Thursday, January 7, 2016

In praise of apologies

A couple days ago, I was looking for my refill ink cartridges for my fountain pen.  Shawn also has a fountain pen, and some time ago he asked to use one of my refill cartridges for his pen.  That was the last time I remembered seeing the little packet of refills, so when I couldn't find them in a couple of places that I looked, I went to Shawn.

"Do you know where my refill cartridges went?" I asked him, holding up my dry pen.

"No," he replied.

"Remember how you asked me to give you a cartridge?  What did you do with them after I gave you one?" I was getting a tad snippy.

"I believe I handed them back to you," he said.  "They aren't here."  He was sitting in the study, at his desk, at his computer.  I reached in front of him, pushy, a bit rough, and yanked out his desk drawer to have a look.  He helped me sift through the contents of the drawer, a bit defensive.  "They aren't here," he maintained.  They weren't.

"Can't you remember what you did with them?" I demanded, "I need one and I can't find them."

"I'm pretty sure I handed them back to you."

"Hmph."  I stomped away, frustrated.

And then I thought of another place to look: the nightstand next to my side of the bed, where I usually store the pen.  It probably should have been the first place I looked, and sure enough, there they were.

Shannon says there is sometimes a point in an argument where you realize that you are wrong, and that realization is one of the worst feelings in the world.  At the moment I found my ink refills, I felt terrible, as though I'd taken a fist to the gut.  I'd all but accused Shawn of losing them for me, and suddenly there they were, in my very own nightstand, right in the little basket where I keep pens and writing supplies, exactly where I must have put them myself.

In that moment, I could have said nothing.  I could have pretended the cartridges were still lost.  I could have put down my empty pen and quietly gone downstairs to work on laundry or dinner.

But instead, I swallowed and called out, "Oh my word!  I found them!"

Shawn, from the study, said, "Where were they?"

"Right here, in my nightstand," I admitted.  "I'm sure I must have put them here myself.  I don't know why I didn't think to look here first."  And then I said, "I'm sorry."

I said, "I'm sorry I was mean, and crabby, and acted like I thought you were to blame.  That wasn't very nice of me.  Will you forgive me?"

And do you know what?  He did.  He did forgive me, and we went on to have quite a lovely, peaceful and harmonious day.

In apologizing, I gained for myself forgiveness, peace and freedom from the need to cover up what I had done.  It was so worth it. It was a blessing.  Also, I was able to ask my husband to help me replace the dry cartridge in my pen and get my pen up and running, right away.

I wish everyone could learn the beauty of an honest apology, well spoken.  An apology is such a relief for everybody.  An apology blesses both the one who apologizes, and the one who receives the apology.

Apologies mitigate the damage that happens in relationships.

The awkwardness that you feel in realizing that you are wrong, and acknowledging it, and saying that you are sorry for what you have done, that awkwardness is literally nothing compared to the awkwardness that results from months or years of unacknowledged wrong eroding a relationship.

When you agree with someone that you are wrong, that you have acted badly and are sorry, this is disarming.  It takes all the tension out of the fight immediately.  People cannot be defensive if you are agreeing with them.

"You were mean," the wronged party says, expecting to have to prove it to you.

"Yes," you agree.  "I was mean.  I wish I hadn't been.  I'm sorry.  What can I do to rebuild your trust in me?"

Boom.  The fight is over.

Another thing: Pretending that nothing happened never makes a problem go away.  Insisting on pretending that nothing happened is cruel.  Everybody knows that something happened, especially the person you most directly hurt.  If you want to build walls of resentment, pretend that nothing happened.  Pretend that you didn't do anything and watch the hurt multiply while the relationship disintegrates.  If you really want to kill a relationship, pretend that you are faultless and the injured person is just a head-case with no right to be angry.  Tell the injured person, "You have no right to bring that up.  That is in the past, and you are over-interpreting, stewing, being bitter."  Expect that the injured party should agree, "Nothing happened; it is all in my head.  The problem is all my fault.  I do not deserve resolution.  I do not deserve an apology."  Tell the injured party, "Move on!"  He might do just that, maybe even without you.

Here's the deal: when you need forgiveness, you need forgiveness.  To receive forgiveness, you have to be sorry, admit what you did wrong, name your sin and acknowledge the damage that resulted from it, own these things and repent of them.  And here's the next deal: when you do all that, you get the most fabulous freedom and peace you can imagine.  The destructive cycle begins at once to reverse, and you were the one who reversed it!  Why wouldn't you want that?

Yes, we need to forgive whether people ask for forgiveness or not.  When you are the injured party, you have to extend forgiveness to the one who hurt you.

But don't you know?  If you are the one who caused the hurt, you are the one with the true opportunity to fix things.  Forgiveness extended does not culminate in restoration until it is received by the one who did wrong.  To receive forgiveness, you need to apologize, expressing true sorrow for the wrong you did and the hurt you caused.  It stings for a moment, but it makes things so much better in the long run.

It is the same when we come to God.  He freely offers forgiveness to all who ask.  However, salvation is only for those who do avail themselves of His forgiveness.  You need to start out by being convicted of your sins.  You need to feel the guilt of your wrongdoing.  Guilt, when you have done wrong, is a good thing that leads to the next step in healing: confession.  After you are convicted of sin, you confess your sin.  Name your wrongdoing.  Ponder the effects of what you have done, and grieve over them.  Wish in your heart that you had made better choices, and determine that next time you will make better choices, because you understand the ugliness of doing things the wrong way.  This is repentance:  Turning from the wrong way and heading in the right way.  Agreeing with the one you have wronged that you have done wrong.

When we confess and repent, God promises absolutely to forgive us and cleanse us from unrighteousness, to wash us and make us new, to restore us (1 John 1:9).  This is the beauty of becoming God's child.  We are reborn out of our confession and repentance into a renewed state where God's Spirit purifies us and teaches us to walk in grace.

Lastly, I've heard it said that it is never too late to send a thank-you note.  That goes exponentially for an apology.  Whether it's days, weeks, or even years or decades overdue, it's never too late to apologize.  Admit your wrong.  Own your responsibility.  Ask for forgiveness.  And let the healing begin.  You'll be so glad you did.

To whom do you need to apologize today?

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar
and there remember that your brother has something against you,
leave your gift there in front of the altar. 
First go and be reconciled to your brother;
then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:23-24 (niv)

1 comment:

Shannon said...

Good gravy, it is the absolute worst when you commit to an argument and then realize you were wrong. You are completely right when you say that the only way to proceed is to do away with the bruised pride and apologize before it gets any worse.

That doesn't make it easy, though!