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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: confession

Breaking the Bread of Belief: Naked

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Naked (Today's post is the fifth in a series entitled, "Breaking the Bread of Belief." Read about beginning, dust, home, and feast.)

All images courtesy of Joetography.

* * * * *

I read a lovely book this past summer, which I had picked up the Festival of Faith and Writing. Entitled Frances and Bernard, this epistolary novel written by Carlene Bauer is painfully human. It is tender and heartbreaking, realistic as much as it is romantic. Frances and Bernard meet at a writer's colony, and they begin a correspondence, which later becomes a love affair. Frances, however, decides against marrying Bernard, realizing she cannot support his mental instability (manic seasons followed by depression requiring hospitalization). Or, perhaps it's truer to say, her art cannot support it.

"It would require all of my spirit to take care of you the way you need to be taken care of," writes Frances,"—the way I wish I could take care of you, which would be the way God would require me to take care of you if I were to become your wife. There would no spirit left for my books."

At the end of the novel, Frances regrets her decision. Bernard, however, has already married another woman. Later, in a letter to his friend describing his final encounter with Frances after his marriage, he describes the way he had loved Frances.

"Looking at Frances, I had the realization that I had been both her lover and her brother. With most people, you settle into being one or the other. I feel related to her still, familial because she knew me when I was at my most Bernard and I knew her when she was at her most Frances."

I have thought this to be one of the most poignant descriptions of human intimacy. When we arrive safely at being most fully and confidently ourselves in the presence of another human being, we have achieved a rare trust and received a great gift.

This intimacy, reliant on full disclosure, is what I'll call nakedness.

Naked is the fifth word of faith that I've chosen for this series, and in the Bible, it's meant to describe, not just the physical state of being unclothed, but the emotional and spiritual condition of total transparency.

In the Garden, Adam and Eve were naked "and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25). Their total selves were on display before one another and God himself, and there was no need for apology.

Adam was at his most Adam. Eve was at her most Eve.

God saw them and delighted in them, just as he had his entire creation, calling it all "very good."

This prelapsarian moment is worthy of pause. It is beautiful for the vice that is absent. We humans, this side of Genesis 3, probably fail to imagine what it would be like to live without dissimulation, concealment, pretense, lies.

I know how eager I am to make sure that I am perceived in ways congruent with my best self. At church this past Sunday, as I was clarifying for children's ministry volunteers which monthly memory verse we were memorizing, I repeated several times how, "As a family, we were sure that this month's passage was John 15."

As a family. As a family.

I had become suddenly insistent with these people that we were, as a family, memorizing the Scripture passages at home. I needed them to see me as faithful, as spiritual, as worthy of being in the position of Children's Ministry Director.

It is nothing short of exhausting to spend our lives on this kind of spin, and we will reap nothing but weariness if we must, at every turn, work so tirelessly for the approval of others. It requires we be something other than we really are.

I can't help but see that the gospel promises a greater rest.

To be naked. To be at our most Adam. At our most Eve.

The greater way of Jesus is the unmerited approval of God. Grace does not require concealment, but forgiveness. When Jesus hung naked on a cross, surrounded by scoundrels, he exchanged his righteousness for our treachery.

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Forgiveness is the only thing that makes nakedness before God possible.

"It is a wonderful thing to be humans in the hand of God," Jen McNaughton recently said our church's women conference. That's a line I've been turning over in my head ever since. Jen had been sharing the nature of her own struggles and the joy of learning to depend on God, and she was reminding us that God is never surprised by our limitations and sin. As the Psalmist describes, he is a compassionate father. "He knows our frame; he remembers we are dust," (Ps. 103:14).

It is possible to walk naked with God. To be transparently human, which is to say, flawed and failing. It is possible because a sympathetic high priest has been given, and he is acquainted with grief and sorrow and the fragility of mortality (cf. Heb. 4:15).

He- A brother. A husband.

"Looking at Frances, I had the realization that I had been both her lover and her brother. With most people, you settle into being one or the other. I feel related to her still, familial because she knew me when I was at my most Bernard and I knew her when she was at her most Frances."

You at your most Adam. Me at my most Eve. And both of us loved wildly By God in all that nakedness.

