“I offer my deepest apologies.”
Sentences like this have been spoken a hundred different ways. What are we supposed to say? What are we supposed to do?
You may notice that almost all of these “mea culpas” come in the form of statements. I’ve always believed they should come in the form of questions—and that is because “statements” keep the power in the hands of the offender. “Will you forgive me?” hands over the power to the offended.
Most of us accept the premise – that forgiveness is an important attribute of life. What we struggle with is how to practice it appropriately.
How do we move from where we find ourselves at different times in our lives – hurt, angry, victimized, abused, betrayed, alienated – to where we can say, “I am more than that.” God calls me to more than that.”
How do we get our minds and hearts from thoughts of anger and hurt and revenge?
Max Lucardo said all of this so very well when he wrote: “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and coming to realize all along that you were the prisoner.”
I would like to ask your forgiveness, for every time a priest has told you: “you need to simply forgive and move on.”
I say that because it’s not true, it’s not that easy, and it’s definitely not good for one’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual health.
In short, forgiveness is complicated, both in serious situations and in the everyday circumstances of our lives.
Someone whom I have come to admire and appreciate wrote: “You should not forgive someone until they haveearned the potential for forgiveness.”
Really, how does one earn forgiveness? They need to follow the four "R's":
1) Responsibility: The offender needs to take complete and absolute responsibility for what they've done. They should not blame it on anyone else. It was their own decision; they must take full responsibility for having made that decision without justification or excuses.
2) Remorse: Remorse is an emotion experienced by a person who regrets actions which they deem to be shameful, hurtful, or violent. Most people feel bad because they were caught or had to suffer consequences; however, that's not remorse. The only problem with this step is that no other human being can tell for certain if another istruly sorry.
3) Repair: The offender must do whatever it takes to repair the damage done.
4) Repetition: The offender must take whatever steps needed so that harmful action isnever repeated.
We know forgiveness is a cornerstone of the Christian faith. In the Lord's prayer, we ask God to forgive us the same way we forgive others. On the cross Jesus forgave the people of their sins even as they mocked him and watched him die.
I hope that some of them took responsibility; felt guilty; repaired the damage and vowed never to do what they did to Jesus to another human being.
But when we have been deeply hurt, the idea of forgiving may feel like we're being asked to tear our hearts out and give them to the very person who trampled on them.
So, either we offer a half-hearted, "I forgive you," while still remaining bitter, or we harden ourselves and physically or emotionally walk away.
All I can tell you, in this very short time, is that forgiveness is often a process, not a one-time act, and while it begins with a decision to forgive, it may take some time before the heart fully accepts what the will has set in motion.
It is good for us to recall what Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Rev. Matthew D. Stanley
Office of the Pastor