Forgiveness is one of those concepts I do not think too deeply on until I am in need of it. Much like a parachute. When you need it—you hope it’s there and functioning and a legitimate, credible, real thing. But we live and conduct our lives hoping it is something we will never need. Further—when I am the one who is fortunate enough to be in a positon of doling out the aforementioned forgiveness… I am too busy in ideas of self-righteousness and pride to truly understand what I am truly doing. I am too proud of the mercy I am showing to really understand what a heavy, precious thing I am really giving away.
Forgiveness is a tricky, weird, oblong thing. It doesn’t happen easily. It isn’t done swiftly. It doesn’t always taste right and it hardly ever comes as a first thought or reaction.
My second favorite author and thinker, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written too many works on the concept. The only one I’ve actually read is his latest: The Book of Forgiving. It’s almost a step-by-step guide on how to forgive and how to make peace with your enemies. True peace. Not… self-righteous civility or pretentious cordialness. Peace.
I’ve recently found myself in the excruciatingly humble position of seeking forgiveness. What a gross place to be in. I cried a lot in this place… which always speaks a lot to me. There’s something so crazy to me in the idea of crying. Of being moved to tears. Of feeling so much emotion that your physical body has no choice but to react. In the way yours eyes sting afterward and all you feel is fatigue. In the way your nose runs and your breathing changes. It’s all very dramatic and wild and silly—but everything you are crying about seems so monumentally important and severe and world-altering.
In this over-dramatized, depressed state of humility I was existing in, I would’ve settled for non-forgiveness. For civility. For cordialness. For fake-peace. But in retrospect, I see that my soul was so pained because I knew what it was I was truly asking for. Possibly the heaviest thing you can ask of anyone. I was asking for true forgiveness.
“Forgiveness says, ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.’ “ – CS Lewis
In Lewis’s essay on forgiveness, he notes the difference between forgiving and excusing. He says that when we seek forgiveness from God… we are usually asking God to simply excuse us. “Excuse” in that we are not really accepting too much actual fault for our actions. I was born into this sinful nature. You know I struggle with this. Everyone my age does this. This wasn’t really all that heinous of an act. Etc. Which is a much less heavy load for anyone to carry. No one is to blame. It is the way the world works and I am simply asking for a pardon. Probably a pardon I have asked for previously.
But to truly seek for forgiveness—to ask to be forgiven—is to do nothing but become as humble as the act that has brought you in that space to begin with. To take ownership for the dirty deed. To accept that your very confident and well-put-together self could do such a thing, and to ask for mercy. Further, to truly own that act in the sense that it is one you will never commit again. That you will harness it before the thought even enters your mind to re-do it. To truly seek forgiveness is the kind of blatant act that moves one to tears.
Silly, dramatic, nose-running, eye-stinging tears.
And further—to extend true forgiveness is, probably, an even more unashamed, deliberate act. But one of the purest form of love.
So, today, I am immersed in gratitude for the forgiveness that’s been shown to me over my life. By my Heavenly Father through his Son. By the ones whose emotions I chose not to consider in certain moments, but who still thought enough of mine to extend this great gift. And by the ones who I will hurt, upset, or pain in the future.
CS Lewis ends his essay on forgiveness with a cringe-worthy truth. That forgiveness is hard. And that it may not always be so difficult to forgive someone, one time, for one thing… but to forgive the daily injustices that are done to us. “the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son” he notes. I would argue that seeking forgiveness is just as much of a challenge, in a similar way—not because the act of actually speaking the words ‘I was wrong’ is so painful—but because of the everyday task of not letting that sin that you are seeking clemency for reenter your world. So that the ‘I was wrong’ never has to escape your lips for the same thing.
So I would urge you, as I will urge myself as one who has been shown an abundance of forgiveness, to eagerly dole it out. Daily. To allow it to be your reaction and your first response. To become the soul who is slow to anger and quick to forgive. Just as I would urge you to save part of your paycheck and get renter’s insurance. Because when you are truly in need of it, and drowning in your own tears at the utter weight of what you are truly asking for—you will wonder what you would do if you were on the opposite end. Perhaps it will even be asked of you. What would you do if you were me? How would you handle this? And I want us both to be able to say, without hesitation, that we would choose love.