I watched Judah (my three-year-old) and Lucy (my five-year-old) go through the "I'm sorry..." and "I forgive you," routine recently.
They both stood there, stubbornly not wanting to even look into each other’s eyes. It’s unfortunate, but true.
Neither of them wanted to give in.
They needed a push. “Lucy say, I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry, Judah.”
“Judah, say, I forgive you.”
“I forgive you Lucy.”
“and I love you.”
“I love you Lucy.”
The hug after is so important.
There is contact, and connection. It stops us from thinking about ourselves and our excuses. It stops us from thinking about how much we deserved that apology.
And for my kids, the hug after is long enough if it returns them to giggles, and possibly they fall over laughing.
You can probably think of a time when someone— a parent, teacher, or principal— made you apologize. It might not have been the most authentic of apologies.
Was it better for you to have been pushed into a resolution at that age than to not have one at all?
Now we’re not five-year-olds, but you and I stand there with people,
unable to look them in the eye, refusing to give in.
Can you think of someone who has done something to you that you would have a hard time forgiving them for? Or can you think of someone that you would have a hard time apologizing to, maybe because it would be hard to admit your fault, or maybe because you are stubbornly pretending it wasn’t really your fault?
But we make a mistake if we stand there stubbornly, refusing to face the problem. We are wrong if we suffer heroically, imagining that ignoring the problem will make it better. We talk about forgive and forget, but sometimes we don’t do either. We just let it fester.
And we rationalize. It seems that since we can’t actually undo what has been done, we should just try to forget about it. Our sinful nature, and our enemy the liar would be happy if we suffered, imagining that that is the only solution.
Now God agrees that there isn’t anything we can do to take it back, or fix it or undo it. He makes that very clear in Hebrews 10, among other places.
The Law, can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly make perfect, those who draw near to worship. - Hebrews 10:1
Can you imagine if you had to keep apologizing over and over and over for every sin? That system just couldn’t work. We could never be sorry enough.
You may have even tried before to sit in the pew and apologize for everything that needs apologizing for, as if apologizing is what removes the guilt.
But then Jesus shows up. And He says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. -Hebrews 10:17
Jesus shows up and does the thing that we are unable to do. He will forgive… and forget. He will love us enough that we don’t have to think about our sin again. He can actually put the wrong things we have done behind us, and leave them behind us.
And he opens his arms to give us the hug after.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. -Hebrews 10:19-23
The hug after from God turns right into forgiving each other. We only apologize and offer forgiveness because we have gone through that process with God.
If you have a festering relationship with someone, you really can say you’re sorry. You really can offer forgiveness, even though you’re not sure how they will respond, or even though you can’t undo it. You know how God has responded. He has forgiven.
Remembering the grace of God, we can take risks like that because we know that he is holding us.
Not everyone will apologize when we confront them, and not every problem we have will be resolved with a hug after.
The hug after is a part of the healing process, a part of going forward into life with someone. There are times when we aren’t able to go forward with someone, or it wouldn’t be safe or wise for us to trust someone again.
But it is important to offer forgiveness and ask for it. To skip that is to ignore the grace and power and faithfulness of Jesus.
I pray that you have just been reminded of the hug after from Christ, and nudged to ask for or offer forgiveness to someone who needs a hug.