“Forgive me. Please, forgive me. Forgive me, I was wrong. Forgive me for the hurt I’ve caused you. I’m really sorry. Forgive me.”
That’s how Pastor Steve began his sermon. He said that when he counsels engaged couples, he tells them we’re all sinners, they are both sinners, and life together will get messy. He reminded the congregation how much we enjoy God’s grace and forgiveness, but we aren’t as generous when it comes to forgiving each other. The phrase “passive aggressive” was used.
My husband, with whom I will celebrate 32 years of marriage next month, was seated next to me, hearing the same sermon.
I grew uncomfortable.
Neither of us said anything on the drive home. It’s not unusual for us to be silent in each other’s company. It’s the way he’s wired. Me too.
My husband was an Eagle Scout, a science fair prize winner, and is an ISTJ (Introversion Sensing Thinking Judgment) according to the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator. He’s a sought-after engineer. He withdraws into his mind and comes across as detached, sometimes. His low key demeanor is familiar. It’s the way my family did feelings when I was growing up. My husband is a good man, and, a bonus, he’s a cat-lover.
Nevertheless, about 20 years ago, when he was out of the country on a business trip, I split. I’d moved some of our furniture, my clothing, and our Siamese cat to an apartment I’d rented in another town. I gave my husband the news one evening when he called me.
“I’m shocked,” I recall him saying.
We reunited within a year. I’ve thought about how I would feel if the roles had been reversed. And worse, how I might act toward him if I’d been abandoned. We haven’t discussed that big wrinkle in our relationship much. Although I might have said I’m sorry at some point, I’ve never asked him to forgive me. This unfinished business has been festering in me.
That day after Pastor Steve’s “Forgive Me” sermon, my husband and I were sitting at the kitchen table, eating lunch, and leafing through the Sunday paper. Our current cat, insisting on being petted, plucked my chair cushion with her claws. She never gives up – pluck, pluck, pluck – until I scratch her neck.
I’ve never asked a human being to forgive me. My throat swelled shut. My face felt hot.
When I reached across the table and grabbed the comics section, I accidentally dragged the newspaper through the catsup on my husband’s meatloaf.
“Sorry,” I said.
He looked at me meaningfully. “You’re forgiven.” It was meant as an inside joke, referencing the sermon.
Pluck, pluck, pluck. I had to say it.
“Will you forgive me for leaving you?”
“That happened a long time ago,” he replied.
“I mean I forgave you a long time ago,” he said.
“Oh!” I giggled nervously. Head bowed, I peered at him and saw that he was deep inside his head again. I thought perhaps he was mustering the courage to say something profoundly emotional, or to ask me to forgive him for having contributed to my perceived need to split.
What he said was, “The cat wants to taste your meatloaf.”
I felt let down. Our poignant moment had dissolved so quickly. We were back to the mundane stuff that probably makes up the majority of conversations in marriages.
I am grateful that, after two decades of my avoiding the topic, the Holy Spirit empowered me to ask for the forgiveness I’d needed to ask for.
Thank you, Jesus.