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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An Interview with Felicity about Her First Confession!

Felicity and I sat down for a few minutes after her First Reconciliation today (hooray!), and she shared a bit about what the experience was like for her!

You can listen to the interview via SoundCloud by clicking here, or the transcript from the interview is below. Enjoy!


Mom: I, as your mother, did not have first confession until I was a grown up, so I have no idea what it’s like to go to first confession as a kid. And I thought maybe if you shared your thoughts a little bit, you might help another kid who is getting ready for their First Confession. So how were you feeling before you went?

Felicity: I was really nervous. And when I went in, I was scared and I didn’t know where to sit, so I chose to sit face to face. It really wasn’t that scary.

Mom: It wasn’t? What made you decide that you wanted to sit face to face?

Felicity: Because, well this was my first confession, and I just, I didn’t want to be scared.

Mom: And how did it feel when you were doing it? What were your thoughts in confession?

Felicity: It was a little scary when I was in there, because I didn’t know if she sheet that I had had everything on it, but really it did, and it went well.

Mom: And how did you feel after you were done?

Felicity: After, I felt really happy and excited.

Mom: So what would you say to any kid who’s getting ready for their First Confession?

Felicity: I’d say, if you’re scared, that’s normal. And, it’s really not scary. And it’s really great.

Mom: Why is it so great?

Felicity: It’s basically a way of getting rid of your sins, throwing them in the garbage, and letting the garbage truck take them away.

Mom: What does mom call confession? Do you remember what I’ve been calling it? The Saint Maker?


Alright, anything else you want to say?

Felicity: Nope, that’s it.

Mom: Okay. Alright, thanks so much Felicity thanks for joining us on our first mini-interview on This Catholic Family!

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What’s The Deal with Catholic Guilt?

I think we’ve all seen or heard someone make a joke about “Catholic Guilt” at one point or another.

This article explores what Catholic Guilt is, really. And if it’s actually funny. Or, on the other hand, if it a misrepresentation of something meant for our good.

What is Sin?

It’s important to get on the same page about sin before we even attempt to talk about this issue. Let’s turn to the Catechism to get our definition.

1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”121

1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125 

(emphasis mine)

Using this definition, I often break down the idea of sin to conclude it is any time where I choose to serve myself rather than another. It’s desiring my perceived good over my actual good. It’s refusing to love. And in refusing love, I am refusing God because God is Love itself.

Sin wounds my relationship with God, because I’m actively rejecting Him. It hurts my soul. It makes me sick.

When I think about sin now, I think about any one of us, if we gave in freely to our own passions, distorted from God’s good intent, might even find ourselves on earth in our own sort of personal hell.

Sin is serious business. But, thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

My Protestant Practice

Before becoming Catholic, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the ways I rejected  or blocked God (Love) out of my life. Some of the churches I attended would have a moment for such reflections. But it was usually just that, a moment. And, to be honest, in those moments I most often thought “meh- I think I’m doing pretty good, comparatively speaking.” I shake my head at my past self now. And I’m still not exactly sure who I was comparing myself to… those convicted of crimes against humanity? The people in pews beside me, as some sort of holiness version of keeping up with the Joneses? Just the general sense that, in the grand scale of humanity, I was doing okay?

And then the service would move on and I would move on and I continue along my merry way. I knew I could ask God for forgiveness, but as someone who had come from a Once Saved, Always Saved tradition (for much of my life), I didn’t have an ingrained sense that my confession mattered. I had ‘invited Jesus into my heart’ as a child. And if you are Once Saved, Always Saved, then the moment you say that prayer, it’s a done deal.

Now, you can read more about how I learned that perspective didn’t fit with my actual life experience in my Coming Home Network conversion story by clicking here, but suffice it to say, I had accepted Jesus as a child, then possibly crossed over into rejecting Him as a young adult before I made my way back through the Catholic Church.

I learned through that journey that my choices do matter. They have eternal impact. And yes, everything good I do is by the grace of God, but I’m not an automaton. God can work through me to show his love and healing to this world, but He needs my yes to do it.

