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Many years ago, when my big kids were but wee ones, we were unable to make it to Forgiveness Vespers for a variety of reasons that night. If you’ve never been to this vespers, it is a wonderful service where you approach each person individually in the church and ask them to forgive you.  We decided to have an impromptu Family Forgiveness Night after our regular bedtime prayers since we were not able to make it to church. It was such a powerful and emotional experience for our family that we have done it every year since and made it a family tradition.

Forgiveness Vespers is a beautiful and deeply meaningful service. Beginning Lent by asking everyone in your community for forgiveness and then within our family is one of our first steps as we begin our Lenten spiritual journey.

For our first Family Forgiveness Night, we had everyone in our family form a circle – mom, dad, and all of our kids. We told our kids we were going to say sorry to each other for anything we may have done to hurt each other’s feelings or if we had been not nice to each other. Then we’d finish by saying “Please forgive me.” We started with the youngest first and just passed him around to each person in the circle for a hug, because he was only 17 months old. I don’t know that my husband and myself really had any expectations for that night other than to literally say, “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me” from our kids. Our three year old was the first to surprise us with his sincerity and the depth of his request. He hugged his two younger brothers and then turned to his older brother and said he was sorry for hitting him and please forgive him. Then he turned to his sister and asked her to forgive him for sneaking into her room and taking her stuff. He turned to me and then my husband and asked us to forgive him for throwing tantrums.

Obviously, both my husband and myself were very touched by this but it was nothing compared to what was about to come from our four year old.  My four year old hugged his baby brothers, faced his younger brother and then his sister and asked them to forgive him for several specific things. Then…he turned to me. He looked me straight in the eyes and began to cry. Not sobs. Not tantrums. Just quiet, sincere tears. I lost it before he ever said a word. He asked me to forgive him for some very detailed actions he had done to get back at me when I told him no.  Oh. My. Goodness. I’m crying at this point, my daughter is crying at this point, and my husband is choked up with tears welling up in his eyes. The rest of us asked each other for forgiveness in between sobs for specific actions as well. My husband and I also felt it was important to ask each other for forgiveness in front of our kids. Our kids need to see that side of us as well – not just the disciplinarian side, the homework helper side, the snuggle on the couch when you’re sick side – but the side of us that says, “I messed up. Please forgive me.”  It has now become a permanent tradition in our family to have Family Forgiveness Night on Forgiveness Sunday because of the closeness that has developed between us by asking each other for forgiveness.

As our kids have aged, some years we have kids that can’t keep the giggles down, but we always have at least one child in sweet, sincere tears as they ask for forgiveness. It is a tradition we have come to cherish and embrace in our family every year on Forgiveness Sunday.