In past articles, we have spoken about forgiving others and forgiving yourself or, in other words, your being the party doing the forgiving. But there are also times when we might need to be forgiven by another person for hurtful actions we have taken.
Many people carry around a significant amount of guilt as a result of actions they have taken that have been hurtful to others. And many times this guilt can have significant consequences for the person carrying it and may even limit their ability to enjoy their life.
How do you go about releasing yourself and your conscience from the guilt that you might be carrying? You must learn to ask for forgiveness from the other person.
An apology is the first step in asking for the forgiveness you seek.
Having attended Catholic schools as a child, one of our weekly rituals included going to the church next to our school to say confession. Back then, as a youngster, I always thought “what have I done that was so bad that I have to sit in front of a priest and ask him to forgive me?’” I never felt like I was really saying I was sorry for doing anything really too bad – or at least bad enough that I needed a priest to forgive me for it. But with a nun sitting outside the door and a priest sitting next to you behind a screen you better think up some things that you did wrong pretty quickly – this was a lot of pressure for a young kid!
So I would go into the confessional and say the words that I was taught: “Forgive me father for I have sinned.” And I would try to think of some bad things that I had done that week: I forgot to take the trash out, I hit my sister, I talked back to my mother… you get the idea.
Although I can’t tell you the last time I physically went to confession in a church, the words “Forgive me father for I have sinned” have stuck with me. At the time, I thought I was asking “father – the priest” for forgiveness. I since realize that I was asking God the Father for forgiveness. The words “forgive me Father” took on a new and more powerful meaning.
Those words were saying to God “I’m Sorry.”
I realize now that those words were the training grounds to learn how to ask for forgiveness later on.
When we have hurt someone and we want to repent for our action we need to ask for forgiveness from both God and the person that we have wronged.
It is easy to ask God for forgiveness. God knows what you are thinking, what is in your heart, and whether you are truly remorseful or not. Much more difficult than saying “I’m Sorry” to God is saying “I’m Sorry” directly to the person you have hurt.
No one likes rejection. God, we know, accepts us and will forgive us. A person we have hurt may not. These people are sometimes hurt so badly that they don’t even want to hear from you to give you the chance to apologize. Someone cannot be forced to forgive you. All you can do is show remorse, ask for forgiveness, and hope they accept your apology.
If someone chooses not to forgive you that is their choice not yours. You cannot control them, you can only control yourself. By apologizing and seeking forgiveness, you have done all that you can control.
You cannot let someone else’s inability or unwillingness to forgive you bind you to the point where you are unable to let go of the feelings of guilt. Even if the offended party cannot forgive you, you need to take comfort in the fact that God has forgiven you. Now it is time to release yourself from any guilt that may be harboring within you and holding you back from realizing the full potential for your life.
“Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD" and You forgave the guilt of my sin.” Psalm 32:5.