That is all I remember of the initial interaction between me and my daughter, Izzy. Then just two years old, she was up to trouble and her response to my intervention was to slap me across the face. At this point in her life she was in a phase where she refused to apologize. She would spend countless hours in time out despite many invitations to come out and play because she would refuse to voice those three simple words: “I am sorry.” She frequently punished herself because she simply refused to be apologetic. With all the thoughts racing through my mind in reaction to being slapped by my two year-old daughter, I thought for sure we were in for a long afternoon. I was beginning to have difficulty keeping it all together when almost instantly I noticed a tear running down her face. I do not know if it was the exclamation of “ouch” which I proclaimed in response to the slap, the look of surprise on my face, or her own feelings of guilt knowing hitting is wrong (something proclaimed frequently in the Seibert house), but with instant and innocent tears running down her face, she looked at me and stuttered as she said, “I’m sorry daddy.” These words changed everything! I forgot about what she had done prior to the slap, and nearly forgot the slap itself. All of the other thoughts and emotions evaporated, and I was left with feelings of warmth, love, and mercy, not to mention a little fatherly pride in my daughter. Sure, she hit me, but she was also truly sorry! I remember a deeper love for her and an embrace that seemed to last forever. It is no exaggeration when I say that it was one of my favorite dad memories. I rejoiced more in my daughter’s apology then when she is following all the rules and being a “good girl.”
This lesson by my own heavenly Father helped me to capture a deeper glimpse of the reality of His love for His children. As we learn in the story of the prodigal son or the story of the lost sheep, we have a Father that rejoices and celebrates when his lost children return. While I understood the logic of this powerful lesson of love in the Bible, through this experience with my daughter I was able to live this spiritual reality. There is great power in forgiveness for it draws people closer and expands the limits of the love. As fallen humans, we are easily tempted to hold on to our mistakes and we often judge ourselves, and others, on what was done wrong. Yet, God’s eyes see something different. He sees the beauty in our mistakes and uses them as an avenue of his grace, allowing us to encounter Him with more depth. He rejoices when we turn back to him after mistakes, big and small.
Repentance, mercy and forgiveness are powerful forces that transform our lives, relationships, communities, and families. Forgiveness leads to new depths of love and leads to a deeper encounter with God. The path to forgiveness is often the shortest when done with a humble and remorseful heart. How often are we apologetic with our family, friends, and coworkers? How often are we apologetic with God? How often do we act like Izzy, keeping ourselves in torment and pain simply because we refuse to apologize? What is standing in our way? Regardless of what your answers to these questions may be, I encourage you today to allow yourself to contemplate and sit with God’s great love for us, a love that doesn’t hold on to what we have done wrong, but rejoices in our simple, “I’m sorry.”