Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

The Spiritual Craft of Forgiveness: Its Need and Potential in Children's Peer Relations and Spiritual Development

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

The Spiritual Craft of Forgiveness: Its Need and Potential in Children's Peer Relations and Spiritual Development

Article excerpt

Human relationships are fraught with conflict. Forgiveness offers a response to the suffering and woundedness associated with conflict. Furthermore, as Christians we are called to extend to others the forgiveness God gives us. In the last two decades, many researchers have broadened our understanding of the process of forgiveness from a psychological and theological perspective among adults. This article attempts to take their theories and findings into the realm of childhood peer relations by drawing from multiple fields of study. The rich, complex, and unique nature of children's spirituality is explored with a particular focus on the salience and importance of relationships. Conflict among peers is common and relevant to children's spirituality, and ripe for developing the spiritual craft of forgiveness. The authors argue that children are capable of responding with forgiveness and that the process of forgiveness should be nurtured in children for their spiritual development. This article is an effort to expand the discussion of forgiveness in childhood and into the realm of children's peer relations. Therefore, hypotheses about children's engagement in forgiveness are discussed, and suggestions of next steps for undertaking cross-disciplinary research focused on forgiveness in childhood peer relations are made.

...forgiveness involves the lifelong process of learning a craft. There are no shortcuts; and those who genuinely seek to embody Christian forgiveness will find that it involves profoundly disorienting yet life-giving transformations of their life, their world, and their capacity for truthful communion. (Jones, 1995, p. xiii)

Even in the healthiest of intimate relationships (i.e., satisfied, stable marriages and supportive childhood friendships), conflict is an ever-present factor that often results in suffering and woundedness. Many possible responses, such as retaliation, retribution, avoidance and exclusion, escalate the conflict. An alternative and profound way to respond to such hurt is through forgiveness (Jones, 1995; Worthington, 2006).

As Christians we are emphatically and undisputedly called to extend forgiveness to others as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness can be both a healing response reflecting the abundance of grace which we have received, and an intentional and faithful response to God's spiritual command. Further, in the psychological literature, forgiveness has been related to positive adjustment whereas there are negative consequences with unforgiveness (Worthington, 2006; Worthington & Wade, 1999). Forgiveness then is a response with both spiritual and psychological implications. The capacity for forgiveness needs to be nurtured and practiced synergistically with the Holy Spirit's working in us. When engaged faithfully and thoroughly, the craft of forgiveness is integral to the lifelong process of spirituality and psychological health.

We argue that childhood through adolescence is a fertile ground for nurturing the spiritual craft of forgiveness. As children are in the midst of developing the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive skills to cultivate and maintain relationships, their peer relationships in particular are fraught with conflict that increases in frequency and intensity from the preschool years and throughout formal schooling (Denham, Neal, Wilson, Pickering, & Boyatzis, 2005; Parker, Rubin, Erath, Wojslawowicz, & Buskirk, 2006). The complexity and conflict inherent in peer experiences can have a multitude of negative effects upon a child's self-image and capacity to relate to others. Children must learn how to cope with relational wounds and maintain social competence. Motivation to actively respond with forgiveness may provide a child with a sense of efficacy, peace and purpose in response to the offense, thereby reducing the negative impact of such wounds. Likewise, if a child practices selfforgiveness in the face of their relational missteps a healthy sense of self and self-efficacy may be more easily maintained. …

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