The Act of Becoming Small

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I am cramped in an airplane, sandwiched between my husband and a man whose language is not my own. He (the stranger) resists when I instinctively grab for his lunch tray to pass it to the flight attendant after he’s finished eating. I don’t know why my gesture of helpfulness is rebuffed. Today, we are leaving behind Lisbon: its whitewashed houses with their clay-tiled roofs, its stunning sun-lit landscapes, its friendly people and their melodic, lilting language. We’ve traveled for work, not play, and although I do not mean to solicit sympathy (one friend emails, “work trip. feh.”), I am keen to insist on the quality of our time away, which was crowded with strangers, group excursions, late-night business dinners, and midnight phone calls to the children. The Bible reading plan I’d copied ambitiously in my journal was abandoned early on. Mornings seemed to come too quickly to begin them with prayer.

I am feeling bad about this today – apologetic even, although I can’t be sure if I’m sorry is the same thing as a confession. It feels like a pathetic way to make up for having neglected God, an adolescent gesture that is probably more motivated by my own desire to ingratiate myself once again, especially now that I have a book to write. These amends somehow seem more necessary with a deadline looming.

Feeling sorely out of practice, I begin again. Praying. After only a week, it’s as if I’ve lost the skill of it. (Skill. That, too, belies what I think of prayer. As if any human can be skilled in conversation with the Holy.) But for all that feels unnatural, even shameful about attempting to pick up where we left off, I begin again. My confidence grows: even praying badly might be welcome with God.

Maybe we should all take turns at praying badly. Maybe then we’d finally shake free of our proud pretensions of being good or doing good. Maybe we’d begin remembering that the only prayer that works, the only “good” prayer is the prayer that makes us small, the kind of prayer that re-proportions that world.

I’m sorry, best said on the knees, is a diminutive act.

Suddenly, you are as small as you need to be.

 

 

And another thing . . .

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Yesterday, I wrote about my wrestle with the self and the smartphone. (Read When Your Right Hand Causes You to Sin: Part I and Part II). However, I think writing about my abuse of technology will probably parallel the experience of writing about the importance of exercise - and then not exercising for 6 weeks. My words, even my CONFESSIONS, expose my own hypocrisies.

Or maybe, if I were to be more generous, it's less about my deliberate hypocrisy and more about my humanity. I never write anything I don't mean. The real trouble I have is living into the words that I mean.

I am on a journey - just like you - and often this blog is the place where I come to learn. I hope you'll grant me that grace, to not have it all figured out, to trip on my own two left feet?

This is all preamble to why I'm really here: I wanted to add an addendum to yesterday's post about technology It's just a quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book Gift from the Sea (which is a fantastic read!):

"For life today in America is based on the premise of every-widening circles of contact and communication. (And this in 1955!) . . . This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul. . . .

How desirable and how distant is the ideal of the contemplative, artist or saint - the inner inviolable core, the single eye."

Distraction isn't a contemporary condition: I guess it's been around a long time. We have long been at this work of learning to silence the noise and attend the voice of God. And it is no easy task, but I believe it is the way we create room to pray, to praise, to work and live in the rhythm of love.

 

When Your Right Hand Causes You to Sin: Part II

jenmichel@me.com

You haven't expected to hear from me? It's true. I'm in the process of writing a book. And have I mentioned that the editor has asked for a first draft by August 1? This would only seem overwhelming if you've given a thorough look at the calendar. I've only gone so far as to count the weeks that remain until the end of the school year.

Eleven.

I take this to mean that if ever I have needed habits of personal discipline, the moment is now. And I want to share with you how I'm learning to steward my resources of time and energy, even love, as I work to meet this deadline.

Several weeks back, I wrote a post called, "When your right hand causes you to sin." I regret if I left you all imagining that I was on the brink of some moral crisis or poised for some terrible scandal. I didn't mean to worry you, and there's no abnormal reason to fear. All the biggies are intact (marriage, kids, my personal spiritual life.)

What I was really referring to in that post were my habits with technology. I was finding myself increasingly distracted and edgy. I was growing obsessively convinced that I should be paying attention to something - and this something was usually my twitter feed and not my children. I was facing the contemporary glut of information and the invitation to participate (read! comment! have an opinion!), and it resulted in a clutching panic.

It's true that I am inclined toward anxiety. I feel it almost normal when my chest tightens as life grabs hold. I life with worry - although I can't ever say that I really know why. My fears are the kind that lurk in the shadows - indiscriminate, without shape or form. I know that technology isn't my problem, per se, but it sure was feeding it.

