The first weekend in October is two weeks away. In 14 days from now, my life is going to dramatically change. I will never be the same. The year is 1976.
My fiancé and future wife, Carol and I will be attending a marriage preparation program called Engaged Encounter (EE). Father Gallagher, the priest we have asked to witness our vows, has requested that we attend this marriage preparation. I do not want to go, but Father has kept insisting that our attendance must come first before making all the arrangements for the ceremony. Reluctantly, I agree to comply.
A week later, Carol informs me that we need to send our deposit. What?! Deposit? I hit the roof at the revelation that we have to pay for something in which I was already not a willing participant. All because of our priest. All I want to do is get married and not be bothered with all of the instructions, I assume, they are going to tell us. After all, Carol and I have our marriage figured out – at least that is my thinking. Swirling around in my head is the contentious question, ‘Who do they think they are to tell us how to be married?’ The query remains unanswered because I do not voice my discontent.
We arrive at the Seton Center, originally a home for nuns, where our EE weekend is being held. Most probably you are familiar with courtroom jargon, including the term ‘hostile witness.’ I am a bit more than just merely hostile. Pouring a cup of coffee and turning to Carol, I say, “Well, that’s 50 cents worth.” Today I am extremely embarrassed to reveal my negative attitude about being required to attend and pay for pre-marital preparation.
The couples and presenting priest gather in the meeting room where introductions are made. The weekend begins. Surprisingly to me, my negative posture vanishes fairly soon. Decades later, I am no longer amazed when things I resist later become what I embrace. Such is the case with Engaged Encounter.
Looking back over my entire life, I can say truthfully that our EE weekend, over four decades ago, still ranks as one of my most important experiences. Life-changing. Powerful and effective. Many important principles that were revealed to Carol and me have been incorporated into our married life. Carol and I do have a great marriage. But, even today, many years later, we understand the importance of working to make it great. And much of the fruit of our effort is possible when we utilize the relationship principles taught in that EE retreat.
One topic was on forgiveness. What I learned from that experience is what I now call the forgiveness principle. A major, fundamental point was made distinguishing between the words, ‘I’m sorry,’ and the plea, ‘Please forgive me.’ Prior to Engaged Encounter, the only phrase I can ever remember speaking to another person when I had been in the wrong, was, ‘I am sorry.’ And it was rare for me to say even that much.
What I discovered from EE was that the words ‘I’m sorry’allows the person making the apology to remain in control. That certainly described me accurately because I did not want to lose control. Asking for forgiveness and saying ‘I am sorry’represent very different approaches. The full measure of the difference between the statement and the plea occurred the first time I asked Carol to forgive me. Putting her in charge of forgiveness created a sense of vulnerability – a whole new experience for me in the healing process.
When you wrong someone, the ill-treated person needs to have the option to forgive, or, not to forgive. While telling someone ‘I am sorry’is better than not saying anything at all, control is maintained by the person causing the grievance. The evolution of a whole new understanding was revealed to me, and over time, I discovered that the very act of asking for forgiveness from my beloved wife actually enhanced our relationship. In the midst of the challenging moments of our partnership, here was a solid principle for deepening our marriage.
When Carol did forgive me, which she always did, there was real healing. I felt whole. I felt like we were again back in relationship. Implementation of this principle is difficult, but the resulting harmony and unity are worthwhile. Real intimacy occurs.
If you have never said the words, ‘Please forgive me’, be sure to use them the next time you have wronged someone. You will understand the difference, almost immediately. You will have an increased awareness of your relationship with that individual. You will achieve a sense of peace – things really being right – when the other person grants your request.
‘I am sorry’ can be likened to simply saying, ‘Well, excuse me.’ It’s surprising that changing a few words can be so much more powerful and effective in our lives. What a difference between asking a question versus making a statement. Vulnerability versus control. Our choice of words has real power. Words can hurt and cause pain. But, they also can challenge, encourage and heal. Which words do you want to choose? How do you want to approach the important people surrounding you? What relationship needs more work? When will you begin?
The forgiveness principle. To seek absolution from another person by requesting, ‘Please forgive me,’ is an act of love. It is saying to another person that I recognize my own power to hurt because of our close relationship. This timeless wisdom provides a way to communicate our wholehearted desire to be a better person – to be vulnerable. With this understanding, I recognize that the other person owns my forgiveness, not me.
A successful life is only possible through positive relationships which are created over time by practice of timeless principles. Close relationships are often messy, challenging and sometimes painful. A path to healing and growth is through the ageless principle of forgiveness.
The next time you need to work on healing a relationship, start with true forgiveness.
Will you please forgive me?