From the beginning of time we have been told we must forgive others in order to progress. We stew over those who have wronged us, we struggle to set aside offenses. We know we don’t have to wait for apologies, that holding a grudge hurts us more than them. Hundreds of talks and lessons are available on this topic.
But much less is said about the other side of the coin: The fact that we are sometimes the offender, the person who should apologize. It’s much easier to position ourselves as the wronged victim. Nobly we perch on this pedestal of righteousness, lick our wounds and try to be magnanimous, to finally set aside our collection of other people’s wrongdoings.
Maybe it’s time we stop kidding ourselves, stopped tapping our foot as we wait for others to come and apologize. Maybe we’ve inflicted more hurt than we realize, and we need to ask others to forgive us. Aha—suddenly the task looks much harder, doesn’t it?
To apologize sincerely, we have to humble ourselves, and that’s one of the least popular tasks among humankind. We have to take responsibility, admit we were stupid, weak, selfish, or thoughtless, and own up to what we did. Ouch.
We also have to take responsibility and be accountable. That means paying or repairing or somehow trying to make up for the damage done, if such a thing is even possible. If you destroyed a person’s reputation, how can you restore it? If you cost someone their job, how can you replace it? If you wounded their soul, how can you bandage it? Many of the sins which impact other people cannot be fixed by buying them a replacement, or turning back time. But when we can reimburse or reinstate, we should.
Saying you’re sorry also requires risk that the other person won’t forgive you at all. You may go through considerable anguish and humiliation, only to have them kick sand in your face. And that’s their right. It doesn’t make it wrong to have admitted your mistake, but not everyone is ready to move on when we wish they were.
We also need to apologize when no wrong was intended, but hurt feelings resulted. Many of us resist this kind of apology because it implies an admission of guilt. But we should at the very least say we’re sorry for what resulted, even if our intentions were innocent.
Think about how you’ve felt when someone else has apologized to you. You could see the pain in their eyes, even the discomfort of admitting an unkind act. Weren’t you pleasantly surprised, maybe even impressed with their courage and sincerity? It softens our heart just to know they cared enough to try to set things right again. We often thank people who apologize to us—we appreciate their realization of a hurt, and equally appreciate how hard it was to come forward. You are likely to encounter the same generosity of spirit if you step forward to beg for forgiveness.
Apologizing to those around us is good practice for when we most need to do it: When we repent. Apologizing to the Lord for breaking covenants, letting him down, forgetting him, not doing our best—these are apologies we should be uttering frequently. We all fall short of perfect behavior, and that’s one reason why we need to attend each Sunday, and renew our baptismal covenants by taking the Sacrament. Who among us has no need to repent each week?
Besides cleansing ourselves, the act of begging forgiveness of our Heavenly Father will never be greeted with scorn or kicked sand. In fact, our chest can flood with relief as we feel the love and comfort awaiting the changed heart. Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost all rejoice when we choose to humble ourselves and genuinely say we’re sorry. It’s a reaction that will never disappoint. Mortals may not forgive so easily, but God always will.
We would do well to model our own reactions after theirs: When someone has the courage to step up and admit they wronged us, we should rejoice in their progress, their real change of heart, and be willing to let go of all resentment. To continue to bear a grudge shifts the blame to us, and blocks us from being forgiven ourselves.
I like what C. Scott Grow said in April Conference of 2011, in his talk, The Miracle of the Atonement: “As you consider your own life, are there things that you need to change? Have you made mistakes that still need to be corrected? If you are suffering from feelings of guilt or remorse, bitterness or anger, or loss of faith, I invite you to seek relief. Repent and forsake your sins. Then, in prayer, ask God for forgiveness. Seek forgiveness from those you have wronged. Forgive those who have wronged you. Forgive yourself.”
There is nothing in this world as incredible as the Atonement that Christ wrought for each one of us. Humbly repenting— forsaking the “old us” for a permanently new one—yields the sweetest fruit one could ever desire. And whether others around us choose to forgive us or not, we know God will always forgive, and we will feel the blessing of peace in doing right when we honestly ask forgiveness and say we’re truly sorry.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.