I also recognized, in my self-tethering to technology, a growing cynicism. Petty jealousies grew up as I began assuming a reflexive incrimination of the motives of others (writers, usually). The articles I read, I begrudged, feeling competitive, feeling ugly, never ever wishing anyone a success beyond my own. Twitter, Facebook, blog reading: they were making a hater out of me.

When your right hand causes you to sin.

I like to be good at the things I do. And it just so happens that the thing I do now is write and write publicly. So I am facing this about myself, learning as I go and admitting along the way what I don't yet know and who I have not yet become.

So I made this confession, first to friends and now to you. I don't think I'm afraid of confession. I actually embrace it. I think confession is the way to beckon grace into your life, the way to really start living into the Jesus way. It's unnerving, yes, to stand in the lingering realities of your brokenness. But it's also the best place for seeing Jesus.

I also think that confession has a way of moving you into change. Start admitting what's going wrong - how you're going wrong - and begin the work (a work initiated and sustained by God) of repairing it.

In my wrestle with the smartphone then, I decided I first needed to listen again to a series of lectures that have been really influential in my life, especially in considering what is the best use of technology in an embodied life. Read Mercer Schuchardt, Associate Professor of Communication at Wheaton College, has a Ph.D. in Media Ecology. He studies the historical and present effects of technology on our lives, and he approaches it with a theological commitment to the incarnation: the belief that our lives should be embodied in our place and in present relationships.

If God came and pitched his tent among us, maybe that actually means something about the importance of being present in space and time.

I found some really helpful content in the lectures and was talking about them with a friend who has been asked to write a book on this subject (I hope she does!). I promised her a copy. Then I thought to post them here, thinking they could also be of help to others. And now I've written this entire post only to realize that the files are too big to upload.

But here's a consolation prize, though: go to Dr. Schuchardt's profile at Wheaton's site. You can listen to one of his chapel addresses as well as click on some links to interviews with him. I think he has a wise critique of technology that reminds us of the Faustian bargain we make every time we use it. We need to discern whether what we gain is greater than what we give up.

When your right hand causes you to sin.

I've officially deleted facebook and twitter off my phone, and I've moved my mail button to the very last screen. These are my small steps of change, my small reconciliation to the redemptive project Jesus is doing in my life. I am called to be a writer, and this is first and foremost about cultivating my attentiveness for God and His Word. If there are things that do not contribute to me living into this calling, then it is best amputated.

I hope this for you, too: when your right hand causes you to sin, that you'll cut it off.

 

 

 

When your right hand causes you to sin

jenmichel@me.com

I don’t expect the certainty I once did about hearing God’s voice. When I was in the infancy of faith - a teenager - God was so gracious to me. I could palpably sense His nearness, and I needed that reassurance. Having converted to Christ after a week of summer camp with my youth group, I came home to the process of slowly losing the friendships that had once meant so much. I was a new me - and awkward in that newness. For as welcomed as I felt into the arms of God, I felt equally as alienated from the people who hadn’t shared my experience and couldn’t understand it. But God was good, near, and His voice as close to audible without actually having the quality of sound. Reading my Bible in that early season of faith was nothing rote or routine: it was the actual experience of communion, of friendship. For years, I filled pages of journals. Prayers. Thoughts. Conversations. And I’m grateful for this early start with Christ, which had all the empirical qualities of being real.

I could feel God.

I might wish that it had continued, the electricity of that newness. But like every love relationship, my walk with Jesus has matured and deepened, settling into the steady rhythm of a pulse. A heartbeat. Unconsciously, it beats.

Faith. Faith. Faith.

There is a reassurance about this, too, but I find it requires more attentiveness. The sky doesn’t always light up with the certainties it once did. And God whispers more than before. It’s necessary now to pay more attention. And sometimes, in the whirl of the day and the distraction of the contemporary mood, I fear I could miss it. Him.

(Although God can be persistent.) This, too, is grace.

Yesterday, I sat down in an unfamiliar church flanked by friends. And reaching for my bulletin, my eyes fell on the sermon title: “When to Cut Off Your Hand.”

If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

This has been a distant refrain of the last two weeks. A whisper. A hint. A gentle nudge in the direction of reflection. Of repentance.

