I have a confession to make: I am an impulsive apologizer. I say “sorry” for just about everything, whether I am to blame or not. I find myself apologizing for events that took place that I had no control over, other people’s actions, and even my own opinion.
Our current culture is equally obsessed. There is a constant demand for apologies but at the same time — refusals to apologize. And yet, the apology rarely means anything or is even accepted.
Ass difficult as it may be to apologize, offering forgiveness is even harder.
My husband and I have taught our children to say, “I’m sorry,” whenever they physically or emotionally hurt one another. We have also instructed the offended party to say, “I forgive you.” This seems to be a realistic way to model our Christian faith. After all, we confess our sins to God and He, in turn, forgives us.
However, I have noticed recently in our family that before an action is even completed, the guilty party quickly apologizes with the expectation of immediate forgiveness — and therefore no consequences. The hurt child then throws out forgiveness only to follow it with a complaint of how upset he or she is.
The truth is that neither one is sincere. The kids are simply going through the motions.
An apology is both an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and an admission of regret. There should be remorse and effort to repair the injustice. And yet typical apologies seem to be nothing more than words that are flippantly tossed down in effort to smooth a conflict. Often, the apology itself is hardly genuine. After all, it isn’t in our human nature to admit guilt due to our own pride.
As difficult as it may be to apologize, offering forgiveness is even harder. Forgiveness is an entirely different action of the heart. To forgive is to stop feeling resentment toward the person or people who did wrong. To forgive is to absolve a debt or sin, to give it up, wipe it clean, and forget about it.
Forgiveness often feels impossible. But with God, nothing is impossible.
Ephesians 2:4-10 says, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
We are forgiven by God’s grace through His love. The impossible is made possible.
I am quick to say “I’m sorry,” but rarely do I actually declare responsibility for the pain I have caused someone else. Rarely do I offer true, heartfelt liability. Why? I am prideful. I am afraid of being indebted to someone. I do not want to be vulnerable to someone else’s forgiveness.
And if I am honest, I am quite capable of holding a grudge. I nurture my wounded feelings for as long as necessary, knowing I can always mentally dredge up someone else’s shortcomings to make myself appear more righteous. And with the harboring of judgment — my own spirit is the one that suffers.
In comparison, God loved us while we were still dead in our sin, suffocated by the error of our immorality and shortcomings. He loved us before we ever confessed to Him. And then, once we have been awakened to the salvation of Jesus Christ, He not only loves us, He forgives us, completely and unconditionally.
What, then, should be the response to such love? There is no answer other than to freely and totally offer our own forgiveness to others through the power of the Holy Spirit. I cannot do it alone, but with God nothing is impossible. With God, forgiveness is freedom.
This is the time of year when many families come together and many wounds are once again laid bare. The past is filled with words and wrongs and unkindness all around. Let our prayer be for the strength to overcome our own bruises and suffering and present the gift of restoration.
Katie Nations is a wife of 15 years and a working mother of three young children. She lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.