Wednesday, April 25, 2007

confession and forgiveness

i have a lot of thoughts brewing on this as liam and i are doing some deep work here. i think we've uncovered something that i haven't heard anyone write on or talk about before. i'm trying to see if it resonates "out in the real world" or if it's just between us...

becoming un-meshed has been part of working my program these past couple of months. i have lived vicariously through liam for our whole 23 years together. it started because of bad theology and coming from a family of addictive behavior - but it's not working for either of us and i have found that being intentional in this regard is helping so much.

becoming un-meshed has allowed for so much more clarity in our interactions and i have spotted some areas recently that have consistently tied us into knots for the whole of our married lives. one of those massive tangles comes in the area of confession and forgiveness.

i will try to write about this with respect to liam's story being his own - but so you know that the areas that do touch his story are added with his blessing.

as i've written before my dearest husband is one of the gentlest souls i know. he would never intentionally hurt me, or anyone else i think. he struggles with intention and has to work very hard to live in that space. it is his virtue and his vice. one of the ways in which this manifests is that because he never intentionally hurts me he assumes that he hasn't hurt me.

therein lies the rub. what we have untangled here is an area that goes to the root of one of the miscommunication areas we regularly find ourselves in. i am injured, he is confused, he is sad i am injured and apologies to me.

looks like it's working - but it's not. this is the knot we have had to unravel in the past few months and it finally twisted free the other day.

i was finally able to listen to the words he used and actually heard his apology. he said "i'm so sorry that i hurt your feelings" - i realized at that moment it sounded an awful lot like so many of his other apologies - "i'm" what i realized is that his apology wasn't dealing with his behavior - but my response to his behavior.

i asked if we could stop the current conversation and deal with the over-problem that i saw that was bringing this issue up so frequently lately. he agreed and i tried to explain what i saw.

instead of apologizing for the behavior that hurt me liam was apologizing for my feeling badly - so i had been actually forgiving him for me feeling badly. instead of apologizing for his own actions he was really obtusely saying "i'm sorry that you're fragile" or "i'm sorry that you aren't strong enough to weather this" - i truly believe that this is an area that leads back to him not really feeling like his 'unintentional' action warranted an apology. he believed in his heart that since he didn't "try to hurt me" he really didn't have anything to apologize for - but did so just to clear the road.

kind of "well, if this is what it takes to move the discussion forward -i'm sorry - there is that better?"

what i tried to help him understand is that confession really isn't for the person you are confessing to - but confession is for the self - the one - it is the tool that brings freedom from shame - i confess to god, to myself and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs FOR ME - not for them. god doesn't need me to confess my sin for him - he has given me confession as a tool because he knows that by saying it out loud i am owning it and then receiving the glory of forgiveness, and the healing that it brings.

if we are unable to confess from our own moral inventory - even the things we "didn't mean to do" we are then free from them and don't carry their shame any more. a true confession and apology should never have the words "i'm sorry you..." in them. confession is an "I" and "I" alone kind of tool.

does that make sense? i think he understood it and we both felt like the strands of that tangle came free. what do you think?


anj said...

I think this is awesome work and it makes total sense! And, if I was sitting at your table, my hands wrapped around a cuppa, I would be celebrating this with you both. For a long while. And then, in a month or so, I would love to ask some questions and get under the issue of intent a little bit more with both of you. Treating someone as fragile is a thread that I love to unravel from both ends.

Tim said...

Great news. Here's a link to something I presented to a dozen teenage boys a while back on saying sorry:

bobbie said...

wow tim - that is SO good! see, someone was writing on it, but i had no idea where! :)

anj - i'd love to share a cuppa with you any time!

fragility - this is something we have worked on for the past year - not fully by any means - but we both do it to each other and have really started to identify where. any questions or points you have would be very welcome here!

~m2~ said...

bobbie, i had to re-read it twice before i *really* understood what you were saying -- maybe my train of thought was derailing :)

i love what you said here, though, because there was a real sense of "breakthrough" in understanding between you and your beloved.

one of the things i have always shared with my children is saying "i'm sorry" means you'll never do *that thing* again. i just wish i could apply it to my own self...

Lara said...

RESOUNDING GONG! This is one of our marriage sinkholes too. It was years before I realized my husband kept apologizing for how I felt instead of what he had done, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to contribute to my feeling that way.

One day I finally yelled, "You CAN'T apologize for how I feel!!"

He didn't get it at first. I think it's something he still struggles with.

Another thing that somewhat goes with this is how he doesn't like to own up to his anger. Me? I'll tell you flat out I'm ticked off. There's really no hiding it. But he would just speak quietly and when asked say, "I'm not mad." I can still remember where on Race Street we were when I said, "You don't get to NOT be mad! You're human and you get angry. Deal with it." Which sounds ridiculous, and did to him, but I was trying to tell him to own his frustration.

Keep working it out. You're on the right track. :)

wilsonian said...

I keep thinking about this post.

I wonder if there are two separate issues here. I have a "bad" habit of telling people that I'm sorry for what they're experiencing. They usually tell me "that's okay, it's not your fault"... which is true. But it also tells me that I've never figured out how to express empathy. Because I really do want to tell them that 'it causes me sorrow' that they're experiencing the pain.

Perhaps in attempting to express empathy, we sometimes confuse it for responsibility... or sometimes sidestep accepting responsibility by expressing empathy.

Does any of this make any sense?

bobbie said...

very cool thoughts erin - i'm going to have to ponder this - but i think you're on to something here. i'll talk to liam and see if that intersects into what he's feeling too. thanks for the rich thoughts!

bobbie said...

m2 - yes, it is a bit convoluted - i can't figure out how to say it more clearly yet, but maybe one day! :)

lara - i LOVE the sinkhole metaphor! what a great description of what happens in our relationship interactions! liam has a difficult time owning his anger too. thank you for interacting with this and letting me know that it resonates with you!

anj said...

Oh - I too think Erin is onto something here. About fragility - this is a big part of what Len and I have needed to unravel. We are both very proud of being strong people. It is a cuppa conversation, because I would love to hear how that plays out for you, and share how it plays out for me, and see if there is commonality in finding it hard to stay in vulnerability, and allowing others different ways of 'being' without needing to tag it as fragile. This is a conversation I would love to have, as I think it speaks directly to how we sabotage relationship of equals. It is big, and yet it plays out in oh so subtle ways.

wilsonian said...

"allowing others different ways of 'being' without needing to tag it as fragile."

Wow. Now there's something to think about. Because adding the 'fragile' tag seems to instantly dimish, or give the impression of the other being lesser (often in more than the area we originally assigned it to).

Seems like there could be a lot of mileage left in this post!