And so I’d better pay attention to the areas in my life where I’m letting Love in, and also to the areas in my life where I’m not.


The Value in Examining Our Conscience

I worry about the fading of the concept of confession in general as the trees of Christian separation continue to branch farther and farther away from their historical roots. And I have personally found immense value in examining my conscience on a regular basis, followed by a good Confession.

But first, what is an Examination of Conscience?

An Examination of Conscience is a beautiful exercise we do as Catholics, where we take stock of our lives and our heart. We spend time praying about and thinking about the areas where we are letting God (Love) lead the way, and the areas where we are turning from Him (Love) and choosing to serve ourselves first. We take an honest look at where we are being selfish, or prideful, or fearful, or careless, or impatient, or any number of things.

There are many ways to examine our conscience. Click here for a link to some excellent resources that walk you straight through the entire process.

But we don’t just leave it there when we’re done. We aren’t meant to just acknowledge our shortcomings and sit around feeling bad about ourselves. We know we have the ability to make a change. We can grow in virtue and holiness. We can turn our “No” to God, into a resounding “Yes.”

Once we have examined ourselves, we are ready to make a Confession.

Confession: A Healing Sacrament

It’s no secret how much I love Confession.

Confession is so many things. But one thing it is not. It is not a rote recital of our wrongs just for the sake of checking an item off a list.

It is a Healing Sacrament. And for good reason.

When we go to Confession, we sit before a Priest, who is standing in place of Jesus for us. We share with him those struggles we identified in ourselves. And we receive, not only God’s forgiveness to us, but we also receive penance, our medicine to help heal the wounds created by our sin.

We leave Confession with the Grace of God to continue to say yes to Him. And if and when we fail, we know Confession is always there, to help us right our path. To help us to learn to love others better than we could on our own. To help sanctify us, and to flood us with God’s Amazing Grace so we can effectively live as His hands and feet.

Back to Catholic Guilt

Nothing about the Catholic Church desires for us to hobble around, eternally burdened by our shortcomings. And long story short, anyone who has been haunted by Catholic Guilt in their life, has taken these beautiful practices meant for our own good, for our own healing, and for whatever reason, allowed them to become distorted.

When I’m carrying some burdens inside my heart, I might know it’s time to go to Confession. So I just set up a time and go. I know I want to let as much of God (Love) into my life as possible, and if I can be honest with myself about when I’m not doing that, then I can experience healing and let His Grace help me make different choices.

There’s a huge difference between the conviction we need to make something right, and then doing something to heal what we’ve broken, and the notion of “Catholic Guilt.” Guilt, when left to its own devices and void of the connection to healing, can turn us inward and makes us focus dangerously on ourselves. And when we focus on ourselves, we are entering a realm that is unhealthy for our souls. We are entering the realm of sin. 

So, no, Catholic Guilt isn’t funny. It’s actually probably a sign that someone has experienced pain in some form or another inside the Church, and have not yet found their way to the healing. If we know people who struggle with this, or who have left the Church because of it, it is so vital that we live Grace in our own lives. Forgiveness in our own lives. The joy of healing in our own lives.

We have the opportunity to be an example to those who misunderstand our faith, to those who are seeking, and to those who might be confused. Let us be an example of the Church’s beauty as we seek, more and more each and every day, to choose Love.



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Walking Through Lent During A Time of Loss

It’s been a bit quiet over here on the blog for the past few weeks. A great sadness entered into my family’s life on February 4th, and it’s taken me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to say. It didn’t seem right to write about anything else besides this, and I felt stuck until I could find the words. But I think I might have some now.

I had a very cool aunt named Jeannine. She used to live in New York City. She was 47 years old. And, due to a very tragic mixture of difficult circumstances and struggles, my very cool aunt chose to end her life on the evening of February 4th.

There has been an ocean of sadness as our family copes with this loss. I have never been so closely touched by suicide, and I hope to never experience this pain again. I know in time the acuteness of the suffering will fade, but the struggle and sadness from this loss will last a lifetime.

We’re left with so many unanswered questions. We know she struggled with addiction, and mental distress, and that she searched for good, but lost herself sometimes along the way. We just never in a million years would have expected it to come to this. We will deeply miss the beautiful person she was, and mourn the memories that will never be made.

