It was turning into another one of those days when my eldest child found fault with everything I did.
Breakfast milk wasn't in his regular cup (because I hadn't got around to washing yesterday's dishes). I didn't leap off the treadmill and run downstairs quickly enough to fast forward through every second of the taboo commercials. I didn't pour enough dressing for his fresh spinach salad at lunch. I didn't read enough books. I forgot yesterday's promise to watch this VeggieTales movie instead of that VeggieTales movie after nap time.
For each perceived injustice, I apologized, but "I'm sorry" just wasn't cutting it. In fact, it was if I were saying nothing at all.
"But mooooommy..." he would say, continuing nonstop with the whiny complaint of the moment. "How would you feel if someone..."
I was already losing the war, and that was before he had a sudden revelation that I'd taken a particular art project off the fridge and (following the normal routine) replaced it with his newest creation. For some reason, this masterpiece that I threw away was more important than the other thousand I'd callously sent to the landfill.
It was the proverbial straw that sunk the camel to his knees. When I say buckets of tears were welling up in his eyes, I'm not exaggerating. A whopping thunder storm was about to hit over a single piece of paper decorated with markers and I felt powerless to stop it.
At the small kitchen table, I dropped to my own knees beside him.
"I'm so sorry, Wyatt. Mommy didn't know that one was special. She didn't mean to hurt your feelings." And then, without any well-conceived plan, I blurted out, "Can you forgive me?"
Eyes that had been riveted to the floor as the first raindrops fell suddenly flickered upward. A sheepish grin wiped like a rainbow across his once stormy face, him seemingly embarrassed at the requested forgiveness, a word we reserved for our conversations with God.
"Of course." he stammered. "I forgive you, mommy."
And that was that. He moved on as I knelt still in humble silence. Could it really be that easy?
Over the last month, I have made a concerted effort to follow up my apologies to my children with the words "can you forgive me?" The first few times I consciously chose to say the words, I felt like I was trying to cough up a hairball. There is nothing my spirit wanted more than to not say those words.
Requesting another's forgiveness is instantly humbling, a greater admission of one's flawed nature than a mere "I'm sorry" conveys. Such words put the heart out there, exposed in the open for someone to either throw down and stamp with his heel or cup tenderly with both hands, gently give back to you in one restored piece.
Weeks later, the words don't always stick quite so harshly in my throat. My children still duck their heads in shyness, drop their voice to a whisper as they grant me their forgiveness. It's as if they know what it means for me to ask for it...and for them to grant it. It's as if they realize mommy is admitting how flawed she is and that their heart is echoing back their love for a mother even with her flaws.
The hardest part, though? Was extending this practice to my husband, to bring the audible, spoken word "forgiveness" into our marriage.
Husband caught on to what I was doing before I had even talked with him about it, one night drawing me to him as he put his arms around my waist, right there in front of all three children surprising me with "I'm sorry. Can you forgive me?"
Just like my son, my head snapped upwards and I felt a flush of embarrassment as I experienced the intimacy of the moment--not the physical intimacy, the spiritual intimacy of forgiveness.
To those of you who drop by here, I would like to challenge you to do something for the month of February. For the next 29 days, commit to asking your spouse for his/her forgiveness when you would usually only say "I'm sorry." Commit to actually voicing the words aloud. As you interact with your children, start using that same phrase, too.
The best way to express love may be to offer up yourself in a simple request for a loved one's forgiveness.