Learning to say “I Forgive You”

Struggling to Say It

Growing up, the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” didn’t always come together. I think my parents, particularly when dealing with me and my brother, did their best to teach us how to get along and make things right when someone was offended. But one of the things that strikes me the most when looking back, is that repentance and forgiveness wasn’t necessarily modeled to us, at least not regularly and consistently for me to remember that as a pattern of family life.

I think that’s partly why, as an adult, it was really hard for me to say I was sorry, and even harder for me to say “I forgive you” after someone had apologized to me. This was especially true when it came dating and early marriage. I remember times, sitting in the car with my husband driving, when he had apologized for something and I just sat there, staying silent. I literally felt the heat of anger inside of me as I made him wait a long time for those words. Even when he pointed out my reluctance and that it ws hurtful to him, my mouth did not want to open. I still don’t fully understand why it was so hard for me to offer that to someone I loved, other than some selfishness in me felt it would be more just to make him suffer.

Confession and Forgiveness

Another piece of my journey in this area that’s been helpful has been the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Five years ago, as I neared the culmination of my conversion to the Catholic faith, I began to understand and deeply appreciate the value of examining my conscience-saying I was sorry, and literally, audibly, hearing forgiveness offered to me by the Priest, who is really standing in Jesus’s place. Trusting you’re forgiven is one thing. Hearing that mercy spoken to you out loud is certainly another. Confession has changed me, and continues to do so. I know now very deeply how it feels to know you are forgiven by hearing it said. I know how much it has the power to heal.

My husband had grown up in a home when repentance and forgiveness came easy, or readily, at least. And he couldn’t understand why it was so hard for me to offer forgiveness to him. I’ve had to work really, really hard over the years to say “I’m sorry” as soon as I understand I’ve caused hurt to someone, and to say “I forgive you” honestly and quickly after an apology is offered to me. We are now teaching this to our kids and modeling it intentionally with our own actions in and out of the home.

Because here’s the thing: Our entire faith is based on an ocean of unmerited grace. It doesn’t really matter what someone has done to me or how I’ve been offended. If I believe in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross and his power over death, and his doing all of that to offer reconciling grace to me and everyone else who has ever existed or will ever exist, that significantly changes how much of a right I have to hold a grudge.

In some cases, offering forgiveness and also letting go or setting boundaries might be the appropriate choice. But I also think there is something to be said for the healing power of forgiveness not only for the person being forgiven but also for the person who forgives. Forgiveness can help heal the offender, but it also heals the offended. And if the Creator of the Universe has chosen to not only forgive us, but has suffered greatly to do it, then how freely should I open my arms to others and forgive them?

If we truly understand the former, then the latter isn’t even really a question.

Lent is a beautiful time of year in the Church for so many reasons. The continued call to conversion through almsgiving, fasting, and penance helps prepare our hearts for Easter in such a special way. If you haven’t been in a while, or even if you have, perhaps it’s time to go to Confession. To find a few quiet moments this Lent to examine your heart and say you’re sorry and turn yourself back to love.

And then, of course, to receive an absolute ocean of unmerited grace. A grace that has the power to fill us, and flood out into the whole entire world as we forgive others, too.


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3 thoughts on “Learning to say “I Forgive You”

  1. What is really really difficult is to forgive someone who has not apologized. And even more difficult, someone who tells you in your face that he/she is not sorry. In other words, to forgive our enemies. However, Jesus words are very clear in this respect. Only Grace can help us there, because from our limited point of view it is unreasonable.

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  2. You know, Lorelei, reflecting again about this post of you about forgiveness and forgiving, I found an interesting way to look at it from a, let’s say, “protestant” view. The thing is related to the central issue of salvation, that so separates usually Protestants and Catholics. I should confess, as a cradle catholic, that there was (and sadly still is) a tendency within Catholicism to believe that one gains salvation by doing good deeds, specially helping others, and sometimes through suffering, even self-inflicted. There is some truth in this, for some of Jesus’s words suggest something on that direction, like: for everything that you do to these little ones I will stand by you in the last day, come in good servant because when I was hungry you give me food, etc. Not so much about self-sacrifices, but well, you know, people get carried away sometimes, we hope with good intentions. In any case, it was usually taught to us in the old days that this is the “economy of salvation”, which now most of the Church magisterium recognize as a really bad pedagogical mistake. Evangelical Protestants, I think, help us much to understand that.

    I believe that the main inconvenience that the “salvation by good deeds” way of thinking leads to is that religion progressively slips down to a “quid pro quo” relation with God, which, being really honest with ourselves, most Catholics have to struggle with every day.

    Now, to the point of your post about forgiveness. We let us admit that there might be suggestions that some good deeds mentioned in the Gospel will help us to salvation. OK, but there is a particular deed that Jesus established very directly as currency in exchange for salvation, and he even made us telling that to ourselves every time we pray: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And also: “Do not judge and you will not be judged”, “the one who has no sin can throw the first stone”. It is crystal clear. He is saying that we (“children”) can play the “game of commercial salvation”, but the real currency is forgiving. To the point, I believe, that without forgiveness, other good deeds get devaluated and even transformed in sort of arrogance, like in the parable of the bad servant.

    This may be what Pope Francis is trying to tell us persistently when he talks about the theology of the tenderness. I think that a good interpretation of the salvation by faith is that confidence in God is tightly related to forgiveness of the heart, otherwise we might end up like the older son of the prodigal son parable. The best remedy to the feeling of guilt is forgiving and understanding of the weakness of others, who ultimately, like us, try to do the best they can. At the end of the day the only thing that remains in our pockets is love.

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