This interview is adapted from “Reclaiming Easter,” a recent FamilyLife Today® broadcast series with host Dennis Rainey and his wife, Barbara, and co-host Bob Lepine.
Bob Lepine: If this was the couple of weeks leading up to Christmas, we would all be very aware that Christmas was just around the corner. You couldn’t go anywhere without knowing that it’s Christmas time. … But here it is—we’re a few weeks away from Easter, and there is pretty much nothing that indicates that to you if you’re out in the shopping mall or if you’re driving in your car. Easter just isn’t talked about—it’s ignored. … As a result, a lot of Christians don’t even think about it until it's ... “Oh, this Sunday is Easter!”
Barbara: No, Christians are not thinking about it. Part of it is because we’re so used to being surrounded by everything that reminds us of Christmas during the month of December … but Easter is not like that. We don’t have music that’s playing on the radio, we don’t have decorations in every store, and we don’t have lights strung from houses.
Easter should be much more joyous—much more, almost rambunctious—of a celebration than Christmas because we have so much to rejoice over because of what Christ did for us on the cross.
Easter is about forgiveness
Dennis: I know that you, Barbara, have a strong conviction that—just as Christmas is around the theme of giving—we’re missing an opportunity to really focus on and teach our children something else that is all about Easter.
Barbara: Well, when you think about Christmas, we all know that it’s about giving. We can’t get away from it. It’s absolutely inescapable. It’s in our faces for over a month … but, when it comes to Easter, we’re kind of confused about what it means. We understand that Jesus died on the cross, but we kind of don’t know what to do with that.
As I was thinking about it, I thought, The real theme for Easter is the theme of forgiveness. Easter is all about forgiveness. It’s all about Christ dying on our behalf so that we can have a right relationship with Him so that we can be reconciled to the Father. … It would just be wonderful to see families begin to focus on teaching forgiveness and practicing forgiveness at Easter like we focus on giving at Christmas.
Dennis: One of the verses that is most often repeated here on FamilyLife Today is Ephesians 4:32. Paul writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God in Christ forgave you.”
What is forgiveness? It is giving up the right to punish another person. Christ modeled it. … He went to the cross to offer forgiveness to us if we will receive Him as our Savior, Master, and Lord.
Bob: And when you think about Easter, you have to keep in mind that, in a real sense, God didn’t give up the right to punish us but, instead, He redirected the punishment that we deserve … He poured it out on His Son—that’s what Good Friday reminds us of. Easter points to the fact that, as a result … we have transformation, we have new life, we have hope.
Barbara: And I think it’s a great topic for families to talk about because forgiveness is essential for every marriage, it’s essential for every family, it’s essential for every working relationship—because we’re all broken and we’re all going to make mistakes. We all need to not only give forgiveness, but to be granted forgiveness. The more families can talk about forgiveness, the more it becomes something that they understand—they know how to practice it, they know how to give it.
It’s such a foreign concept to us, in our humanity, because we aren’t naturally good forgivers. … Talking about it at Easter and learning stories of forgiveness is a great way to help children understand, as they grow up, what it looks like practically: “What does it mean? How does that even work?”
I think one of the best ways for moms and dads to help their kids learn about forgiveness is to talk about it and to model it. You have to demonstrate it to your kids. I remember, when we were raising our kids, Dennis and I both made a real conscious effort to teach our kids what it meant to forgive. When I would make mistakes—which I did all the time every day—I remember making a conscious effort of sitting down and saying to them: "Mommy did this, and it was wrong. I need to ask you to forgive me. Will you forgive me?”
And then, when our kids would offend one another, we would say: “Now, you need to say what you did and name it—name what you did that was wrong to your sibling. Then, you need to say, ‘Will you forgive me?’” Then the sibling needs to say, “Yes, I forgive you,” so that it really is that transaction that takes place.