I hear Him inviting me into these words.

If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

These are words meant for me. But I haven’t yet lingered on them. I haven’t given myself sufficient pause. I haven’t - to be honest – had the courage to allow these words their voice.

I haven’t reconciled myself to the change they announce. (And isn’t transformation always what Scripture intends?)

If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

I fear I lack the ruthlessness.

 

 

Advent's Invitation: A Prayer of Confession

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(From yesterday's liturgy at Grace Toronto Church) Merciful God, always with us, always coming:

We confess that we do not know how to prepare for your Advent.

We have forgotten how to hope in miracles;

We have ignored the promise of your kingdom;

We get distracted by all the busyness of this season.

Forgive us, God.

Grant us the simple wonder of the shepherds,

The intelligent courage of the Magi,

And the patient faith of Mary and Joseph,

That we may journey with them to Bethlehem

And find the good news of a child born for us.

Now, in the quiet of our hearts, we ask you to make us ready for his coming.

Amen.

Anatomy of an Apology: The Business of Atonement

jenmichel@me.com

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.

* * * * *

Thanks for sticking around this week. Here's where we've been so far.

The Naked Truth: "There's something about an apology, about owning my crap, that just feels bad."

Saying I'm Sorry: "Sorry isn't good enough. Name it. Be specific. Hold no punches."

Mr. Deepwaters and Ms. Pushy Lass: "'Is there anything that I've missed or anything that you want to say to me?' I mentally sew my mouth shut while he answers."

The truth is owning my sin is about way more than just making that guy of mine like me again. It's about remaining in the truthfulness of who I am, what I've done, who Kiernan is and how he needs better. It gets me out of myself and into relationship, no more hiding or pretense.

This relationship matters too much and letting it slide or defending myself will not make me feel like everything's fine. My sin won't just go away if we both agree to act like it never happened.

The mess of it will fester if left to itself.

But even if I remember all these lessons (I rarely do) and I try my very best to make them work (again, rare) it guarantees nothing.

Learning from these lessons and following my own advice can not make everything ok. Everything is not ok.

Which reminds me of my second lesson and brings me to the seventh:

Seventh lesson, ask Jesus, the only one who could atone for this sin I've committed against my guy, and the only one who can make it right, to heal the wounds that I've inflicted. Preferably ask it out loud so my loved one can hear.

This is where hope comes. There are times when I have done or said something and I know, I went way too far this time. Not only is forgiveness unlikely but I could never make him well again, not after what I've done.

And at that point, I tend to despair.

But here is where the truth of the gospel touches down into my reality. Not only will I be forgiven for my sin against my guy, not only is it wiped away as though I never did anything wrong and only ever did what is right, but I can trust this same God to work my horrible sin, for good, in my guy's life. This is a lesson I'm still trying to learn.

 Nothing can separate Kiernan from the love of his Father, not even my wretchedness.

What if God uses even our messed up stuff for His plans? What if He takes the terrible things we do and the terrible things done to us and gives them meaning and purpose that transcends the ugliness and brokenness of it all? What if He was doing something beautiful while I was sinning?

What if, for my guy, somehow, God used my sin to make him whole?

The One who takes my worst sins against my loved guy and uses them to make him into the image of Christ. The One who will use the wrong things Kiernan endures at my hand to shape him for something life giving, transformative, God glorifying.

And I'm not trying to get out of anything here.

This is not me signing a permission form for myself so I can sin against others, but it is a comfort. When I know I can never make my sin right again, but Jesus will, I am comforted. All is not lost. I screwed up, but because of Jesus all is not lost.

Our sins against the one's we love highlights our inabilities, our flaws and our desperate condition. Though we bumble as we try to get an apology out, as we sob uncontrollably with snot and tears running down our faces, when we wrestle hard to talk about it honestly, we find that at some point, somehow, Jesus has brought us to the foot of the cross, and our whole aching self cries out: "Lord, who else can I go to? Only You have the words of eternal life!"

And He speaks over us and into us those words of eternal life. He speaks them into our sin wearied hearts and He makes promises to us and to those we have hurt. Promises of forgiveness and mercy, of love and presence, of taking all things broken and making them new.

 Lord, help me to pray for the healing of those I sin against and teach me to hope in a God who is so much bigger then the things I do to the people I love.

