Monday, December 9, 2013

More about forgiveness

I keep coming back to write on forgiveness.

This is not because I am good at forgiveness, accomplished at it.  On the contrary, it is because forgiveness is hard, and I find myself struggling to master it again and again.

I wrote old posts on forgiveness here and here.  I've also touched on it in other places, like here.  You see, I keep having to go back.

An article showed up in my sidebar which was about confession and forgiveness.  You can read it by following this link.  I read it and thought about it.  Please read it and tell me if you agree with what I thought.

I think it is easy to forgive when a person confesses and apologizes the way this article describes a good confession.  If someone comes to me with that kind of humility and sorrow and desire to make things right, it is practically impossible not to forgive.

But.  Most people don't say they are sorry that way.  Most people do what he talks about in #2 of the Seven A's of Confession.  They say, "I'm sorry but..."  This "but" can water down or wipe out the apology in a myriad of ways.  It can justify the thing they did: "I'm sorry, but you just didn't understand my motivation, and I'm sure if you did, you would agree that I really don't need to apologize the way you think I do."  It can even throw the origin of the incident onto the shoulders of the hurt one:  "I'm sorry, but I would not have done it if you were not such a bad person, pushing me into it in the first place."

Most apologies are imperfect and incomplete.  Some of them are imaginary, the ones where someone claims to have said he was sorry when he didn't (and he does not offer to say it again, because it was your responsibility to notice it the first time, buried though it was in words other than "I'm sorry," and surrounded by accusation and anger).

In the article, the writer says a profound thing.  He says, "Full confessions enable full reconciliation."

This is so true.  When a person confesses as described in the Seven A's of Confessions, when he avoids qualifying his apology, bravely admits specifically what he did wrong, when he exhibits compassion and concern for your feelings and acknowledges that he understands how he hurt you, and when he proceeds to demonstrate a change of heart through a change of behavior, full reconciliation can easily flow forth.

It is sad to me that so many people would rather grasp threads of something that they think preserves their pride instead of seeking to reach reconciliation.  Sometimes I think people get the idea that, "If I don't admit I did it, then I didn't really do it, and I am not such a bad person then."  The opposite is true, of course.  Everyone knows that the hurt is there, and it is only when the hurt is acknowledged and confessed that it can truly fade away.  In every other case it remains a shadow, sometimes a soft shadow, sometimes a harsh one, but a shadow over the relationship that can only fully disappear in the light of a full confession.

So how does one forgive in the meantime?  Because one must forgive, or be eaten away by the weight of unforgiveness.

One forgives and one hopes.  One works consciously to avoid bearing a grudge, despite the shadow that exists.  One purposes to behave well, graciously, despite the shadows.  And one prays for the full restoration that will come if ever a true confession is offered.  One smiles when one does not feel like smiling, and one gives when one does not feel like giving.  One remembers one's own failings and is humble-hearted towards the offender.

We must recognize that we cannot control the restoration part of forgiveness.  Even God does not restore His relationship with fallen man without fallen man's confession of sin.

Restoration comes after confession.  Forgiveness is the hope that restoration will happen and the constant, unconditional willingness to respond to a confession with grace, with thanks, with love, if ever the confession is offered.

This is how God forgives us, and it is how we must forgive one another.  It is not easy, but it is good.

[note: I use the singular pronoun "he" in my writing not to allude to any specific person, but because I was raised on good old-fashioned grammar and cannot bring myself to substitute "they" where a singular pronoun is indicated.  I could have alternated "he" with "she" to be politically correct, but I find that distracting and cumbersome.]


Shannon said...

I find that it is actually more problematic for me when the apology takes the form "I'm sorry that you feel that way."

Where the person allegedly seeking reconciliation actually honestly believes that this is a full and complete apology and fails to take any responsibility whatsoever by putting the onus on me for feeling "that way".

The "I'm sorry but" is easier for me because it is not a real apology and I cannot believe that the person offering it means it as a real apology, but rather to be able to say that there was an apology. Of course, it makes me angry, but it is a lot easier to explain why it makes me angry because the person apologizing has some idea.

"I'm sorry you feel that way" can be a sincere apology, but it so completely misses the point: typically the apologizer means "I am sorry that I made you angry/sad/etc." without realizing that there was a behavior that caused the symptom.

Unfortunately, forgiveness often has to be given without any kind of apology. I like to think of this as a personal action: an action that I take in order to not poison my own life. It doesn't have to intimately involve the offender, and as such, it's really hard. But we can do it!

ruth said...

I agree. "I'm sorry you feel that way," means, in straightforward language, "I did the right thing, and it is a shame that you were offended by it and unable to accept it." This may, indeed, be what the speaker means to say, but in that case it is best not to pretend to be apologizing. If one does mean to apologize, one should say, "I am sorry that I made you feel that way."

Forgiveness can and often is given when one has not received an apology. However, the point I was trying to bring out is that when we forgive that way, restoration is often not complete, because it is apology, confession, the request for forgiveness that brings total healing to a relationship. Healing on one side is never as complete as healing on both sides, but it is certainly a lot better than nothing, and it is as much as one person can manage alone.

Lori McFarlane said...

I so approve of your grammar.

I've been practising in the last few years how to apologize correctly. I find it extremely hard to bite back that 'but', but (heh) it is worth it. It really does make a difference. Just saying, 'You're right. I'm sorry. That was wrong of me.' softens everyone, and usually that 'but' gets addressed by the other person himself at that point anyway, as he is then willing to admit his own failings in the situation. Sometimes the 'but' never does get addressed, yet the sincerity of admitting your own wrongful involvement so often leads to resolution of the argument anyway, that you wonder after, 'Did it really matter?' :)