Credit: Mike Bitzenhofer
I’ve known some pretty brave people. In my early 20s, I used to have conversations with a Holocaust survivor if that tells you something about my braveometer.
Yet, the bravest thing I’ve ever seen happened in a tiny church in the middle of nowhere when I was about seventeen.
I was over at the church, cleaning used tissues out of the hymnal slots (why, people?!) and feeling pretty pissy about it. I’d recently had a meeting with the church elders about an unflattering website some friends and I had created about our youth group’s courtship class. It was all supposed to stay private, but when the website leaked I was seriously up Crap Creek (I didn’t have such a potty mouth back then). I was asked to apologize for creating the website, but I refused to offer an empty apology just so everyone else would feel like the situation had been resolved.
If that wasn’t enough, I’d gotten a phone call from a friend that week. She and some of our friends had seen our old youth leader’s car in town. So, of course, they shaving creamed it “for me” even though that just made things worse because who was going to believe I hadn’t had anything to do with that?
On Friday, I’d been walking down the hall toward the parking lot when a girl who barely knew me (but attended my old youth leaders’ new church) stopped me just to tell me what an awful person I was for making that website.
So, I was in a foul mood that Saturday afternoon as I swept through the pews, cleaning up other people’s filth.
I was surprised when the front doors opened. I was even more surprised to see another teenage girl walking down the aisle toward me. “Can I talk to you?” she asked.
I already knew what it was about, and I could guess what she had to say. She was the leak. She’d shown the website to our former youth leaders. I braced myself to hear more about what a terrible person I was, but that’s not what happened. She’d come to apologize.
I don’t remember exactly what we said to one another while sitting in our separate pews that afternoon. What I do remember is how ornery I could be back then. I’ve never been one to back down easily (which is great when I’m right, but not so great when I’m wrong.)
I’m not sure what she thought I’d say. This was someone who, while not especially close to me, knew me well enough to guess she was walking into a firing squad. She walked into the church anyway.
No, I didn’t eviscerate her (good grief, what do you people think I’m capable of?) We were two teenagers. She cried. I cried. We got over it.
So, what’s so brave about that? Was I really such a scary person when I was a teenager?
Well, I’ll straight up tell you that any person you’re apologizing to is the scariest person alive at that moment.
It’s so much easier to justify the things we do. To pat ourselves on the back and say, “they had it coming”. There’s no strength or bravery there. Those are just the actions of someone who’s too afraid to look in the mirror.
The bravest statement in the world is, “I’m sorry.”
That other person you’re talking to might just throw your apology back in your face. They might throw everything you’ve ever done wrong at you.
Or, they might forgive you.
But, you really never know.
I used to get pretty bent out of shape because people don’t apologize to me very often, even when there’s been an obvious error on their part. But, you know, specks and planks.
Apologies from my mouth are so rare I could probably count them on one hand. And the worse my transgression against someone is, the more ashamed I am of what I’ve done, the less likely I am to apologize. (Apologies are some scary shit.)
Isn’t that what we’re really fighting against, though? Shame? Sometimes we know we don’t deserve forgiveness.
I’ve done things I’m ashamed of. (You went straight to sex, didn’t you? Get your mind out of the gutter.)
Most of the time I’ve hurt people by accident. But, sometimes… Sometimes it was on purpose.
If I don’t sit here and come up with excuses and justifications, what kind of a person would that make me? (Hint: Not a good one.) So, I can understand why people don’t apologize very often.
I don’t apologize because I’m afraid to admit that sometimes I can be vindictive and mean-spirited sometimes. I don’t apologize because I’m afraid you’ll just confirm all my worst fears about myself. Maybe that’s why you don’t apologize, too.
So, we leave those unspoken words hanging in the air like a virus.
Oh, we know what happens when we don’t try to make things right. Sin festers. Sin rots.
But, isn’t it enough to just ask God to forgive us?
Um, no. That’s just a cop out and we all know it.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)
That doesn’t sound like a get-out-of-apology-free card to me. Most of us are well aware of this scripture. We just handily ignore it.
We’re supposed to reconcile with the person who has something against us. How can we reconcile without taking responsibility for our part in the dispute?
Besides, apologies are kind of obnoxious, right? Once someone’s expressed genuine remorse, I have to stop focusing on getting them to see what they’ve done wrong and I have to start looking at what I’ve done wrong. An apology won’t fix what’s broken, but it can open a door and maybe there’s a path toward reconciliation on the other said.
I’m not saying anyone should follow my example here. This is the #1 thing I’m the most terrible at. I guarantee there are people reading this blog post right now thinking, “Kristy seriously owes me an apology” and I probably do.
I’m going to work on opening those doors.
So, if I come up to you and apologize for some bitchy thing I’ve done, please don’t disembowel me.
And I promise I won’t disembowel you either.