July 21, 2021
Last winter I wrote about the practice of forgiveness, how the Bible commands that we forgive others so that we ourselves may be forgiven. Forgiveness must come from somewhere deep inside us and we learn to forgive because it benefits us personally.
But there is another side of forgiveness. Sometimes we must also ask for forgiveness. Maybe another common word I could use is “apologize”, but an apology is not quite the same.
The Bible calls us to repentance, which is to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin. The Greek word found in the New Testament is metanoia, which indicates a drastic turning from one life to another. It’s a personal, absolute, and unconditional surrender to God.
Repentance refers to conversion away from sinful life, away from our belief we are in control and away from the idea that we can earn our way to God. Repentance is humiliation and falling into God’s arms.
“I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:32 NRSV
Repentance and forgiveness are ways we can give our love and positive energy to the world because they both require a lot of humility and inject kindness into the world. Both are ways we can share God’s love with others and make a little space for the kingdom of God on this earth.
Matthew 3:2 says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is not something to do on your deathbed so you can go to heaven. It is something to do today to experience some of God’s kingdom here and now on this earth.
Holding onto our own guilt and sins, by remaining unrepentant, may be even more damaging than refusing to forgive someone else. We may feel we need to hold onto our guilt and remorse so that we do not let ourselves “off the hook.”
But holding onto past sins is not a healthy way to go through life. It does not bring us – or anyone around us – closer to God. All relationships suffer when there is refusal to repent or to forgive.
“Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4 NRSV
And worse, the baggage we carry around may create burdens for others we care about. Just as learning to forgive someone who has hurt us is for our own healing, we cannot expect anyone else to heal our own internal wounds through their words of forgiveness.
We must heal ourselves and that comes through repentance. Carefully consider your motives before approaching someone to ask for forgiveness. If you are trying to pull forgiveness out of someone else to assuage your own guilt, then you may be trying to get someone else to do your own hard work for you.
The process to request forgiveness looks like this:
Spend time thinking, meditating on your actions and what may have upset the other person. If you are not sure what upset them, then you must be willing to ask and listen.
Examine your motives for what you did. This may help you to state your apology. But be careful not to make excuses.
Empathize with the other person. Put on their shoes and imagine how they must have felt. This is how an apology becomes sincere.
You are not a bad person, even though you made mistakes. Forgive yourself and know that by apologizing and asking for forgiveness, you are growing and helping to lift a heavy burden from both yourself and the other person.
–Write out the apology so you can practice what you want to say.
–Apologize in person, if possible. Start by stating what you have done.
–Offer to make things right. Explain how this will not happen again in the future.
–Show them you have changed.
–Ask for forgiveness.
Step Nine of the Twelve Step process for Alcoholics Anonymous says to, “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Making amends is a great way to think about what could be accomplished by approaching someone with a remorseful attitude.
A recovering alcoholic told me he was advised not to apologize because it could become a self-serving way for him to ease his own conscience. He was advised to show up, admit that he is an alcoholic, that he had not done well by the person and tell them he will do better in the future. This sounds a lot like repentance and conversion.
This article is just the introduction to forgiveness and some of the nuances it involves. Next week, I’ll explore some of the obstacles we encounter as we seek forgiveness.
Denise Mainquist, Certified Spiritual Director