I Ask Forgiveness

I’m only an averagely religious person.  I don’t attend church every week.  I do believe in God, without having that clear a definition of what/who God is.  The nature of God is a rather large subject for research, so large that the result of it may always be pending for me.  I can live with that.  I also have plenty of doubts on a regular basis.

One thing I find useful in coping with my own limitations is the practice of following the progression from prayer to confession to asking forgiveness.  You don’t have to believe in God to follow this practice.  It works just as well even if you only believe in trying to take better care of yourself.  All prayer is (for me) is a process of trying to quiet my mind and be still before opening myself to contemplation.  Then I try to take a second look at what I’ve been up to.  That helps me become aware of unintentional mistakes, and makes it easier to face the things I’ve done wrong out of ignorance, cowardice or other weaknesses.  I want to be a better, more generous, more ethical, more loving person.  So I ask forgiveness for what I’ve done wrong.  And I try to forgive anyone who has done wrong to me (intentionally or unknowingly).

For persons of faith, the next step in the ritual is to be granted absolution, which is to say you are granted forgiveness along with the reassurance it won’t cost you in karma/God points, so long as you try and do better from now on.  In that intention, you will fail unless you happen to be spectacularly saintly.  I am not; therefore it’s a daily practice for me.  I do it wherever I happen to be.  To wait until I was in church again would be too long a wait.  If you follow the three steps, you will feel like you’ve been forgiven even if nobody of official capacity is there to seal the deal. Try it!  It WORKS.

Another version of the same process of self-examination, submission and the making of amends is Twelve Step programs, of which there are about 200 types of fellowships.  The main difference in these is a greater emphasis upon the inclusion of more experienced adherents as sponsors, and the responsibility of helping others in recovery as you grow stronger.  You don’t have to be an addict to see the value of working the steps.

The most important of the three steps I follow is the part where I ask forgiveness.  If you happen to be too busy to go through all three steps, fine.  Just skip to #3.  The effectiveness of this kind of shortcut was brilliantly illustrated in Herb Gardner’s 1962 play A Thousand Clowns.  In the play (and 1965 film) an unemployed writer walks up to strangers and tells them, “I’m sorry.”   No one asks him what he’s sorry for, and everyone finds a way to say, “That’s ok mister.”  Nobody knows the transgression, but everybody has been trespassed against, and they STILL want to grant forgiveness in order to liberate the man who apologizes.  In doing so, they also liberate themselves from the weight of whatever injustice was done to them.  I love learning this way, from plays and movies.  I’ll bet you have favorite scenes from your own experience.  Let me know about some.

And since I know I’m going to speak immoderately at times, or in ignorance, or anger and inadvertently cause offense to some of you, dear readers – I ask ahead of time…

Will you forgive me?



Filed under Ethics and Morality

7 responses to “I Ask Forgiveness

  1. Granting forgiveness is usually pretty easy. Asking it is harder. Repentance is the most difficult of all. How many times have we promised to do better from then on, only to notice we’ve done the same exact thing again to ourselves, someone else, or even the same person we asked forgiveness from in the first place?

    And yet, in a Christian sense, forgiveness is always waiting no matter how many times you screw up. It’s mind-blowing.

  2. Tesh

    Forgiving tends to be as cleansing as being forgiven, if not more so. Holding a grudge doesn’t hurt the other person nearly as much as it hurts the grudge holder, after all.

    That Christians are *commanded* to “forgive all men” is a pretty clear indicator it’s important.

    What’s the secular variant? Something like “he who takes offense when none is meant is a fool, he who takes offense when it is meant is still a fool”.

  3. You are correct about the religious injunction, which is true within other religions as well. I also agree with you that forgiveness is as psychologically useful even for the non-religious (who still have a need to be ethical).

  4. fromhousewifetofilmmaker

    I totally agree with the process of prayer, confession, and asking forgiveness. It is the steps I too follow as well it’s just that my language is slightly different for confession. That I would call being honest. Which is vital because a person that is not honest can’t get in touch with what they need to forgive.

    And I agree one doesn’t have to believe in God for the process to work. It works whether they do or not.
    Theresa Jane

  5. Jakeypoo

    But don’t you see how shallow and self-serving it is to ask for and accept forgiveness from God when it’s the privilege of the person you harmed to grant you forgiveness? Your guilt and anguish will be assuaged but the person you harmed will continue to hurt. And with your guilty feeling diminished or even absolved, what motivation would you have to make amends towards the person whom you owe the decision to forgive you?

    Excuse, forget, rationalize, or accept your transgressions, but don’t delude yourself about being forgiven when no such thing occured.

    • Eh, well, I’m not sure it’s possible to be “selfless” if you seek to heal a hurt you bear. To me, forgiveness needs to be all round. I don’t agree that forgiveness is exclusively the privilege of the one the harm is done to. Some may withhold forgiveness merely to “hit back”, and that resentment hurts the one who withholds. If someone DOES forgive you, but you don’t forgive YOURSELF (assuming you really have contrition for the act), you remain in self-imposed, harmful imprisonment. If they don’t forgive you, it is STILL better for you to have made the attempt. The person you hurt may remain hurt (some consequences are permanent), but you will be less likely to re-offend. But I accept your point about misusing the process to allow further bad behavior. The motive to make amends is because, if you are trying to be ethical (ok, that’s a big IF), it’s the right thing to do. I do agree about the need to see things as they are, but I think that is a lifetime learning process. As I wrote in “More is Not Better”, we are all ruled by our own VESTED INTEREST. Thank you for your insightful contribution, JPoo.

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