In Part 3 of the “Fall Into Forgiveness” series, we looked at forgiveness as an ever-present reality. This begs the question: when, if ever, is it appropriate to ask for forgiveness?
To answer that question, let’s start with a brief reminder of what forgiveness is in concrete terms. Forgiveness is letting go of guilt and animosity so you can freely live the life you were meant to live. This means forgiveness is more about you than it is about the other person.
Yes, you can experience a fraction of freedom when forgiveness is granted to you by someone you’ve wronged. However, if you haven’t also forgiven yourself, you aren’t truly free. We’ll talk more specially about how we can learn to forgive ourselves in a later post, but for now I simply want to call your attention to the personal nature of forgiveness.
Think of it this way: just because you ask someone for forgiveness, doesn’t mean they will grant it to you. If someone granting you forgiveness was a requirement for you to be forgiven, you could spend your entire life waiting. That’s why it’s important to always be aware of your ability to forgive yourself at any time.
So, what’s the point of asking for forgiveness and when should one ask? Asking for forgiveness is a ritual that helps us put words to our desires. It’s not so much the thing as it is a symbol of the thing. It’s not the noun; it’s the verb.
Rituals help us concretize the abstract. Meaning, if letting go of your guilt seems unattainable, the ritual of asking makes it feel more real. Asking for forgiveness gives you a tangible action to help you process and subsequently let go of emotions that, if held for too long, can be harmful.
Yet, it’s important to note that it might not always be possible to make the ask. For instance, if someone has passed away or you no longer have contact with a person for whatever reason, you may not be able to ask directly for their forgiveness. You may simply have to work toward forgiving yourself.
This is one instance where I believe religious rituals, such as prayer or confession, can be healing. Sometimes asking a loving God or a compassionate priest to forgive you can provide relief when you cannot ask the person you’ve wronged. Keep in mind, though, forgiveness is the posture of the Divine. You are already forgiven by God, so this is not a requirement to save yourself from some eternal punishment. The religious ritual of asking for forgiveness is just that – a ritual.
I would never encourage someone to ask for forgiveness because they feel pressured to ask or have been told it’s “the right thing to do.” You won’t actually experience the freedom of forgiveness if you’re not sincere. So, when you ask, be sure you’re truly ready to let go. And remember, forgiveness is not about appeasing God or anyone else. It’s about releasing you.
Additionally, asking for forgiveness may not always be appropriate. For example, you may have had an unkind thought towards someone and, as a result, you are experiencing guilt. However, this person is unaware of your unkind thought and therefore does not feel wronged.
In this situation, asking for forgiveness to relieve your guilt may inadvertently heap emotional baggage onto them or stir up unnecessary drama. If freeing yourself is going to put someone else in chains, I’d encourage you to seriously evaluate your decision to ask them for forgiveness. Sometimes (not always!) it’s best to work out your own guilt apart from the person you’ve wronged.
Whether or not asking for forgiveness is possible or appropriate for your situation is ultimately up to you. Remember, though, forgiveness is personal. You don’t necessarily need someone to say you’re forgiven in order to experience the freedom of forgiveness.
At this point, you may be wondering what happens if you don’t let go of your guilt and animosity. We’ll be talking about all of that and more in Part 5 of “Fall Into Forgiveness.” Don’t miss it!