INTRODUCTION TO WEEK ONE: FORGIVENESS
Welcome to Tending the Garden of our Hearts! We are so glad that you’re joining us on a journey through Great Lent and Holy Week, all the way to Pascha!
This week we’ll begin on Forgiveness Sunday, so naturally the theme for the week is Forgiveness. Every day we’ll explore a story or idea about forgiveness. We’ll look at Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden and our own path back to Paradise, and we’ll read Jesus’ parable of the Unforgiving Servant, and consider how Joseph of the Old Testament teaches about forgiveness and points us toward Pascha! We’ll think about the life of the holy and famously forgiving St. Dionysius of Zakynthos. Throughout the week, we’ll considering forgiveness from various angles and learning more about why it’s so important in our spiritual lives .
In addition to the daily readings, you might be interested in leading some family projects! You could do an ‘object lesson’ which demonstrates forgiveness in a visual or hands-on way, or you could do some family crafts asking for or expressing forgiveness.
Crafts & Activities for this week:
- Why should we forgive? With younger children, this object lesson can help us to explain. Use an empty shoulder bag and heavy hand weights (or cans of food) to illustrate how unforgiveness bogs us down. Ask for a volunteer to shoulder the bag. At the start, the bag should be empty. Ask the rest of the family for suggestions of times when other people need our forgiveness (perhaps they have hurt our feelings, they’ve lied about us, they take something from us or break something of ours, etc.). For each idea, add a weight or can to the bag. After while, the bag will become heavy and not comfortable to carry. When it is full or too heavy for comfort, revisit each suggestion, and have the person holding the bag to say “I forgive you” instead of holding on to the weight of unforgiveness. As they do so, remove an item from the bag. Continue until the bag is empty and the person feels free again. Talk about how forgiveness is not easy, but it gives us freedom, and when we choose to forgive others, God also forgives us.
- Why should we forgive? With older children, talk together about the following quotes from saints. Print these quotes from saints, cut the quotes apart, and hand them out to family members. As each quote is read, invite discussion. Ask: “How does this quote resonate with you? What does this quote mean for us as a family? Why is forgiveness so important?” St. Nikolai Velimirovich: “Absolutely nothing will help us if we are not lenient toward the weaknesses of men and forgive them. For how can we hope that God will forgive us if we do not forgive others?” St. Silouan the Athonite: “Christ prayed for those that crucified Him: ‘Father, count not this sin against them; they know not what they do.’ Archdeacon Stephen prayed for those who stoned him so that the Lord would not judge this sin against them. And so we, if we wish to retain grace, must pray for our enemies. If you do not find pity on a sinner who will suffer in flames, then you do not carry the grace of the Holy Spirit, but rather an evil spirit; and while you yet live, you must free yourself from his clutches through repentance.” St. Tikhon of Zadonsk: “Do we refuse to forgive? God, too, will refuse to forgive us. As we treat our neighbours, so also does God treat us. The forgiveness or unforgiveness of your sins, then, and hence also your salvation or destruction, depend on you yourself. For without forgiveness of sins there is no salvation. You can see for yourself how serious it is.”
After discussing each quote, ask, “Why do you suppose we begin Great Lent with forgiveness?”
- Work together to create a poster featuring the concept of forgiveness to hang in your home. Write the word “Forgive” or “Forgiveness” in large letters (or use these) on a piece of posterboard. Decorate the board with a collage of magazine pictures of people who look like they’re happily interacting, or with sketches of people forgiving each other for different reasons. If you’d prefer, you could create an artistic rendition of the word itself, using a zentangle approach (colorful doodles around or inside the letters). Or perhaps your family would rather create word art, and use the word “forgive” or “forgiveness” as the basis for an acrostic poem or in the context of another poem. Be creative together to create this piece, and then hang it where you can all see it and be reminded to forgive!
- Asking for forgiveness is an important part of our lenten growth. Set out some writing paper, pens, envelopes and stamps where everyone can access them. Encourage each family member to think of someone that was not at Forgiveness Vespers from whom they also would like to request forgiveness, and to write or draw a note for that person, seal it in the envelope, and deliver or mail it to them. Together experience the peace that comes from having asked forgiveness from those you have wronged.
- Extending forgiveness (whether or not it has been requested of us) is another important part of our lenten growth. Think together as a family of someone to whom your family needs to extend forgiveness: perhaps a neighbor that is always noisy or grouchy; or a family from church that you don’t always get along with as well as you’d like to get along; etc. Whether or not they have asked for forgiveness, choose together to extend it to them. Begin by praying for them. Take a step towards demonstrating your forgiveness by anonymously doing something kind for them. Think of something they may really appreciate, and find a way to do it without them knowing that it was your family who did it. Perhaps send them an anonymous note, bake them cookies and deliver them secretly, etc. Together experience the release and joy that comes from extending forgiveness to others.