Living as a family has good times and challenging moments. In the spirit of keeping a Harbor Home, there are events that cause hurt and require that very difficult of human exchanges: an apology. Make no mistake: an apology is a conversation that is not easy for either party. You and your children can learn these scripture based steps to grace.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Matt. 5:23-24 NIV
She was on the verge of tears, and I felt a little bit sorry for her, but I sat there firm in my resolve all the same. “It’s like they all have something against me!” she said. “They all think that this whole situation is my fault! And none of it is! I didn’t do anything!”
This statement was so patently untrue that for a long moment I couldn’t respond at all. As I listened to the excuses, I remembered when had I learned the lesson that I needed to pass on that day.
The car was incredibly low on gas. Of course it was. I was already running late, several volunteers had left me hanging. As a full time Christian educator I was dependent on volunteers and I was frustrated.
I made it to a little store on fumes, and sighed in relief. Something had actually gone right this morning. But the car clock reminded me that my most pressing issue was time. Then there was a message on the screen telling me to go into the store and see the cashier. “What?! Why? Go into the store? The flashing screen insisted. So I did.
No one who saw me in that moment could have missed how irritated I was. My facial expression coupled with the tension in my body were a neon billboard of frustration. Full of this heightened emotion, I marched into the store, approached the cashier, and began to “explain” my problem.
All of my woes were being piled onto this poor young woman as though she were the orchestrator of them all. Then, of course, I had to pump the gas and go back into the store to pay for it. I acted like a sixth grader who wasn’t allowed to go to her friend’s house. I didn’t use bad language, but I was not polite.
Having finally completed the transaction, I stormed out of the store and back to my car. The rear of the car was facing the store and about half way between the door of the store and my champagne colored midsize sedan I saw it. My face began to burn with shame and I wanted the earth to swallow me up. My frustration melted away in a moment, and I stopped in my tracks for what seemed a long moment. Just looking. My eyes filled. I kept looking, and my heart sank even further.
The fish symbol on my car glared at me in shiny, plastic, glued on condemnation. Even worse, I had the fancy fish symbol. You know the one I mean. It had the Greek word for Jesus written inside it. That was to prove that not only was I a Christian, I was a smart, well educated Christian who knew the Greek word for Jesus. Aren't I special?
I kept staring at my car and things got even worse. On the opposite side of the car from the special fish, was a magnet proudly displaying the logo of our denomination, which will not be named here. I was mortified as I remembered the words I had just said.
I stood dumbfounded in the parking lot of a store in which I had been incredibly rude staring at my car which proudly declared that the driver was a very good, smart, Christian member of a very good, smart, Christian group. In other words, there were more people a lot like me. I was truly ashamed.
As I drove away I began to pray and ask The Lord for forgiveness. But what about that young woman who was working at a convenience store for a low hourly rate? Did she deserve my outbursts? Of course not. I knew what I had to do.
I arrived at work, went into my office and turned on the lights and looked up the phone number of the store and called it. A young woman answered.
“Hi. My name is Teresa, and I was in your store about fifteen minutes ago and I was very rude. I’m calling to apologize. Did I speak to you?”
“I am so very sorry. I have no excuse. I was rude, and it was not right. I’m really sorry.”
“Oh. it’s okay.”
“No it’s not. It’s not okay for me to behave that way and you shouldn’t have to put up with that.”
And then I knew what I really needed to do to complete the healing.
“Will you forgive me?” I asked. And then I stopped to listen. There was a pause.
“Yes. Of course I will.” Her tone of voice had lightened noticeably.
“Thank you so much for calling." I ended the conversation by thanking her for her forgiveness.
It’s hard to describe how light and at peace I felt after that encounter. Suddenly all the cares of the day seemed manageable. It knew immediately what had happened. I had been healed. The harm I caused to another with careless and unkind words I had caused to myself as well. In the end, I needed healing as much as the woman in the store. In asking her to forgive me, I had created a space in which we could both heal.
Here are the steps to a healing apology:
Acknowledge that you hurt another. Make no excuses to yourself. Own your words and actions.
Approach the one you hurt in a personal way. Take the initiative to contact the one you hurt. In person is best, phone is second best. Email or text is cowardly and ineffective.
Say aloud what you believe hurt the other. Then listen. Perhaps you aren't aware of everything. Make no excuses. Listen to the pain you caused.
Apologize. Say with great specificity what you are sorry for. Be sincere.
The secret sauce: Say these words, "Will you forgive me?" Then listen.
The story from the beginning of this post did not have the outcome that I hoped. The woman I was listening to that day has never acknowledged her role in a complicated, painful chapter among her coworkers. She remains depressed, anxious, defensive. She is no closer to healing for herself than she was on that day.
Apologizing and asking for forgiveness is not easy. It requires maturity, steadiness, and a humble heart. These are Christ like qualities that we should strive towards.
I pray that there is someone who needs this today. Share this with someone that you know can use these pointers.