Consider the following hypothetical situations:
- You and your sibling had an argument when one of your parents died, and both of you said things to the other that were very hurtful.
- You threw something at your partner during an argument last month, but neither of you have said anything about it since.
- In a rush one evening, you accidentally hit your friend’s car in the parking lot, but no one was around so you just drove off.
- A few months ago, communications from your adult child became very cold, but you are not sure why.
What does it mean to bring yourself into right relationship with people in your life? How can you find wholeness within these types of situations? Is forgiveness a relevant concept for each of these situations?
Seeking forgiveness is a spiritual discipline that can have a powerful impact on our relationships. Traditionally, seeking forgiveness has involved different aspects. At the beginning it is about being able to recognize what you have done wrong. Once you determine where you fell short, you can develop a sense of being sorry. Then you can ask for forgiveness from the person or people you have wronged, accompanied by an intent to rectify the wrong, as you are able and as is appropriate in the situation. Finally, you should exhibit a turning from the wrong into a new life. This basic pattern applies when we have fallen short in what we should be doing in terms of our relationship with God as well as with other people.
Using this understanding of seeking forgiveness, it is easy to see how one might seek forgiveness in each of the first three examples above. The final example is one that common ideas of seeking forgiveness do not address very well. The relationship with your adult child is fractured, but you do not have an idea of what you may have done that led to this fracture. A way of approaching this can be drawn from the Days of Awe, an annual period observed by people of the Jewish faith. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, individuals seek to come to a right place for the close of the year. While Yom Kippur addresses the forgiveness of sins committed against God, these 10 days are used to seek forgiveness from those whom the person of Jewish faith may have wronged during the past year. The key in this is that you seek forgiveness from those who may have been wronged by you, not just those you know you have wronged.
My first exposure to this tradition was as someone whose forgiveness was asked for. When the person asked me for forgiveness for wrongs the person did not know had been committed, it was a real clearing of the air between us. This person’s approach brought wholeness into our relationship that was not there before—not because of anything major that occurred, but because of the cumulative little things that we do not notice in our interactions. Since that time, I have approached this type of asking for forgiveness with awe, for it does restore right relationships. I have even taken on the idea of asking for forgiveness even when I do not know what I have done. It is a powerful way of responding to another not only out of how we desire to be in relationship but also in acknowledging our own flawed nature, as we sometimes do things without realizing their full impact.
In therapy, I have found that sometimes people just need to clear the air in some of their relationships. The real cause for many fractures is the cumulative effect of smaller things, and these can disappear when we express a desire to have a turning and a new life, even if we cannot go back over the wrongs. This is a true expression of grace.
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