Right Relationships: The Awe of Seeking Forgiveness

Forgiveness 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.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by The Rev. Christopher L. Smith, LCAC, LMHC, LMFT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • alana


    November 27th, 2014 at 8:12 AM

    In many instances there is a feeling of such relief when forgiveness has been asked for as well as times when you have finally been able to grant that to another. You do not realize how burdensome the anger and the hatred can be until you have been forgiven or have sown another that you do forgive them. It is truly as if a weight is lifted off of you.

  • Maritza


    November 27th, 2014 at 1:25 PM

    I am not quite sure that I understand.. I am supposed to be seeking forgiveness for something that I am not sure that I did? Or only for the things that I know that I did to wrong someone?

  • Joel


    November 28th, 2014 at 8:49 AM

    It has been my experience over the years that it takes whole lot more negative energy to hate someone and to be angry than it does to forgive them and move past it.

  • Daphne


    November 28th, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    It would take a very strong person to seek out forgiveness for something that they may have done wrong. For most of us it is hard enough when we know that we have done something wrong, but when we aren’t even sure and still feel like we have to ask forgiveness, that takes a very strong person indeed.

  • Christopher


    November 29th, 2014 at 8:05 AM

    Thanks for your comments. It can be very meaningful for both the asker and the one asked for forgiveness. I remember when my graduate advisor (who was Jewish) asked my forgiveness one year, including for things she did not know. It allowed me to finally forgive my advisor for something my advisor probably did not realize had effected me. I think that often we are not aware of what we have done to hurt others, so being sorry for the effect, hoping not to hurt them again but move forward in the relationship can be helpful to both. It is helpful to be reminded that we can unintentionally hurt others and our relationships.

  • Emily


    November 29th, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    I think this is a wonderful discipline! It is something my husband and I have tried to model for our children. I think it shows the person that you care about them and value their heart. It is something that few people today know how to do. I find that most people are very uncomfortable not only asking for forgiveness but also extending forgiveness when asked for it. I usually get a response that goes something like, “Oh, it was no big deal.”
    They don’t understand the power of biblical forgiveness to release not only themselves but also the other person from the bonds of offense.
    Love this article cousin!

  • Ciji


    November 29th, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    First and foremost I think that it is always important to forgive ourselves, for we are the ones that the hurt and the anger injure the most. But also I do think that it can be very cleansing to ask others for forgiveness because chances are somewhere along the way we could have said or done something to make them feel slighted and what harm is it going to do to ask that very thing from them even if we don’t know what it is?

  • klein


    November 30th, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    There are going to be some people that this would be super difficult for, people who always think that they have to be right and that they can do no wrong. Although they are the ones who should be asking for forgiveness from others, it never quite seems that it works out that way.

  • abbey


    December 6th, 2014 at 1:59 PM

    Very powerful when you know that you have done something that in turn makes everything feel right for another person too.

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