As Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong."
No matter how good our intentions, we all mess up from time to time, often resulting in someone else being hurt or offended. When this happens, even though the offense may have been accidental, it is vital that we react quickly by asking or even begging for forgiveness. Doing so is the best hope of protecting and preserving the relationship. Christian men and women should be especially motivated to do so by the words and encouraging quotes of Jesus. Highlighting its importance, he said, "If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24, NIV).
Christianity is about forgiveness through and through, so you should spare no time in seeking it if you have done something wrong. However, many people find the act of seeking forgiveness can be an embarrassing, humbling experience. As a result, your tendency may be to put it off and hope the problem simply goes away. Despite the discomfort you may feel, though, seeking forgiveness is always worth it. Otherwise, the relationship may be destroyed, your stress levels may skyrocket, your future encounters will be uncomfortable, and your reputation can be damaged. With those reasons providing motivation, consider these five steps to seeking forgiveness.
1. Take responsibility for your actions.
By taking responsibility, you recognize that it is up to you to make things right. Do not wait for the other person to come to you; you must take the initiative. Otherwise, the problem may never be resolved. This definitely takes a lot of strength of character, but taking responsibility is the perfect way to prove to yourself and others that you are strong. As Gandhi said, "The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong." Jesus was not alone in placing such a high importance on forgiveness. Spiritual traditions all around the world agree on its importance.
2. Acknowledge and apologize for what you have said or done.
Any attempt to rationalize or justify the offense will inevitably backfire on you. Instead of trying to convince the other person that you were justified in what you did, admit it honestly and offer an apology. Keep it simple and clear, such as, "I hurt you and I should not have. I am sorry."
3. Make restitution whenever possible.
If you have damaged property or cost someone money, repay him or her with interest. If you have spread gossip and damaged a person's reputation, do whatever you can to set the record straight. If restitution is not possible, a sincere apology is still warranted. Even though it may not make up for the offense, a small gift (such as a bouquet of flowers) may be appreciated as a token of your remorse.
4. Make sure you do not repeat the offense.
Apologizing is good; making sure you do not repeat the offense is even better. Committing one offense may be an anomaly--an action that is out of character for the offender. If that describes your situation, you will likely not struggle with repeating the offense in the future. However, if you have a habit of committing the same offense over and over again, you will need to learn some self-discipline. If your words tend to offend, learn to control what you say or simply keep your mouth shut. If your peer group pressures you to commit offenses, find new friends. Take precautions, establish some boundaries, and ask someone you trust to hold you accountable. If the problem persists, seek professional counseling.
5. Do it now without delay.
When you put off seeking forgiveness, you allow time for the wound to fester. The person you hurt can transition from hurt feelings to anger to bitterness in a relatively short period of time. Deal with the offense before the problem progresses. By being proactive in addressing the issue, you can minimize the potential damage.
Whatever offense you have committed, take the necessary steps to seek forgiveness. Ideally, your humility and vulnerability will allow for a reconciliation. The relationship may even emerge from the situation stronger than ever. However, if your efforts are rejected, your conscience can be clear and you can sleep easy at night knowing that you have fulfilled your responsibility.