I just want to hear her say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?”
So I wait for those words – the words, that like an incantation, will make the fury all go away. I let the stillness come over me, holding out my palms, desperate to unclench them. I want open, supple hands that are hands of welcome, refuge, and encouragement. I want my hands to hug and console.
Instead, my fists clench tighter and I dig my fingernails into the flesh. My palms receive my frustration and anger, and bitterness sinks into the grooves my fingernails leave.
But the answer leaves me tight-fisted. The repentance is a shallow, “I’m sorry, but…” with a litany of lists and explanation. I’m hollow and left with a strange feeling of distance. Feeling just a little bit lost, like I can’t find my way home anymore. And I realize, I don’t think I can even imagine what repentance might look like. At least not here, not now.
There’s been too many years of walls – where arguments went underground and then exploded like grenades, with a spewing of scattered wreckage. Then, noiselessly, the carnage was sanitized and swept away. We averted our eyes from the horror inside each of us. Because it just felt safer that way.
Instead, I imagine what repentance might really look like, where it “sounds like truth and feels like courage” (Brené Brown). A few weeks ago, I had the chance to be on the other end, the one being called to make amends. My stomach dropped, my face flushed red and I felt that familiar wash of shame.
A friend’s invitation to truth looked different than the wreckage of a war. In my friend’s faltering voice and wet eyes, the hard walk of forgiveness looked like tears and deep care for me and our relationship. It looked like a blessing instead of a curse.
I remembered my sin was nothing to be ashamed of. My failure was simply another occasion for courage. My insensitivity could the prelude into deeper relationship. And more than shame that night, I felt the rising bravery of a friend who cared enough to call me out. Her care wrapped me in blankets.
“Will You Forgive Me?”
My words tumbled out, words that I usually feel so hard-pressed to admit. “I’m so, so sorry.” “You are so brave to talk to me.” “Thank you for telling me.” “What else can I do?” And instead of leaving my lament hanging in the air, piling “I’m sorry” on top of “I’m sorry,” and wanting to pay penance for my sins, I asked the question that leaves a gulf wide open between two people: “Will you forgive me?”
I teach my children the same thing; that it’s not enough to just say the words, “I’m sorry.” When we repent, we put ourselves into the supple hands of another. We own up to our brokenness, we bear boldly our faults. And then we leave our faults hanging there in the middle space. We drop them there and we pause and we wait. We wait for healing. We wait for another to bear our burden and to fall on the grenade. The words “I forgive you” cushions the blow and lessens the wreckage. My friend both shared her pain and bore it bravely. No little words of mine could heal her hurt. No promises towards perfect behavior could really atone for my sin. She took it, in some measure, on herself and granted me a gift. She did not hold my errors against me.
So we hugged goodbye with tears in our eyes. And instead of shame or a new list of better behaviour, I breathed in the grace of being forgiven. And my hands were open.
*I’m indebted to my former pastor, Sam Wheatley, for the “falling on the grenade” metaphor.
Ashley Hales holds a PhD in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing around her four children and helping her husband plant a church. Her writing has appeared in Books & Culture, (in)courage, Think Christian and other places. She writes at Circling the Story and The Mudroom, and loves to make friends on Twitter. Be sure to get your free 20 minutes of “story therapy” when you join the storytellers on her blog.
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(Picture Sources: Ashley Hales)
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