Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, begins this evening. For those who observe the holiday, it culminates ten days of soul searching during which time we’re instructed to ask forgiveness from those we may have harmed.
In the course of my own reflection, one name jumped out at me – the leap was instant and illuminated by neon lights. At some point this past year I said something unskillful (you know, anger driven and a bit mean), and she deserves an apology from me. But the thought of actually calling her to apologize made my stomach turn and unleashed a flurry of rationalizations along these lines: “But she said unskillful things too; we’re not that close anyway, I rarely see her so it’s not that important,” and so on.
Honestly, though, I know in my heart, that even if those other points are true, I had behaved poorly and was called to apologize. With my stomach uncomfortable, I called. She did not answer but I left a heartfelt apology and request for forgiveness on her machine. If and how she responds to my request is yet to be discovered.
An apology doesn’t undo what I did or said; it doesn’t undo the wrong for anyone. But an apology opens a door for healing and moving forward. An apology also doesn’t mean that we’re going to work on our relationship. But I feel relieved that I owned up to my transgression and, from my end, I can close this particular chapter. A heartfelt apology, therefore, offers a path for my wellbeing and reconciliation, and for my ability to move on, as it does for her.
Forgiveness doesn’t change the past, but it absolutely changes the future. In the words of Lewis Smedes, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Asking for and granting forgiveness is not typical in our society. We live in a culture of grievance and blame with scant few models of forgiveness. And, truth be told, we typically don’t want to. It’s uncomfortable. It can feel like we’re nurturing an injury. We may believe the wrong is so great, it doesn’t deserve forgiving. And that may all be true.
But, who is really suffering when we hang onto resentments? We do. The other person may be blissfully unaware of the depth of our feelings and/or may have moved on themselves. Yet by hanging onto our anger, we keep ourselves from fully living and stunt the growth (or even termination) of the relationship
In the words of Alexander Pope, “To Err is Human, To Forgive is Divine.”