Repentance: Will You Forgive Me?
The best repentance is a life well lived.
The literal meaning of repentance is "to turn". In practical terms it usually means we feel some kind of contrition or regret for something that we have done. We may even want to try and find a way to make amends for what we did. Perhaps also we would like some kind of reconciliation with the those who we have harmed, or perhaps we feel too ashamed to face them - at least for the time being.
Whether the other person will forgive us or not is something outside of our control. They may forgive us and we can move on. However, it is not wise to be totally dependent on the other person. They may not be a forgiving person - or they must just not be ready to forgive at this time. In this case, if we depend on them forgiving us in order to have peace of mind, or to have some kind of completion or closure about the event, then we may wait in vain.
However, there is a way out of this dilemma. We can still at least forgive ourselves; even if the other person(s) are not wiling to forgive us. If we want to make amends and the other person is not willing to have anything to do with us then we can create some kind of act generosity or kindness to another - doing so anonymously - and that can be a sort of proxy for our making amends.
If we are a religious person, we may yearn for God's forgiveness as part of our repentance. However, how do we know that God has condemned us and how will we know if, or when, God has forgiven us? The simple fact is that we do not know whether God has condemned us, but we do know that we have condemned ourselves. Therefore it is within our own heart and mind that we must start the process of seeking God's forgiveness. To paraphrase and old saying: The best repentance is a life well lived.
Unless there is something we can do directly for those we harmed, the best way to make amends for any wrong we have done is to lead a good and fruitful life. Usually when we harm others it is because we have been too caught up in ourselves to realise what harm we were causing. If we become obsessed with self blame it is just more of the same type of self obsession of which get us into trouble in the first place. We need to be less concerned with ourselves and more concerned with the people around us. We need to be more concerned with forgiving others than getting forgiveness for ourselves. As we focus on creating good relationships with others many of our self-centered dilemmas fall away.
Repentance can many feelings of self blame and self recrimination. These feeling are helpful if they cause us to reflect on our actions and change our behavior towards others in positive ways. However, if we are just torn by bad feelings, but this is not causing us to make inner changes, then these feelings are simply destructive. They diminish us as a person and what we can contribute to the world. If this goes on too long then everyone around us may be negatively affected by our low self worth. Or, it may be that we have gone in to hiding and avoiding other people. In either case our contribution to life becomes very low.
I do not mention this to make anyone feel bad; on the contrary. I mention it because it points out something very important about self forgiveness. Self forgiveness is a very UN-SELFISH thing to do as everyone around us benefits from it. It awakens our ability to forgive others and our capacity to give creatively and be engaged positively with the world. We therefore benefit the people around us because of our positive attitude; rather than bringing them down owing to an attitude of self condemnation and self blame.
When we repent our mistakes, whether not the others concerned have forgiven us, we always need to address the issue of forgiving ourselves. We can also take it as an opportunity to look at anyone we need to learn to forgive. Having seen how easy it is to make a mistake and hurt another; we can use this painful lesson for the good and become have more empathy for those who have harmed us - and therefore find it easier to forgive them.
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William Fergus Martin