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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Anatomy of An Apology: Saying "I'm Sorry" (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.

* * * * *

Yesterday, I began by sharing how someone commented that my husband, Kiernan and I, had a "graduate marriage." I was pleased that anyone out there thought I was lookin' good. Imagine my chargrin when Kiernan and I woke up the next day fighting, spent the day fighting and went to bed fighting - and it was my fault.

Here are the first three lessons I'm still learning, the hard way, about apologies.

First lesson: a simple "sorry" will never be good enough, especially if the intonation I use makes it sound like I'm cussing.  Just "sorry" seems to say: "something went wrong here and I have no idea how to talk about it". 

That said, "forgive me" is worse. "Forgive me" is the manipulative imperative I give when I know I've really screwed up, he's mad, and I can't fix it. "I command you to have mercy on me." Turns out he does not obey my commandments.

It has to be a question. Repentance asks, it does not demand.

And I know, "I am sorry, will you please forgive me?" is a very scary thing to ask. What if he says he won't? What if he does but only 'cause he knows he should? What if he's still really mad after I ask him to forgive me?

Which brings me to the second lesson, and maybe it should have been the first: grieve over the fact that I can't atone for this sin and I can't fix it with my words or my deeds.

This, for me, the compulsive fixer, is the terrible part. I can not make my sin right. I can not fix the damages that my angry words or my ugly deeds are responsible for. When I opened this mouth of mine and bit at my loved one there was no secret remedy in my medicine cabinet that I could apply to make him better. Damage done and I don't have anything to make him whole again. My apology, my sorrow, my regrets, no matter how sincere or eloquently expressed, can not make this better. My sin hurts the people I love.

God help me to grieve it.

Third lesson: confess the wrong that I have done. Get explicit.  Although a good beginning, "I'm sorry will you please forgive me?", on it's own, will not be enough. Although unbelievably humiliating I need to be really frank about what I did that was ugly and what hurt him so much.

I'll need to wade into the filth of it, willing to get the dirty truth out. Uncomfortable as this is, it is better than my loved person calling me on my shoddy apology and telling me what's really what. You can pre-empt this.

Although that shouldn't be your motivation, it is a perk.

I don't have to dig to deep here. If I told him he's stupid then I know exactly what I need to confess. If I broke a promise I made I don't need a manual to figure out where I went wrong.

Name it. Be specific. Hold no punches.

And as an aside, I feel I should mention, the times I've said something like: "I am really sorry that you got so worked up about what I said"  were not awesome.

At this point my loved one's reaction to my sin is not fair game; leave that part out.

Part III: Tomorrow, three more lessons to come about apologies. Thanks for reading along with me here this week.