Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Funny" to Forgive Somebody?

One morning recently, as we were opening at work, somebody inadvertently left out a step.  Beep beep beep.  The alarm sounded. The security company phoned to determine whether the alarm was an accident or something alarming.  My boss answered the phone and jumped through the hoops to verify what needed to be proved.  She concluded with, "I'm sorry.  I forgot to ...." After her brief explanation, she listened for a moment.  And then she started chuckling.

When she got off the phone, she told us that he'd said, "Oh, I forgive you." 

She was amazed by that.  He'd said, "I forgive you."  That was really weird.  WHY would he say, "I forgive you"?  She laughed about that on-and-off for another 15-20 minutes. 

A friend of mine told me that they'd been taught in premarital catechesis not to say, "I'm sorry" and "That's okay."  They'd been told it would be more helpful to say something on the order of "I hurt you" or "I sinned against you" and to respond with "It's forgotten" or "I forgive you for Jesus' sake."

At our house and with my friends, we usually say "I'm sorry" and "That's okay."  Sometimes I feel guilty about that.  It's hard to say "I forgive you" not because the forgiveness is hard.  What's hard is the admission that, yes, what the other person did was just plain wrong and sinful.  It's easier when we act like it's not a big deal, when we sweep it away with "That's okay." 

I know people who are so good about saying "I forgive you."  I want to hear "I forgive you."  But saying it?

What I saw the other day makes me realize that there are two completely different meanings behind "I'm sorry."  One is contrition, and the only response is to forgive.  But most of the time in our country, "I'm sorry" is a polite phrase.  There is no sorrow or grief behind the words.  So "I forgive you" sounds bizarre, funny, maybe even insulting, to those who aren't sorry-from-the-gut when they say "sorry."


  1. "My bad."
    "No biggie."


    I teach my kids (and model for them) to say they are sorry, and to say "I forgive you" because I like to hear it too. They are powerful words that, if nothing else, keep us in mind of Christ.

  2. "I'm sorry" is a puzzling phrase to me. It's more commonly meant to convey sympathy rather than contrition, don't you think? We say it in response to "I have a headache" or "My dog died yesterday". I hear myself saying it too frequently, and have been trying to find different words, because I'm not sure it holds much meaning anymore.

  3. I keep telling myself that "I'm sorry" is an expression of sorrow which IS true when you're sympathizing over someone's headache or a loss they've experienced. I guess I'm looking at the words differently though: I'm more willing to say "I'm sorry" when I'm sad for something that's happened to a neighbor, but I want to say something else to express contrition. Maybe "I apologize" or "I'm sorry I hurt you" or "Please forgive me for what I did."

  4. I don't usually say "I'm sorry" unless I mean by that, "I am sorrowful for what I've done, please forgive me" - and generally, it's what I hear in other people's "I'm sorry" (whether that's what they actually mean or not, I guess I don't know - but it's what I hear).

    It's actually really difficult for me to say or hear from someone else "I'm sorry" but never heard "I forgive you" - or even "It's okay" (which I think amounts to the worldly way of saying, "I won't hold this against you").

    This past year, at work, I've made my share of mistakes. I've watched others cover up their mistakes, blame other people for them, get others in trouble, or just hide them and hope nobody finds out. I am tempted to do that sometimes (who isn't?), but I know I can't.

    So I try to make sure I go to the person who now has to deal with the mistake I made, and I tell them: "I'm sorry." And over and over again, all I hear is: "Yeah, well, do you know what this has cost us? Look at what I have to deal with now. Don't do it again."

    Or some variation on that. I hate that so much.

    And then I have to try hard (and I oftentimes fail) not to resent people who make more mistakes than I do, but who hide their mistakes so well or pass them off onto others so well that they're viewed as a good worker, while I'm viewed as a screw up - all because I fessed up.

    In the world I've seen, I'd be very happy to see a lot more of "I'm sorry" - even as a polite gesture, I think it at least retains some meaning of contrition. Not the full, Churchly, Biblical meaning that you're describing - but at least there's a "foot in the door" (so to speak).

    And at least "That's okay" or "Don't worry about it" are *some* tiny, tiny indication of, "I won't hold this against you - it's forgotten - it's forgiven." Again, it's a shadow of the Truth, but it's... something.

    I hate being in a place where people who fess up and feel some amount of contrition over what they've done (and it's *not* just me, I have seen others) for their mistakes pay for with stern warnings and having their mistakes held against them for the duration of their time there.

    Not only does it make it harder and harder to go back when you make another mistake and say, "I'm sorry" to someone you know in advance will just hold a continually dimmer view of you - it makes it harder not to harbor resentment, as well. And it either fuels the flames of guilt or anger (or sometimes both).

    Anyway... I'm not disagreeing with your post or anything - not at all. This is just something that's been on my mind a lot over the last year, and you touched on it...

    The funny thing is, not only is forgiveness "good theology" - it even makes sense from a worldly standpoint. If a boss is willing to forgive when his employees do something wrong, even if he does have to do something to ensure that mistake doesn't happen again, then I imagine his employees would be more open with him about their mistakes. Instead, I see so much lying and cheating just to cover up... and it hurts the very people who are so stern with those who actually go and fess up for what they've done.

    I guess when confession and absolution is absent from the church, though, it's only a matter of time before it's absent from everywhere else...