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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Anatomy of An Apology: The Naked Truth (Guest Post by Wendy Stringer)

Kiernan and Wendy Stringer lead the discipleship ministry at our church, Grace Toronto. They're humble, authentic, and have loved Jesus through joy and loss. They are just the kind of people you want leading you - and the kind of people you want as friends. Wendy is my friend - and confidant. When we traveled together last winter for a writing retreat, I told her my entire life's repertoire of stories. Every. single. one. And she still likes me, which I take to mean that she, like Jesus, is full of forgiving grace. Wendy is a writer and speaker. (Shhh, but it's been months that I've been asking her to blog.) She's passionate about the gospel, and she's writing here this week about apologies. Because you're all super fantastic readers, consider leaving a comment: what spoke to you? rang true? nudged you towards God or simply closer to yourself? I know that would encourage Wendy. (Heck, if you want to also mention that she should be blogging, that would be completely up to you of course.)

Thanks in advance, friends. And if you'd like to contact Wendy, email me, and I'll make the connection.

* * * * *

On Tuesday night friends of ours told Kiernan and I we have a "graduate marriage". The thoughts running through my mind were immediately complicated and in opposition to one another.

First off, I felt like a total fake. After 20+ years together I know all the sneaky, ugly, sore spots of our marriage and I'm pretty sure that in my shame for our sins as a couple I have been complicit in leading people to think our marriage is something it's not. I can be such a fraud.

However, I was also pleased that anyone out there thinks I'm lookin' good. The idea that our marriage might appear pretty rock solid is, well, a nice idea. I liked it and I nursed it. I want to be noticeably better than other people. Perverse but true.

But another part of me felt lucky that the guy I've known for 23 years still makes me laugh and I'm not sick of him yet. I'm not sure if that's what equals a "graduate marriage", but I thought it might be a start.

So imagine my chagrin yesterday when Kiernan and I woke up fighting, spent the day fighting and went to bed fighting.

 Graduate marriage my @$$! From the school of failure maybe.

Without exposing the entire embarrassment that is my flawed self I will tell you that at 11:00 last night the argument was left with Kiernan challenging me on a particular, self centered habit and asking: Why do you do this? 

Long awkward pause where I silently seethe and call him every dirty name in the book for winning this argument by exposing my sin in such an inopportune way and then finally I answer: I don't know.

Well, you should think about it, he says. End of discussion. I guess.

So when my 12 year old asked me this morning if Dad and I had made it right, if we had "made up", I might have been a little defensive. Because why should I be the one to shame myself first? Why's the onus on me kid? And am I over sensitive or am I right to read in her question the tacit assumption that the fight was my fault?

Driving in to work there was deadly quiet and I actually wanted to own my bit and see this thing done because I really like the guy and I don't want to have anything between us.

And maybe also because I am a compulsive fixer.

But when that silence stretches out before me it's like bloody war in my mind, talking myself in and out of being the one to start the conversation. Wanting to because I think it will draw us back into each other but not wanting to because I'm afraid that maybe it won't. I probably went too far this time.

There's something about an apology, about owning my crap, that just feels bad. Stripping down to the naked truth of sin and guilt is so ugly and uncomfortable and it makes me want to run and hide. In the moments of trying to get those words out nothing about it makes me feel good.

That said, we made up. I offered a fine apology (read the self-mockery that is intended here) and we made up.

But the whole thing got me thinking. After 20+ years of being together and fighting with the person I love I've had to apologize a lot. And after many bad attempts at contrition I've learned a little about what doesn't work, what's a cop out and what "sorry" doesn't look like.

 I've learned a few hard lessons. 

Now lessons mind you, not a "to-do list". Not a program to follow or more hoops to jump through. Not "if you do this everything will be sunshiny and happy". Not "if you don't do this your relationships will run bankrupt".

Just lessons, learned the hard way.

Just a simple recognition that even when I love people I hurt them, and while I can't change that, I want to learn to talk about it in a way that's honest. So, over the next few days, I will utterly humiliate myself and share with you my mistakes and the things I'm learning in spite of myself.

See you tomorrow.