Eight years ago I wrote a post on this blog titled How to Say, “I’m Sorry.” The working title was The Anatomy of an Apology and I gave three tips each on how to both give and accept an apology.
Today, I’m thinking, again, about the power of a sincere apology, the beauty of reconciliation, and the part I can play in it all.
Sometimes, in the thick of a hurtful situation, we can’t even believe that reconciliation is a possibility. But, as Christians, we are called to never remove reconciliation from the table.
Right here is where I usually have a moment of pure donkey-like, foot planted, stubbornness in my thought process. I don’t want to be close to some people who have hurt me! They are stinkers who deserve to rot in their horrid, awful, eye-wateringly pungent stinkiness!
(I’m joking about that to a certain degree, but it’s really not a joking matter when you recognize that in some cases you have been looking at manipulative abuse and to allow a person access to your life can be extraordinarily risky.)
So what does reconciliation even entail?
A basic search of the word reconcile reveals its a verb meaning, “to restore friendly relations between.” It can also be “to cause to coexist in harmony; to make or show to be compatible.”
Then there’s this definition, which struck me hard this morning:
“To make (one account) consistent with another, especially by allowing for transactions begun but not yet completed.”
Other definitions are “to settle (a disagreement)” and “to make someone accept (a disagreeable or unwelcome thing).”
I want to go back to this definition of reconcile as consistency and an accounting term because it has the potential for depth.
Accounting is pretty non-emotional (well, except when you can’t figure out why your checkbook is $1.23 off for months on end). Numbers are cut and dried, they represent a certain amount and that’s it.
Numbers are a glimpse at truth.
When we reconcile our accounts, what we’re really saying is that we can all agree that these are the items that came before, and this final answer, it’s real. From that basic starting point we can figure out what to do moving forward without any question about what has gone on previously.
It’s an agreement.
In our storage business, a customer must come in and make sure that there are no outstanding debts on their rental space before they may move out. There’s no antagonism about it, we just make sure the dates they used the space match up and the account is paid. When it’s settled they can walk away freely. We hope they come back as a customer in the future if they ever need storage again, but I have no expectation of them doing anything – our agreement is finished and all is good.
That’s the definition of reconciliation I want to pursue in the stinky situations.
The problem with relationships is that they are often not cut and dry. We are emotional creatures who are easily offended, or enthused, and perceptions filter into our lives and shape our experiences.
A sincere apology is pretty much the only thing that can cancel the emotion of an offense. Time passing certainly helps, but a genuine, “I’m sorry” soothes the soul and creates a consistent balance sheet that can be reconciled.
(I do know the Scripture that says, “love keeps no record of wrongs” and that you might be arguing in your head with me right now about my use of the words “balance sheet” – I’m not done with my thought process, so stick with me for a little longer.)
I’ve been a saying a good number of apologies lately. As I have pondered actions I’ve taken in the past I thought were right at the time, I have realized I was actually unkind and wrong. Uncharitable and lacking in mercy.
I don’t want to be that person. So, as situations have crossed my mind – I believe prompted by the Holy Spirit – I have reached out to folks and asked for forgiveness.
Some have not responded.
But, overwhelmingly, I have received graceful responses from those I’ve contacted. We have left our most recent interactions not necessarily as friends, but friendly. Because the accounts between us have now been settled.
Eight years ago I was delving into this topic with blog posts. I have improved at taking responsibility over time, but I still struggle. Why?
I believe that pridefulness is the number one reason we don’t see apologies all over our world. I believe we each struggle with pridefulness to a crazy degree.
Here’s a reality: it doesn’t hurt us to say “I’m sorry.” There’s no downside to saying it – unless that apology is insincere. Or qualified.
(Here’s an identification clue for an apology that will cause more friction: “I’m sorry… but…” The “but” negated everything you said prior to and is a sign you need to keep working at the problem to figure it out.)
An apology must be informed. It is inappropriate to ask for mercy from someone unless you have articulated and understand the offense that occurred (the consistent balance sheet I was mentioning earlier).
This takes effort and humility, yet it is a process that cannot be glossed over in the interest of just getting the problem solved and moving on to the next thing.
On the flip side, apologies cannot be demanded. We can’t force someone to apologize to us, especially if they don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.
That knowledge, however, doesn’t take away the need for the apology in order to achieve reconciliation. I believe that is why the Scripture states: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 It’s not a black and white issue.
Humans are going to mess this process up. So do the best you can with the tools you’ve got to work with right now and keep praying for opportunities to practice and become better.
We do what we can do to live at peace. Sometimes that fails and we walk for a season without reconciliation, trusting that the Holy Spirit will continue to work on the situation and ready for the next opportunity to approach it.
In my current season of begging for forgiveness I’ve reached out to apologize to folks I haven’t spoken to in years. Like I’ve had kids who weren’t born when we talked last and now that same kid is getting their adult molars!
It took me that long to realize I had an account that needed reconciliation.
But when I realized it… I moved. I refuse to let pride, insecurity, or embarrassment stop me from trying to make things right.
That’s all I can do. And that’s all I am asked to do.