We have some very strange ideas about what forgiveness really is. One of those ideas is, when someone says “sorry,” to reply with, “Oh, that’s okay, it doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it.” That is not forgiveness. It is simply brushing the problem under the carpet. The only result that comes from doing so is to get a very lumpy carpet.
The truth is, it DOES matter if someone has hurt you. It matters if you are offended, and especially if the person who hurt you has come with a heartfelt apology, that apology needs to be treated with the respect it deserves. So let’s talk about apologies for just a moment.
Here are some really poor apologies: “IF I hurt you, then I apologize.” This is a poor apology because it isn’t sincere. The offender is actually putting the blame back on you; if you are offended, it wasn’t really his fault but he’ll say “sorry” so he’ll look better. And he’s really making sure you understand that he hasn’t done anything wrong. You’re just overly sensitive.
Here’s one of my favorites, issued in the Rose Garden by Mr. Clinton: “Mistakes were made. . . .” This is a classic. It was given in the passive voice, There really isn’t a subject here. Nothing is receiving the action of the verb, the doer is not specifically named, and it wasn’t sin; it was just a mistake. He should have said, at the very least, “I have done wrong. Please forgive me.” It is a mistake to enter a number incorrectly into the checkbook. It is a mistake to mismeasure an ingredient in a recipe. It is SIN to deliberately choose to have sexual contact with a woman to whom one is not married. It is a SIN to lie about it; and it is cowardly to phrase an “apology” in such vague terms that no one has any clear idea what actually happened, or what is being said.
These are not apologies. They are sorry excuses that allow us to refuse to accept responsibility for what we have done.
Now, back to that “It’s okay, don’t worry about it” thing. What’s wrong with that? Well, for one thing, you aren’t telling the truth. It is not okay when we’re offended. It’s not okay to be insulted. And it’s not okay to pretend that everything’s okay when it isn’t. The correct response is something like this:
“Well, I appreciate that. It means a lot that you care enough to make things right. Of course I forgive you. Thank you for clearing this up.”
If you had a part in creating the problem, you need to acknowledge it and, if necessary, seek forgiveness yourself. Here’s a good example:
“Susie, I offended you yesterday when I said abcdefg. I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have said it, and I feel terrible about it. It was wrong of me. Can you forgive me?”
“Martha, I really was hurt. I’m so glad you cared enough to make this right. I value our friendship, and of course I forgive you. Thank you.”
There. Done. No equivocating, no lying, no blaming or excusing or dodging.
Next week, two more things forgiveness is not.