God says in a Hadith Qudsi (sacred hadith) about forgiveness:
O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind.
O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you.
O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it. (At-Tirmidhi)
Sometimes we assume that it is only those who have committed grave sins that need to return to God. But the Prophet said:
“Beware of minor sins. For they add on until they destroy a person.” (Ahmad)
Whatever stage we are at, we seek forgiveness and true repentance. If the Prophet himself would seek forgiveness 70 times a day, why do we feel that we have to commit something that is especially egregious in order to ask God to forgive us?
If we think about it, every sin is a black dot. These black dots accumulate until our hearts become hard and do not feel anymore. An example of this is with cursing or swearing. The first time we say something we shouldn’t have, we feel this twinge of guilt in our heart. Then when we keep repeating it, it becomes normalized. Why? Because our hearts become enveloped in these black dots.
Yet when we constantly go back to God, seeking His forgiveness, we are reminded. We become humble, because we are forced to face these minor sins that weigh heavily on our hearts and through that our hearts are cleansed. Because we face our sins, we are constantly trying to improve; we do not become complacent. It may seem hard, but a load will be taken off our shoulders with this constant returning to God.
Look at this example of God’s mercy when we commit sins.
The Prophet tells us in this hadith:
“The Scribe on the left delays registering the sin of a Muslim for six hours. If he repents (within these six hours), and seeks Allah’s forgiveness, they drop if off. If he doesn’t, they write is down as a single sin.” (At-Tabarani)
Moreover, if we seek forgiveness sincerely and God accepts our repentance, not only does He forgive us, but He turns those bad deeds into good – imagine that years of sinning could turn into years of rewards. How? God says in the Quran:
Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful. (Quran 25: 70)
How could we not want to return to God, who is truly the most merciful of those who show mercy?
Some Ways of Seeking Forgiveness
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught Aisha:
Verily tawba (repentance) from sin is regretting the action and seeking forgiveness. (Al-Bayhaqi)
The internal component is to regret what we have done – whether it is a small lie, a glance at something we shouldn’t be looking at, being heedless or even something greater. The external component is to ask God for forgiveness. The Prophet taught us a few ways how, and these are two of them:
1. The Prophet said:
Whoever says it during the day with firm faith in it, and dies on the same day before the evening, he will be from the people of Paradise; and if somebody recites it at night with firm faith in it, and dies before the morning, he will be from the people of Paradise.
O Allah! You are my Lord! None has the right to be worshiped but You. You created me and I am Your slave, and I am faithful to my covenant and my promise as much as I can. I seek refuge with You from all the evil I have done. I acknowledge before You all the blessings You have bestowed upon me, and I confess to You all my sins. So I entreat You to forgive my sins, for nobody can forgive sins except You. (Al-Bukhari)
2. The Prophet also said:
Whoever commits a sin, and then performs wudhu (ablution), then offers prayers seeking forgiveness of God, God will certainly forgive him. (At-Tirmidhi)
After this the Prophet recited the verse:
… those who remember God and implore forgiveness for their sins if they do something shameful or wrong themselves – who forgives sins but God? – and who never knowingly persist in doing wrong. (3: 135)
May Allah make us of those who constantly return to Him for forgiveness as a means to achieve tranquility in our hearts, so that when we finally meet Him on the Day of Judgment, we are of those “who come to Allah with a sound heart.”.
The Day when there will not benefit [anyone] wealth or children, but only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart. (26: 88-9)