Another way that is really helpful to teach children forgiveness is to read them stories of other people who have exhibited forgiveness. We have this book—Growing Together in Forgiveness—that has seven stories of people who have demonstrated remarkable forgiveness in situations that are hard for most of us to even comprehend how someone could ask for forgiveness, and how someone could grant forgiveness for really, really difficult things. When you read stories like that to your kids, it inspires them: “Oh, if that person can forgive that, then maybe I can forgive my brother,” or “Maybe I can forgive my friend at school who was bullying me.”
His daughter was murdered
Dennis: Those seven stories are—they are pretty remarkable—I mean, the people who forgave had pretty tough things done to them.
Barbara: One of my favorite stories comes from the country of New Zealand. … The story goes that—in the 1800s sometime, some missionaries came and they brought the gospel to the tribes of the land. There was a particular tribe who received the news, and responded to the gospel, and became believers. They each got a little copy of the Gospel of Luke, as a gift. … One little girl in the tribe learned to read from the missionaries. She read this Gospel of Luke to everyone in her tribe.
The story goes that this school that she was a part of—that was led by the missionaries—had to move locations. On the journey the children and the teachers were attacked by another tribe, and she was murdered.
When her father discovered that she was murdered, his response was, “I have come to know Christ, and Jesus does not want us to take revenge. So I must learn how to forgive the one who killed my daughter.” He didn’t even, at the time, know who it was.
The story goes that the man who actually killed this little girl found her Gospel of Luke—she carried it with her wherever she went. … He found someone who could read it to him … and he realized, “I offended God,” and he became a Christian then.
After receiving Christ, he understood that he needed to seek forgiveness. He walked to the other tribe and asked the father of the girl he killed to forgive him.
Part of what is so remarkable to me about the story is, not just that it happened, but that it’s taught in the schools of New Zealand to this day—to all the children in every school—it’s a part of their history. … I just think it’s a wonderful illustration of how teaching our children these stories, as they’re growing up, it’s planting the seeds of truth in their hearts so it’s a part of who they are. … God may use that to lead them, then, to grant forgiveness to someone else.
Visual cues to talk about Easter
Bob: As we’ve said, the culture doesn’t give us a lot of cues to try to have these kinds of conversations. As you’ve been designing resources in the Ever Thine Home® collection that you’ve created, you’re trying to give families some of the visual cues to have around the home that trigger the opportunity for this kind of discussion.
Barbara: Exactly. We have lots of those at Christmas. We have trees, and we have wreaths, and we have lights. Everything says: “This is a special occasion.”
We have so little that’s biblical at our disposal that we can put on display … I’m hopeful that God will grant us favor in helping me and my team to come up with ideas for ways that we can make a visual statement—not just for neighbors and friends, but for our own reminder … that we can see something in our house around Easter that reminds us: “Oh, yes. We’re in the Easter season. We’re talking about Christ, and the cross, and what He did for us.”
We need those cues—those visual cues.
Bob: Will you have pastel eggs that you dyed that you’ll put out somewhere?
Barbara: No. I would have—we did that when we had our kids at home—but we won’t have the grandkids around. We will go see them, probably, but we won’t do eggs at my house.
Bob: So what do you have?
Barbara: Well, I have a banner—an Easter banner—that we created a year ago. …
You can put that on your front door or you can hang it on a wall in your house. On the burlap side, it has a lamb and it says, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” which is one of Jesus’ claims of deity. And then, you flip it over on Easter Sunday morning. It has a crown and it says, “He Is Risen.”
It’s a way to make a statement in your house—just for your own family or on your front door for anybody who drives by or comes by—that “In this house, we believe in Christ and what He did for us.”
Dennis: I think the question for every mom and dad is this, how are you going to make Easter a special time? How are you going to focus on forgiveness? How are you going to model it? How are you going to teach about it? How are you going to train your children to know what it means to truly forgive another person?
This is at the heart of what Christianity is all about. It’s why this season ought to be, as you said earlier, one of the most rambunctious times in our entire year.
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There’s still time to order resources from FamilyLife and receive them before Easter—be sure to select “Second day air” or “Next day air” for shipping. Visit our Easter store for resources from the Ever Thine Home collection or for Resurrection Eggs®, a popular resource to explain the Easter story to your children. Also available is Barbara’s book, Growing Together in Forgiveness.