The Courage to Seek Forgiveness

In my last post, I talked about teaching our children how to ask for forgiveness. Today, I want to take it up a level. More important than guiding our children through the motions of seeking forgiveness from others, is demonstrating the behavior ourselves. Seems obvious, right? I find, however, that no matter how much I agree with “actions speak louder than words” and reject “do as I say not as I do”, when it comes to humbling myself and seeking forgiveness, I often confront a greater counter-force to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Truth be told, I would rather others simply sensed my interior knowledge of having done something wrong or offensive. I especially want those who know and love me to grant the benefit of the doubt, namely that I regret my bad behavior without having to mention it. If we could all just go on without acting hurt or angry because of what I did, that would be great. I expect many people feel the same way whether they know it or not. This attitude, however, demands too much of the offended party and compounds the injustice of the original injury. I am no more able to demand a healing from the doctor without a willingness to undergo a treatment than to expect the healing of my relationships without the willingness to ask for forgiveness and offer reparation.

As I advised before, I make it a point to use the words “Please forgive me for . . .” and name the offense. I am now open to a response and any emotion the offended has to share with me. I’ve earned it (presuming the response is proportional to the offense). If the person is a fellow Christian, I have hope that s/he will meet my request with mercy and grace, but that does not mean I am off the hook for the damages. Not only do I have an investment to make in repairing the relationship, I may have to repair physical property, too, depending on the offense. As we read in our catechism: Penance requires . . . the sinner to endure all things willingly, be contrite of heart, confess with the lips, and practice complete humility and fruitful satisfaction (1450).

Indeed, this formula imitates the Sacrament of Reconciliation intentionally. The elements of which go back to the old testament where both verbal confession and reparation are part of the healing process (cf. Numbers 5). Though forgiveness should never be dependent on the reparation, offering something of ourselves demonstrates our commitment to the healing of the relationship and our earnestness. Penance is our participation in reparation and should be expected, though the price for our sins has been fully paid by Christ. (More on this here.)

In some cases, both parties have given offense. One may have started the rift, but the other widened it in a backlash. Some may think the initial victim has the moral high ground despite also becoming an offender, but I would turn to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: [W]hen you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (vv. 23-24, NRSVCE) Jesus makes no mention of who “started it”. The command is to reconcile; therefore, it’s always your turn to go first no matter who made the first offense.* Prayerfully, when you ask the other for forgiveness, the other will reciprocate.

* I believe I first heard this explanation from Dr. David Jeremiah on his radio show “Turning Point”.

I’m interested in hearing about your thoughts and experiences with reconciliation and asking forgiveness. Leave a comment below or leave a note on our contact page. Be sure to click “like” if you enjoyed this post and share it with others. Thank you.