Why is it so hard to apologize and forgive?
Fred and Susie.
Let’s say Fred and Susie get into an argument because Susie is angry over something Fred did. Fred gets defensive. Susie says something that is deep and personal, so deep it cuts into Fred like a machete and he stops talking. When she sees this, Susie says, “I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry.” Fred walks away.
After she has cooled down, Susie spends a couple hours thinking about what happened. She realizes she has three choices:
1. I can let it go and hope that Fred bounces back warm and cheery next morning. After, all I did say I was sorry.
2. I can apologize again and ask Fred if he will forgive me.
3. I can put some meat into a new apology, such as, “Fred I know I hurt you badly last nite, and I’m truly sorry. Words like I said last nite I will never say again. If you see me going down that road ever again, please help me to stop. Hold your hand up, palm facing me, and just say “stop please.”
Fred also spent time thinking about his argument with Susie. He has three options also:
1. I can wave it off, making out its not a big deal, and she did say she was sorry. I could say, “It’ll be okay.”
2. But it’s not okay. If Susie apologizes again, that would be nice. But if she asks me to forgive her, that’s not enough. I don’t want this to happen again.
3. Susie could put some meat into a new apology. She could show she’s trying to understand how I feel. And she could try to correct her behavior which would spell out how sincere she is about this. And she could ask me to help her correct her behavior. I would be impressed with that.
Perhaps you’ve noticed: Point 1. is not sincere enough to address the depth of hurt feelings.
Point 2. Is a popular way of fixing a hurt, but does it really fix it? Susie may feel happy if Fred says he forgives her. But it’s a bit too easy because she hasn’t dealt with her behavior – the damaging words — and it’s likely to leave Fred wanting more.
Point 3. is sometimes the best way because it includes a commitment to change behavior so that Susie doesn’t say the same damning words next time they argue. Fred may not even need to hear the words, “Do you forgive me,” because Susie’s commitment says it all. Susie may or may not need to ask Fred to forgive her, because she knows her commitment to make it right comes with forgiveness.
This is an artificial example. But the truth beneath can be applied in many different situations.
Some observations from my own experience:
• Some people never apologize. Their ego gets in the way, and they’ve never learned humility or grown the maturity to say they’re sorry.
• Some people refuse to apologize. They are completely self-centered and tend to blame someone else for their behavior, or their own childhood. Some of these people are narcissists.
• A few people apologize too much. I heard about a woman who was date-raped and she blamed only herself for agreeing to go back to the man’s house. Other folks have a poor self-image and tend to think they must be to blame when they are not.
• Some people argue that they can never change their behavior. The Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg was aggressively angry on the court in his teenage years. His coach said he was going to drop him unless this changed. Borg changed and later the champion became known as the ice-man because he always kept his anger emotions in check. He was ranked no 1 in the world from 1974 – 1981.
The Christian position is to forgive – it comes straight from Jesus in the Lord’s prayer. Sometimes when we are wronged it’s easy to forgive, but sometimes it’s hard and can take a long time. I recall a discussion with my parents in a restaurant in Broken Hill, the famous mining town in outback Australia. My father said it was relatively easy for him to forgive. My mother was astonished and exclaimed that, for her, forgiveness can be very difficult.
Now, 2000 years after the Lord’s prayer, it’s common for psychologists to teach forgiveness. They know it takes a heavy weight off our shoulders to be freed from resentments, vengeance and hate.
I understand the challenge to repent, so common in the Bible, means to change your ways, and implies the commitment aspect of Point 3.
But don’t confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. Forgiveness is vertical, meaning God can forgive us, but reconciliation is horizontal and involves other persons.
Whether another person wronged us, or whether we wronged another person, reconciliation is a separate question. Reconciliation may happen or it may not happen because it depends on dozens of different factors — one of which is the other person may not wish to reconcile. But forgiveness needs to happen.
This distinction is critical. If we believe that we have to reconcile to be forgiven, the heavy weight of wrongdoing may never be removed from our shoulders. For more discussion on this, see here.
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The Gray Nomad ….. If you are weighed down by guilt, it can be released by God’s forgiveness via Jesus.
For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew chapter 6, Amplified Bible).