It is definitely worth your time and effort.