Some Practical Problems in Forgiveness - Part 2

Forgiveness without an Apology

by Amy Alexander

The worst punishment I ever received growing up was Mom's "apology essay" assignment.  Whenever I committed an offense, Mom would task me with a writing project beginning at 100 words and growing (exponentially, in my case) if I remained defiant.  Being the stubborn teen that I was, my apology essays were usually in the thousands of words.  The worst part was that I was not allowed to write "I'm sorry" repeatedly.  Mom required full explanations of guilt and repentance in the apology essay and how behavior would be different in the future.

As a result, I subconsciously began to believe that an eloquent apology was a prerequisite for forgiveness.  The injured party would reach a point in which he or she was willing to accept apology offers for consideration, much like employment or home sale negotiations.  The offender's goal was to woo the offendee with her remorseful attitude.  The wronged person would accept only full apologies, and anything less was like an incomplete contract.

Here's a melodramatic example from Anne of Green Gables, one of my favorite childhood books:

“Oh, Mrs. Lynde, I am so extremely sorry,” she said with a quiver in her voice. “I could never express all my sorrow, no, not if I used up a whole dictionary. You must just imagine it. I behaved terribly to you ... I’m a dreadfully wicked and ungrateful girl, and I deserve to be punished and cast out by respectable people forever. ... Oh, Mrs. Lynde, please, please, forgive me. If you refuse it will be a lifelong sorrow ... Please say you forgive me, Mrs. Lynde.”

My senior year in college, I ran into a roadblock with my concept of apologies and forgiveness when I did not receive the apology I thought I deserved.  In a glass working class, I created a glass vase of which I was very proud.  I planned to enter it in the student spring art exhibition.  It sat on the window sill in my dorm room for weeks, the sun shining through the colored glass, making dancing spots on the floor.

When I walked into my room after spring break, the vase was still on the window sill, but it was in pieces.My roommate explained that one of her parents had accidentally broken it.I was livid, mostly because I had received no apology.I drew the broken pieces with colored pencil, and in this alternate reality, I sketched an apology note to go beside it.I named the drawing "The Apology" and entered the piece in the art fair instead.My art teachers always told me that my work had great emotion attached to it.

Concentration camp survivor Corrie ten Boom writes about forgiveness as breaking the "shackles of selfishness."  Although Anne of Green Gables was being forced to apologize and I was feeling bereft of an apology, we had something in common.  Both of us were focused on ourselves, not the goal of restoring peace.  While a sincere apology is helpful in the forgiveness process, ultimately we should not rely on an act from the other party as part of the deal.