Right now, I’m thankful for the moments of good. The snuggles from my kids. An evening eating chocolate and watching a TV show and talking with my husband. A moment at work where I am helpful to a teacher. Writing words.

But in it all, I have not felt close to God. And I think it’s important to be honest about that, because it is the reality of my current situation.

How odd this is all happening during Lent. I told a friend recently that I identify more with Jesus’ 40 days in the desert now than I ever have. Lent feels like a desert to me. Dry and barren and merciless. I see mirages in the distance. Moments when I forget this happened, and imagine my aunt is still out there, somewhere I could visit or give her a call. But, like mirages, the moments fade and in the sunlight, our new reality is blindingly clear.

I may not feel like God is near, I may not feel close to Him. But that doesn’t mean He isn’t there. God doesn’t exist or not exist depending on me.

So, right now, I’m going to Mass. I’m saying prayers. And none of this is because I feel it is true. It’s because I believe it is true regardless of how I feel.

I look forward to the day when I’ve emerged from these tumultuous seas. But it’s a process. And I trust my God is patient. And there. Whether I feel Him or not.

He doesn’t change like I do. And I know He won’t let me go.

On Easter Vigil, I will be at Mass, standing with my mother as her sponsor as she is confirmed into the Catholic Church.

And oh, I hope and pray that the power of Easter Sunday breaks through me. That it finds its way past the numbness and the anger and the pain. That the power of the hope of all things one day being made right will reverberate inside me and settle in my soul. For my aunt, and for us all. The hope that she is at peace, tucked safely in the arms of Love Itself. And that those of us left reeling from this loss will find our way back there as well.


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What’s The Purpose of Penance?

When a Catholic goes to Confession, several things happen. We come with contrition and confess our sins. We receive the absolution. Then, the Priest assigns us our penance. But while we may know what to expect, it’s also immensely important to understand why we are doing these things.

I’ve written extensively about why I absolutely Love Confession, but I haven’t written in-depth about penance and its purpose and value. This post is an attempt to do just that.

What is Sin?

At its core, sin is turning away from God. It’s an active decision on our part. It’s us saying “No, God, I won’t do things your way. I know better than you.” Sin can happen in big ways (mortal sin, which breaks our relationship with God) and in small ways (venial sin, which wounds it).

All sin is sickness for our souls.

What is Penance?

Penance is something for the confessor to do after Confession ends, on their own, and hopefully as soon as possible. Sometimes it’s a prayer or a series of prayers. Sometimes it’s something related to an issue the confessor struggles with. It could look many different ways, and could take varying amounts of time. Some of my personal favorite penances have been ones that directly related to an area where I struggle.

But, regardless of what penance looks like it is always, always, a way to repair the harm that sin has caused in our lives.

It is meant to help us turn our hearts back to God. Just as our sin was an active choice turning away from God, penance is an active choice turning back to God.

Do I have to do penance to be forgiven?

This is something that is often misunderstood, even by Catholics. Once the Priest offers absolution during Confession, we are forgiven. The grace is there because of Jesus. Not because of anything we can do. So, no, penance is not required for forgiveness to occur.

But then, if we’re already forgiven, why do we need it?

Medicine For The Soul

Just as sin wounds (or breaks) our relationship with God and makes our souls sick, penance is medicine that helps us turn our hearts back towards our Creator. Confession removes that sin from our shoulders. Penance helps us move towards a more holy future.

As such, whether our penance is prayer, or something specific to an area we struggle, we should not approach penance with the attitude of simply ‘checking something off a list.’

If we do penance with a disengaged heart, the purpose of penance isn’t served. Penance is a way to turn our hearts back to God, it’s a prescription for healing, and, much like any other medication, it’s up to us to use it. If we’ve gone to Confession with a truly contrite heart, it follows that we would want to continue on that path of obedience and progression towards holiness by following through on our penance as soon as possible, and by using that as a springboard to help spur us on towards a closer walk with God.

It’s a beautiful medicine we are offered, and it is to the benefit of our souls to take it.




