When my first daughter was five years old she had developed this habit of getting into just enough trouble with her mother that my wife would demand an “I am sorry” from her. Now my daughter could certainly show that she was sorry by her actions but the words were a whole different story. On one particular occasion, both parties had dug in their heels and neither was any where near giving in. Enter the negotiator. I had developed a technique for helping my daughter come to the right decision. It involved the Bernstein Bears series of children’s books with their subtle message of doing the right thing. This episode required a lesson on saying that one was sorry. As we read the book together and reached the obvious subtle message, my daughter began to tell me that they, being the bears, need to say the words. She turned to me and very determinedly said “they need to tell their mom that they are sor……, they need to say they are sor….” but the words just couldn’t come. And then they did and as she turned to me with alligator tears in her eyes she said, “I NEED to tell MY mom I’m sorry”. Mission accomplished, I guess. That is if saying I’m sorry is the cure.
The point here is that there are two sides to this issue and I want to speak to the receiving end of the confession. As important as it is, and often as hard as it is, the apology may only be the gesture. A noble gesture when sincere but still only half of the issue. The forgiveness will ultimately carry a far more lasting and cleansing catharsis. I learned this lesson first hand as young child. My brother had been hit and killed by a car. The driver of the car, a young man, was devastated by what had happened. I could only feel anger that his action had taken my brother from me. What I witnessed next shaped my view for the rest of my life. My parents had every right to harbor anger but they instead invited that man into our house where they consoled him, reminded him it was an accident and yes, forgave him. As I look back, I know now that to have not done that would have only eaten at them for the rest of their lives. That harboring anger would have drained their energy and any chance they had of moving on for the rest of their family. And we needed them to be strong for us.
Forgiveness is an act that is given. Though one may ask to be forgiven, the word itself indicates it can only be given. It must be unconditional to work. Too often we can hold on to our anger while we wait for the apology that may never come or even be able to be given. We must at some point forgive, not just for the forgiven, but more so for ourselves. Make no mistake, the forgiveness does not excuse the action or in any way condones it. It simply serves to begin our opportunity to heal.
So I am glad that my daughter learned so long ago to say she was sorry, in fact, she became quite proficient at it, but we need to let her know that she was forgiven. In fact, that she was forgiven the moment she had gotten in trouble.