I Want You Back: On Asking for Forgiveness

There’s a Spotify playlist out there called ‘Have a Great Day!’ There are plenty of Spotify lists that miss the mark – ‘Weird Music,’ ‘Horror Movie Themes,’ and ‘Ambient Lounge’ don’t really do it for me. But when I walk into the office and get ‘Have a Great Day’ rolling, the songs of Stevie, Aretha, Marvin, Hall and Oates all but guarantee that I will have a great day.

Inevitably, the playlist offers The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” within the first ten tracks. The bright hollow body guitar and classic Motown bass line joined by little Michael’s impressive lead vocal bring instant joy.

But on a recent morning, a great day seemed impossible. Not even the playlist could cure my abysmal mood. I wasn’t willing to allow the joy of “I Want You Back” into my heart. Instead, I heard the lyrics: Give me one more chance to show you that I love you. Little Michael is asking for forgiveness. I needed to ask for some forgiveness, too.

***

I get into these ruts sometimes.

A friend emailed months ago to say that he’d be in my current home – Chicago – over Memorial Day. And I didn’t respond. Not entirely uncommon for me. He texted closer to the date, and again I offered no response. I had plans to visit my parents the same weekend, but I didn’t tell him that.Then reasonably, if not frustratedly, he sent a second text, the content of which was a single punctuation mark: ?

And still I made no response.

Three messages from him, three moments of silence from me. He wanted to have dinner with his friend. He wanted to see me enough not to give up on getting my answer. But for some reason, I couldn’t offer one.

Eventually, these things move from the simple act of managing my affairs into a category that I am truly terrified of – unfinished business.

This unfinished business lingers and lasts. It starts with a momentary feeling of inadequacy and becomes another box to check off on a long list of things to do. Plan class for Tuesday: check. Follow up with coworker about financial aid question: check. Set agenda for supervision: check.

But emailing or texting a friend back? It moves from list to list, unchecked and unacknowledged but never fully disappearing. Like a puddle close to evaporating, but not quite. The rain comes again and the puddle refills.

I finally called my friend on Saturday morning, the day after he arrived in Chicago. I wasn’t even in the city. My bare feet brushed through the green grass in my parent’s backyard hundreds of miles away, and I stared into the deep woods of my childhood. I was tired. I apologized. And, as a good friend does, he moved past his own desire to understand why it all happened the way it did in the first place. He simply offered forgiveness, pure and unmerited gift.

***

There’s another song out right now that I’ve been listening to on repeat. By no coincidence, it’s called “Want You Back.” In it, the lead singer names a deep and painful truth: I had a fear of forgiveness.

I’m not afraid to forgive. I practice offering it daily. I’m also not afraid to be forgiven. When my friend and I finally talked, I felt deep relief and a sense of confirmation that our love for each other can survive my little ruts. Our love can survive my irrational ability to make a ten-second email or text response into a seemingly unbridgeable chasm between what I desire and what I actually do with that desire.

What I’m afraid of is asking for forgiveness. It means that I must acknowledge the inexcusable, inexplicable thing I’ve done. Maybe I don’t feel like I deserve it. Maybe if I penned a pop song to send along, it would be easier.

***

There’s an email I’ve saved for over two years. It’s from someone I once knew very well. In it, they describe a (no-longer) recent hardship they faced, and they asked me for my prayers. An email like that deserves a response. If this person knew the number of times I’ve actually offered my prayers, or the number of times I’ve thought of their email, or the number of times I’ve considered responding, they’d never doubt my love. But, for two years, the person who reached out hasn’t known my side of the story, and now, all that’s left is for me to respond with a few simple words.

Those words – please forgive me – could be the catalyst for a great day. A day when we together engage in the mystery that is forgiving. A day when that which has left me – a feeling of adequacy and worth and belovedness – will return. A day when all that is good between us comes back.

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