It was a hectic Wednesday morning, as they often are. I flew out the backdoor — coffee in one hand and makeup in the other. My briefcase was thrown over my shoulder. It was dark, before the sun or anyone in my family had risen.
I was trying to “beat the traffic” to my offfice to get a head-start on a day that was sure to be busy. One that involved work deadlines and an early departure to make it to the Ash Wednesday service on time.
My mind was racing. And my fists clenched the wheel.
As I turned into the office parking lot 25 miles south of our home, my phone rang.
“You have my wallet,” Kory said. “I need it because I have lunch and dinner meetings today, and I don’t have any cash.”
The wallet had hidden itself in the depths of a tiny compartment in the console of the car, the car Kory had driven the day before. I didn’t see it because — well — the sun. It wasn’t up, remember? (This is a little game we often play. Because with three kids and two jobs, we tend to switch cars a lot and both of us are guilty of leaving a trail of things behind when we hand off the keys.)
I stood my ground.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I can’t bring it to you. You’ll have to come get it. I have a really busy day…”
And so on. And so forth.
The details of the conversation are unimportant.
They involved a little back and forth. A little “sizing up” of the calendars. And a little animation. (OK, fine. A lot of animation.)
One thing lead to another. And we were in an all out war.
Apparently, we’re still in middle school.
Even after all these years.
I silenced my phone and threw it in my bag. I had to move on with my day.
And so it continued for 8 solid hours. A wedge between us. An undercurrent of anger and sadness. Words spoken that shouldn’t have been and words remaining that should have been spoken. (Kory did manage to have two square meals though. Because treating is what church people do when the pastor forgets his wallet.)
When I walked into his office at the end of the day, I threw my briefcase on the sofa first, my body second (I still hadn’t met my deadline, and it had been “a day.”) I started to ask him a question about the kids, but he stopped me mid-sentence.
“I’m so sorry for this morning,” he said.
“It was wrong of me to get so frustrated with the fact that you couldn’t bring me my wallet. I should have been more respectful of the busyness of your day too.”
“Will you please forgive me?” he asked, pulling me close for a hug and a kiss on top of my head.
The tension in my body began to melt. The anger began to fade. And the little wound that the morning’s argument had created began to heal.
“Of course I’ll forgive you.”
“Will you forgive me for all the things I said in return?” I asked. “That was wrong of me too. I should have taken the high road.”
This process of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It’s a beautifully hard thing.
We learned it in a parenting class when our oldest was two. And we’ve spent a large portion of our parenting energy teaching it to our kids. It’s what we require when they wrong each other. It’s what we require when they wrong us. And it’s what we require of ourselves when we have wronged them.
We’ve learned through this exercise that asking our children for forgiveness is no easy task. But it’s something we’ve gotten pretty good at. We get a lot of practice.
Asking each other for forgiveness, though?
It’s an all out struggle.
Because “Will you forgive me?”
It’s different than “I’m sorry.”
“I’m Sorry” is for accidents. “I’m Sorry” is to express regret.
And that’s good. It’s where we should start.
But asking for forgiveness is an admission that we did something with the intention of being hurtful. And when we ask for forgiveness instead of state we’re sorry, three things happen.
- We admit our sin.
- We humble ourselves.
- And we relinquish control.
Instead of dictating the conditions under which we apologize, we put ourselves at risk, placing control in the hands of the offended. In the hands of our spouse.
Maybe they’ll say no.
I’ve found, though, that the humility which comes with a confession of sin and a request for forgiveness is good medicine. Both for the offender and the offended. It removes the wedge, it eases the anger, it brings healing to the wound, and it serves as the catalyst for restoration in our relationship. Just as soon as we utter the words.
We’ve never said “no” to a genuine request for forgiveness asked by one of us to the other. Nor would we ever withhold this from someone else. Because we’re always able to move beyond the hurts when we walk through this process together.
It’s not easy.
It doesn’t always happen in an instant.
But it’s so worth it.
What do you say to your spouse? Are you characterized by “I’m sorry,” rather than “Will you forgive me?” If so, would you consider re-charting your course? Changing your language? Trying a new way?
It will feel uncomfortable.
It is humbling.
And there’s risk involved.
But this practice will change the dynamics of your relationship in a powerful way if you will make the commitment to stumble through the process together.
If you’re overwhelmed by the idea of it all, that’s OK. You’ll be breaking old habits and starting new ones. You’ll be practicing a different way of relating to each other, so don’t be hard on yourself. Use some notes to get you started.
A genuine request for forgiveness includes 4 things:
- A statement of regret: “I’m sorry that _______.”
- A confession of sin: “That was wrong of me because ________.”
- A request for forgiveness: “Will you please forgive me?”
- And depending on the circumstances, a statement of restitution: “To make this right, I’m going to ______.”
If you’re willing to dig in with this process, I think you’ll find that conflict resolution will actually become easier. Because when sins are confessed, it changes our heart. When forgiveness is requested, it changes our spouse’s heart. And when we take any needed steps towards restitution, it changes the circumstances. It allows us to bury the offense. As a result, we can move beyond the conflict rather than “stuffing it,” only to resurrect it another day.
This is a good thing.