“I’m so sorry. Will you forgive me?”
I had been disappointed and hurt. I felt as though another had chosen sides in a disagreement without considering my point of view. In my opinion, she hadn’t acted in a biblical manner.
For months, we didn’t speak. If we met in public, we smiled politely but avoided both eye contact and one another. I resented those who continued spending time with her, those who seemed oblivious or insensitive to the pain I felt she had caused me.
Many times I prayed, asking for the ability to forgive. Every time I thought I had, the anger came creeping back. I nursed it and allowed it to fester. In the middle of many sleepless nights I rehearsed my arguments and laid out my case, constructing a solid theological defense as to why I was right and she was wrong. My argument was airtight. Given the opportunity, I figured, I would nail her to the wall until she conceded she had done me wrong.
And then the day arrived. I found myself alone with her in an empty church classroom. We exchanged small talk, pregnant with chilly silences.
“I feel like we have some unfinished business,” she said.
She had given me my opening. I began laying out my side of the story, wanting her to acknowledge the pain she had caused me.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Will you forgive me?”
I stopped, stunned. Then I began again, “I’m sorry, too. But you see . . .”
“I’m so sorry,” she repeated. “Will you forgive me?”
She didn’t give me a chance to finish my argument, to rehash all the details of who had said what to whom and in what tone of voice. She simply asked me to forgive her.
She didn’t offer her words lightly, or in a way that made me feel as though she was dismissing me or wanting to sweep everything under the proverbial rug. She also didn’t say, “I’m sorry if I offended you,” or “I’m sorry if there was a misunderstanding,” or “I’m sorry, but here’s my side.” She spoke the words simply and honestly, from the heart, as though grieved by the distance which divided us for so long and longing for it to be bridged.
She was offering to own her part of our problem and asking for healing and reconciliation. My friend sat before me extending the opportunity to practice the life-giving grace of the gospel, the unconditional forgiveness of sin. And I was undone.
As she reached her hand and her heart across the divide, my arguments became pointless and irrelevant. I saw them revealed as the flimsy tools of the enemy they were, designed to keep us apart and discredit the gospel. My carefully constructed arguments fell away from my heart as I offered the same seven, simple, life-giving words back to my friend.
Forgiveness is an easy concept to understand, an impossible one to put into practice apart from the grace of God. By using seven simple words my friend, my sister in Christ, humbly demonstrated how to begin the transaction. The practice of forgiveness requires both a giving and a taking, and each of these is a gift to the other.
My friend showed me the beauty of offering these seven simple words, the practice of both extending and receiving forgiveness. I try, as a follower of Jesus, not to say and do things which are hurtful to others. But I fail miserably and often. When I am honest with myself, I know I have ample opportunity to practice saying these words. I’m learning to say them to my children, hoping they will learn sooner than I did the beauty of resting in forgiveness both offered and received.
Linking with Ann, considering the spiritual practice of forgiveness:
And with emily at imperfect prose: (Please stop by her place, joining her in prayer and giving today)