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Laying Down My Rights

Just when ya think you’re in pretty good shape… something comes along and reveals the sin in your own life very clearly.

JP made a mistake this week. A very honest mistake. It ended up costing us $100. Which isn’t the most money in the world. But, it was enough to provoke a reaction in me that I am not proud of.

I got so mad about that $100. I thought some Not So Friendly Thoughts. I wasn’t very nice.

And the whole time I was having the reaction I had, I knew that the root of it all had to be some sin of my own.

I literally was having a conversation with myself in my head (not like a crazy person conversation, but a totally sane inner dialogue) that I knew I was reacting sinfully, and I needed to stop, and then the other part of me was saying I had a right to be angry and offended and to let him know how I felt.

There were a couple of realities at play here.

I know, of course, that my husband is allowed to make mistakes! Neither of our mistakes are going to consistently cost us $100, but this time it did. And that doesn’t change the fact that I have no right to insist on his perfection, because I could be the one making a mistake tomorrow that has a cost to him.

Also, I knew if I had made the same mistake he had, and he had reacted the same way I did (which, by the way, he never would have), I would have been extremely hurt. He wouldn’t have made me feel small. I knew that, and I still felt the desire to assume that I had a right to make my offended-ness known.

The Bigger Picture

Okay, so… here’s the thing.

Here is why I knew so deep down that my reaction was unacceptable, and sinful on my part.

Straight up Truth: My husband is Imago Dei. He is created in the Image of God. And that, in and of itself means he is to be shown dignity, at all times. And it means that he has immense value by virtue of his being God’s Image Bearer.

And I knew that, and I felt myself wrestling inside with knowing that reality and still wanting to claim some right of my own to be offended, and let him know it.

Here’s the other thing.

I have no right to respond in sin, because of my Christian faith.

I believe that Jesus, One who had never made a mistake, had never sinned, who had every. single. right. to claim offense, willingly, and with love, took every. single. sin. of every. single. person. from the entire history and future of the entire world upon Himself.

And he died on that cross, partly because of the sin I committed against my husband over this matter. My sin over this is one of the reasons He hung there. My sin is like one of the thorns pressing down upon His head, and piercing His skull, and causing Him pain.

Jesus never claimed his rights. He who had the most right in the world to be offended, took all of everything upon himself. He never for one moment has given us anything less than the utmost dignity. He never for one moment has given us anything less than perfect love.

Colossians 3 states:

12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and [k]patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is [l]the perfect bond of unity.

I know I was anything but compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, or patient over this matter. And I was slow to forgive. But the real kicker, is the part that says “Just as the Lord forgave you.”

And, at that, I have to humbly surrender. At that, I realize I have no rights. I have no claim to offense. And I need to extend the same grace extended to me, to others. Especially to my husband when he makes a mistake.

How Deep The Father’s Love

I am so thankful for the Lord’s forgiveness in my own life, but it is also so convicting right now. I am acutely aware how I tried to claim something I have no right to claim. And it came at the cost of giving my Imago Dei husband the dignity that is his.

I know I’ll be heading to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation this coming weekend, for this, and other things. And I’ll be looking forward to audibly hearing that unmerited forgiveness from Jesus. I’m also looking forward to my penance. I suspect it might be something I can do to show my husband love and dignity. Which will be just the medicine I need.

One of my favorite hymns of all times is How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.

It’s just such a beautiful reminder of the most beautiful Truth. I can’t even grasp how much Jesus took upon himself on the cross. But I know it means my salvation.

And I know I can, once again, receive the forgiveness that is there for me through my faith in Him. And I can be thankful that He promises to shape me more into His likeness, as long as I continue to allow Him to work in my soul.

I am thankful that I know I don’t have to live in guilt. That I can pick up and move on and work towards better reactions in the future … but it just smarts a bit realizing you’re wrong. Humble pie doesn’t always taste super great.

And, finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention JP. Because I can also be thankful for a gracious husband, who witnessed my struggle, and accepted the apology of his Much Too Quick To Anger Wife, and for the example he sets of patience and grace within our own marriage.



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