We’ve all been there a time or two (or more in one day, I’m guessing). Making excuses tends to delay the inevitable. But what exactly IS the inevitable?
This topic first came to me recently in a series of life-changing events for myself. Through conversations with others in an effort to understand more, I began to notice this pattern was common in other folks as well.
So, what is an excuse? There are quite a few definitions, but the one I want to focus on for the sake of this post is the following:
- an explanation offered as a reason for being excused; a plea offered in extenuation of a fault or for release from an obligation, promise, etc.: His excuse for being late was unacceptable.
I recently wrote about my 18 year old nephew Brendan and the effect his death had on me. I searched for a meaningful way to honor his life and remember him after he died. For me, it was the one thing I hated – running. I mentioned in that post how I lived with and loved my excuses. Why I couldn’t work out or didn’t like it. I guess you could say my desire to honor him was far bigger than any pathetic excuse I could make up. And so I began my journey from walking three miles a day to running three miles a day.
It was because of that turning point in my life that it didn’t just stop with committing to daily exercise. No, it was just the beginning. Just after prayer for the souls in purgatory and offering up that suffering for them, running opened up new ways of thinking. I would often find myself thinking of things that aggravated me while running. It wasn’t that I could do something about it in that moment, but rather, the running itself became an outlet towards frustrations, some of them unsolvable. I would often hop off the treadmill feeling a sense of gratitude for the ability to “vent” in an unusually satisfying way. No longer were tensions, well, tense; but rather they didn’t seem to occupy my mind the rest of the day in the same way.
Running has given me the gift of problem solving stresses and stressors in my life. And because of that, it paved the way for me to address the biggest surprising problem in my life – excuses.
There was one aspect of my life that I came to realize that I allowed myself to become comfortable. It was what led to thinking excuses were normal and somewhat necessary in terms of self preservation. It, in my erroneous thinking, became justified in order to retain some semblance of dignity.
I made the hardest decision of my life to finally face my own elephant in the room of my soul.
Too often, as life events would unfold in my life, I would do one of two things:
- I would either talk through it, which would allow myself to find peace and healing, or
- I would completely ignore the situation, which led to suppressed anger and unresolved issues.
Can you relate?
The sad thing is, it didn’t have to be the second option at all. I found I would often become very guarded about the situations that were ignored. They became far bigger in my head and rented more mental space than they should have, all because I did not tap into any means of real healing.
Then one day I had an epiphany. Was it coincidental that it came about when I decided to pray a 54 day novena to St. Joseph? Did God know my soul was tired of where I was and used the novena to bolster me to a new level of self awareness? Or was it simply that I had become worn down with the way things were and could see the writing on the wall?
Or was God using spiritual, mental, and physical means to let me know it was time for a change? Only time would tell.
I remained resolute as I took inventory of past situations in my own life. The focus became less about being on the receiving end and more about how to respond. How had I responded? How could I respond going forward? What would be the tell-tale difference between the two?
I began to journal and talk things through, which led to uncovering answers. Hope began to emerge. I knew what needed to happen next.
TRUE FORGIVENESS BLOOMS
Seeking or giving, I found that forgiveness had not been given any place to take root in the most important relationships in my life. Excuses had snuffed out any potential for forgiveness in my life, on both ends. For the first time in my life, I realized the crucial role forgiveness plays in our lives. We are commanded to forgive, but how many of us know how to forgive?
We know that there is a Biblical directive to forgive one another, but what that looks like varies from person to person. The following are my suggestions for active forgiveness based upon my own personal situations and can be easily expanded upon.
- Take it to prayer. Whatever transgression has been done, take it to God and place it at His feet. Whatever the outcome may be, thank Him. This step is necessary in laying the groundwork for fruitful forgiveness.
- Go to confession. Before you can reflect on what and who you need to forgive in your life, you need a clean slate. You won’t be able to think clearly or constructively with the effects of unforgiven sins on your soul.
- It’s for you. Forgiveness tends to feel like it’s for (or ought to be for) the other’s benefit, but know that oftentimes, it’s going to be for your healing, not theirs. Life isn’t fair, but grounding yourself in this bit of truth may go a long way in true healing.
- Journal it. Or talk it out, if you have a confessor or loving spouse with whom you can speak openly about things. Writing or talking it through can go a long way in helping you determine what needs to be said and to stay focused.
- Mean it. When you forgive someone or something that’s been done to you, make sure you mean it. Remember, forgiveness is oftentimes for your own benefit. Don’t forgive with any expectations from the transgressor. This does not mean that you necessarily have to verbalize forgiving. Sometimes the hurts can be due to toxic or even dangerous situations. Use your judgement and pursue forgiveness in the way that gives you the healing you need to move forward.
- Let it go. You should feel a sense of peace when you forgive someone, regardless of how they might respond. Remember, you didn’t forgive because you thought you’d get a response from someone. Do it because it’s for you, because it’s what leads to greater healing, and then move on.
AND BE FORGIVEN
Of the two, this one was the harder for me to hone in and finesse into something workable on an everyday basis. If this is the same for you, please know that this is a process. Don’t expect to be able to ask for forgiveness right away. It is an experience that requires a great deal of self awareness, empathy, sympathy, and humility.
So, what does an apology look like?
We’re all different in how we approach the one we’ve hurt, but there are some key points to remember, no matter how you choose to seek reconciliation.
- Take it to prayer. See above.
- Go to confession. See above.
- Journal it. Or reflect on it, or talk about it. Whatever you do, spend some serious time thinking about what you did. Place yourself in the other’s shoes. How do you think your actions affected them? Will you offer an apology or a defense? If you feel defensive, more time is necessary to reflect for a sincere apology. Take your time, but remain resolute.
- Ask the offended person for their time. Don’t just start talking out of the blue about your apology. A well-crafted and authentic apology starts with considering the other person’s dignity FIRST. Tell them you have something you’d like to discuss with them, but on THEIR timeline. Let them know you are earnest to discuss what you did, but let it be THEIR move to open the conversation.
- Do not, and I repeat DO NOT give a defense for your actions. When you apologize, nothing sounds more like “I don’t mean what I’m saying” or “your feelings are completely invalid” than giving a litany of why you did what you did. Don’t do it. DO NOT. An apology is sincere, admits to what was wrong, offers no defense or explanation (to start), and seeks to heal. Anything missing any one of those points is not a true apology and does not seek to reconcile, but self serve. No one wants to hear why you did something. That may be a possible conversation down the road. In the moment of the apology, treat it like you would in the confessional. State what you did and that you are deeply sorry for what you did. Again, I will say it – do not offer a defense for your actions.
- It’s for the person you wronged…and for you. Authentic forgiveness means you get it. You offer no excuses for your behavior. You can see the effects that will come from reconciliation and this motivates you to seek that bridge of healing.
Don’t wait until a tragedy hits your family to seek forgiveness. Likewise, don’t let your pride get in the way of saying what needs to be said. Sweeping hurts and wrongs under the rug, just makes for a really strange room with a huge lump in the rug. Silence can be deafening. Yes, some issues can be left unaddressed (provided they are small issues), but repeated or big offenses need to be addressed swiftly and with Christian charity.
Whatever side you land on, know that if you have taken prayerful steps to discerning how to go about forgiving or being forgiven, you have made taken a huge step in making things right in those relationships. This is especially important in the closest relationships we have: as children, as parents, and even with our spouse. These are the relationships to continually strive to seek peace. Even if all you can do is pray for those relationships, do something that adds to the healing.
You won’t regret the time you put toward those relationships.