Have you ever wondered why we feel like we need to apologize so much? When we do something wrong we often tell the person we’ve offended sorry several times. They tell us “it’s okay” or “no problem” and yet we still feel the need to say sorry just one more time.
When I lived in the convent we had this practice of every night asking each other for forgiveness for things we had done throughout the day that effected the others. Most of the time it was for being late to prayer or something similar. But we didn’t just say, it’s okay. We collectively said, “You’re forgiven, Sister [insert name here].” Community also had the habit of saying those specific words if a sister asked for your forgiveness on a one on one basis. So if I did something stupid and said I was sorry it was habit for sisters to say the words “I forgive you or you are forgiven.” Sometimes I would forget when a sister asked me for forgiveness and, out of habit, say “it’s okay” but the sister would keep apologizing until I finally said the word forgiveness. It wasn’t because she was trying to get me to say the words consciously. It was a subconscious grasping for absolution.
The words “I forgive you” have an immense power to them. They say, yes you did wrong and I accept that, but I am choosing to forgive you despite the fact that I don’t agree with what you did. It’s much more powerful to tell someone that you forgive them rather than just brush off whatever they did. Most of the time, at least for me, when I say “it’s okay” I don’t mean it. Most of the time it’s not okay. The great thing about actually saying the words of forgiveness is that you aren’t telling the person what they did was okay. You are choosing to love them in their weakness.
Each and every one of us is weak. We’re human. We fall. We mess up. Forgiveness is about recognizing that, accepting it, and loving people in their brokenness. It’s about entering into God’s merciful love for each of us, letting that love flow through you to another person. It’s about realizing that no one is perfect and allowing them not to be.
I want to encourage myself and each of you to start using the actual words of forgiveness. It’s incredible how those simple words can transform relationships, families, and communities. There is a reason we need to hear the words. It’s part of the reason we need the sacrament of confession. As humans we need to physically hear with our ears that we are forgiven for it to actually sink in, for us to actually accept it and be able to forgive ourselves.
So, let’s start apologizing and granting people forgiveness and watch how our world changes one word at a time. It might take time to get into the habit, but it will be worth it.