I’m sorry. How I have struggled with those words and yet how important they are for diminishing suspicion and growing trust in this world! I spent years and years learning not to apologize for my existence. The shame I felt after surviving a sexual assault pervaded my being. So I’m choosy now about what I apologize for. I’ll accept responsibility for what is truly mine, but not for day-to-day living, laughing, praying, and loving.
Asking for forgiveness can become such a routine way of being for some of us, so much so that saying “I’m sorry” loses its meaning. Reclaiming forgiveness as a meaningful act is spiritual work, just as really valuing and seeking forgiveness when we do ask for it.
Asking forgiveness when we really have cause is a way of turning to another – to God, family, friends, community, strangers, neighbors, enemies – and reestablishing the foundations of reverence and gratitude. Forgiveness is a way of making more trust in the world.
There are all kinds of little acts of forgiveness we can offer one another – little acts that can preclude the necessity of bigger acts because they keep grudges from growing large and firmly rooted. Little acts of forgiveness encourage strong and resilient relationships with room to make mistakes, to risk a little in the adventures of love, justice, and meaning, and to turn easily toward one another with the history of acceptance. That’s real trust.
Then there are the big troubles, that are much more work. The times when we’ve planned and done wrong, the times terrible accidents have happened, and the times when we made huge mistakes call for bigger work on asking for and being offered forgiveness. There’s no instant being back in the same place, because trust needs to be rewoven. Forgiveness just gives us the space to reweave that torn trust, to cultivate a new and different way of relating.
There are people I can never ask for forgiveness from now because they have died. I wasn’t ready before. I carry those regrets with me. But those regrets also encourage me to do my best now in accepting responsibility for what is mine and turning again to ask in forgiveness.
Many people will not be able to say yes, they forgive me. Others will say yes, they forgive, but not really mean it. I get to live with those regrets, too. They have taught me a lot about how I try to be with others who seek my forgiveness. I want to really mean it when I say, yes, all forgiven. I also want to be ready, should someone ask, so I can really mean what I say when I forgive.
Whether or not there is mutuality in forgiving – and often enough in human relations there is not – we can still be freed to hold others with respect and with gratitude. We can be ready to offer forgiveness, live in that sweet spaciousness of forgiveness, and be ready to turn again when we need to seek forgiveness ourselves. The world is a better place with more trust. Asking and practicing forgiveness is one of the ways we grow that trust.