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There’s a famous line in a 1970s film that’s commonly accepted as fact: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
While I am not one who makes a habit of quibbling with pop culture aphorisms, when it comes to the subject of forgiveness, I would submit that not hearing the words “I’m sorry” is perhaps one of the hardest things for the human psyche to bear.
As a pastor with more than 35 years of ministry under my belt, I receive literally thousands of tweets and Facebook posts decrying one heart breaking situation after another with explicit details – tales of hit-and-run offenders plowing through the “stop” signs of life, swerving uncontrollably into oncoming traffic, and littering the highways with the debris of their wanton, reckless behavior.
Unwitting victims are left to pick up the pieces, file the claims and after an acceptable period of bereavement they are expected to “move on.”
Such tidy endings are the fodder of the 30-minute sitcoms that I loved as a child. But in real life, emotions run deep, feelings remain hurt and anger burns unabated at the slap of injustice.
So what do you do if you never hear those magic words, “I’m sorry?”
Do you make wine from sour grapes or are you merely supposed to forget about it?
When asked if it were possible to truly forget, psychologists provide a simple answer: No. Only by repressing a painful memory can a person experience the illusion of forgetting, but never the reality. Our brains are just not built that way.
In my book, “Let It Go,” I tell a story of lending a significant amount of money to a prominent association in a dire financial situation. Despite fervent promises to repay, the man who ran the association never made a single attempt toward reparation. Every time I encountered him publicly, my blood boiled. The more effusive my demands for recompense, the more obstinate and elusive he became.
Finally, my mentor, who was like a father to me, told me that I was never going to see my money again and that I might as well forgive the debt. In my mind, I could not I reconcile the moral turpitude. Nor could I understand how to forgive someone who wouldn’t even give me the dignity of a real apology!
Forgiving felt like letting him off too easy
Unfortunately, most adults are not taught how to manage disappointment when expected outcomes don’t match up with reality.
The situation is particularly pernicious when the indignity comes courtesy of a person or institution once believed to be trustworthy.
While extending forgiveness seems to let the offender off scot-free, I liken withholding forgiveness to drinking poison and expecting the enemy to die.
Had I waited for an apology, I would have consigned my emotional well being to my wrong doer! And like the main characters in “Waiting for Godot,” I would have waited in vain for someone who ultimately never shows.
Since it is not impossible to control from whence the winds of offense will blow, or how they land on your doorstep, you can only control how you will respond.
In “The Lord’s Prayer” we are given a clear model for forgiveness. The biblical text tells us that we forgive so that we may be forgiven.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself. It never exonerates the wrong doer. Rather, it allows you the freedom to get on with life whether or not you ever hear those magic words, “I am sorry.”
I have learned that there are just some things that you must forgive without the benefit of an apology for your own emotional survival. You must accept that there are some people in this world who will not give you your due.
Life is too precious to be defined by the shortcomings of others
It’s up to you to write it off or remain bound to their point of failure.I offer a caveat to those in the midst of seemingly unforgivable situations: You can’t move toward forgiveness until anger has run its course.
The Bible says, “Be angry, but sin not.” Anger triggers actions toward resolution. In its absence, depression blooms, dooming the “victim” to a state of unresolved sadness.
In my estimation, love means being willing to let go of the debris of offense and allowing the heart to be open to new possibilities.