Because I’m a parent of small children it follows that I live in a house with a constant chorus of “sorry.” It comes in various tones ranging from the toss off “sorry” swinging to the resentful “sorry” to the weepy “sorry.” I can read a sincere “sorry” though, the “sorry” that starts in the eyes, when one kid sees that whatever he or she did caused hurt. The sincere “sorry” isn’t clouded by the “but I’m hurt too!” defense. And the look in the eyes isn’t “apology.” Apology is action. The look in the eyes is regret. It is the “I wish I hadn’t” or “I didn’t mean to.”
And I know that look because it know how it feels to me every single day. I stab myself in the heart daily with “I wish I hadn’t” after losing my temper or giving into tempting thoughts or too many glasses of wine or saying too much about another person.
I don’t forget my transgressions. I pile them up in my psyche locked behind french doors in that side parlor. I can’t go a day without remembering the regret, worrying that I am not forgiven, contemplating who else I may have injured. Regret is the roommate I pay to stay with me. Often I think about kicking it out. It doesn’t contribute to the household. It never cleans up after itself. It eats all my food and drinks all the best scotch. It never sleeps, it always whispers, always sighs when I make new promises, it hates my friends, it hates me.
My regret hates me so why do I keep it around?
The simplest answer I can muster is that I’m afraid of making that mistake again, I’m afraid the damage is too deep, too strong for an apology to heal. I’m afraid that whatever I had said or done has become rooted in that relationship so that everything we do together going forward is forever tinged with my errors. I am not good enough. I am not strong enough. I am not forgiven.
In the Orthodox tradition the start of Lent is marked with the practice of “”Forgiveness Sunday.” This week as “forgiveness sunday” approached and I realized I would not be able to make it to Liturgy because of travel I felt the stab in my heart again. I greeted myself with the thought that I will always miss out, I will always do it wrong. I don’t know why I am so concerned that there is never enough time. I have this constant push to produce, to be well, to live best and I fail time after time. We all fail, we all injure, we all need to be forgiven.
And then, it happened that I was able to make it to Vespers the night before Forgiveness Sunday. I was in Nashville and I left a conference early to make it to St John’s. I was able to see my godmother. I was able to stand in the place I first felt the commitment I made to myself to become Orthodox and I was moved to tears, grateful. At the end of Vespers as I made my way to venerate the cross I noticed Fr P. offering forgiveness to each person. He made the sign of the cross with a soft brush on their forehead and offered them the forgiveness of Christ. They made no confession out loud, they simply accepted what was offered. I pulled my godmother aside to ask about the practice and she explained. I said, “am I allowed to participate even though I’m not chrismated?” and she assured me that I was invited in.
I never know how much I need something like this until it is upon me and I needed this blessing. I needed this forgiveness. I needed this soft brush on my forehead, this assurance of grace and with that action I felt the locks on those french doors to the parlor unlock and swing open. That room is filled with ugly, dusty furniture that only takes up space and reminds me of every wrong I’ve done. A room full of regret has no place in me.
I am the first to offer to help someone move their own regret. I am glad to offer forgiveness and glad to offer the assurance that they are loved. I don’t store up rooms of anger in this house.
I walk into Lent knowing that the doors are open, that the truck is outside waiting to take the pieces in that room to the dump. There are hands to carry it out. Words to remind me that I don’t need that furniture, to remind me that the air will be easier to breathe when the space is made and the dust is cleared. And yet, I know I am still arguing with the movers. Each time they attempt to lift a piece I worry I need it still, I ponder about how I might use it later, I question whether the dump will even take it.
But a room full of regret has no place in me. I do not know that I am forgiven but moving into Lent, I trust that I am. I have to trust that I am forgiven first and foremost by the One who created me. I have to trust that He is pleased, that He is proud of this work, knitted together in the dark by patient and skilled fingers. I have to trust that the work of those hands is welcome to Him. I walk into Lent this year with the sincere hope of this, with sincere apology to those who I have injured and with releasing the hold I have on my own regret. A room full of regret has no place in me.