* * * * *

Thanks again to Wendy for all her insight here this week. She's a great writer, isn't she? You want her to blog, don't you? (Now look who's the pushy lass.) Next week, stay tuned for a return to some posts about calling. I don't think that dog is quite dead.

Blessings for your weekend. Grace and Peace.

Anatomy of an Apology: Mr. Deepwaters and Ms. Pushy Lass (Guest Post by Wendy Stringer)

jenmichel@me.com

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.

* * * * *

And so continues the excruciating journey of learning to talk the truth about the things I'm so ashamed of. Just a quick recap of yesterday's lessons learned in the most painful ways possible:

 Lesson one: A simple "sorry" will never be good enough. 

Lesson two: Grieve that I cannot fix my sin with my own words and deeds. 

Lesson three: Confess the wrong I've done. Get explicit.

And onto the fourth lesson: confess my motivation behind the sin, specifically. Ok, this does take a little digging and it is so undoing I'd often rather skip it, but my experience has been that my guy is more than willing to help me out here; if I can't think of what to say he's up for giving it a shot. You may want to pre-empt this too.

However, honestly, as unpleasant as it is, thinking about and talking out the why behind my sin has proven very helpful. To both of us.

So, back to our day of fighting and the self absorbed habit that Kiernan was calling me on. Here it is: when we argue I cut him off. He'll be mid thought, mid sentence, mid point and I've already decoded it, I've encoded, and I'm ready to tell him how he should think about things. I'm ready, he's taking too long to make his point, what I have to say is too important, so I interrupt.

And then he, "Mr. Deepwaters", wants to know why.

I always assumed that I did this because I'm a pushy lass and I like winning an argument. This is true. However when he  told me to "think about it" I did and I realized that there was something deep in my impulse to speak over him: the desperate, almost panicked need to be heard.

For many reasons (another time perhaps) I fear not having a voice that others would listen to. I am afraid of being missed and missing out. I am afraid of being unsafe and so I am my own biggest advocate for the things I need to feel like everything's ok.

Getting specific about the deeper motivations behind my sin made it possible for me to know myself, for Kiernan to know me and for us to get to the heart behind my sin of self absorption, rudeness and the need to win a fight.

Fifth lesson: acknowledge what my sin communicated to loved guy and how it hurt him.

My sin hurts the people I love. Being truthful about my sin includes being clear on how I wounded the other. I tell people all kinds of things when I sin against them, even if I'm not talking, which is, admittedly, rare.

For example, if I were to walk away from my guy in mid sentence and then proceed to ignore him for a period of time (no, of course I've never done that), I am telling him that his thoughts are garbage and he's not worth listening to. My guy is an influencer and wants to be heard almost as badly as I do so this "silencing" cuts him to the quick. It confirms for him what his fears often try and tell him: you have nothing to say that anyone should ever listen to.

When I tell him I know that my sin has communicated something very specific to him, something that has hurt him deeply and I am sorry, I am choosing to recognize his hurt rather than obsessing about how I can convince him to like me again. When I spend time thinking and talking about his hurt in all of this I tell him that I know this is not all about me.

It's about him too.

Sixth lesson, ask my loved guy to express his hurt and point of view (if he's ready). After I try and communicate to my loved guy how I have hurt him and how much I hate it I should really let him get a word in edgewise. Being the quiet guy that he is I shouldn't push him to speak and make nice before he's ready.

Once in a hardly ever while I'm brave enough to ask "Is there anything that I've missed or anything you want to say to me?" Sometimes he says no and forgives me right there. Other times he needs to add a thing or two and that's hard to swallow; I mentally sew my mouth shut while he does this.

Defensiveness and repentance are not bedfellows.

Tomorrow, we'll wrap up with how Jesus figures into this whole business of apologies.

Anatomy of An Apology: Saying "I'm Sorry" (Guest Post by Wendy Stringer)

jenmichel@me.com

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.

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

jenmichel@me.com

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.

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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.

Celebrate Advent: Make room for humility.

jenmichel@me.com

As it turns out, men of humility don't write on the subject. I learn recently that a well-respected pastor and the author of a beautiful book on humility has been removed from his position of leadership. He's accused of authoritarianism, of being unable to receive correction, of neglecting the practices of corporate confession and personal accountability.

I renew my commitment, here, to be ruthlessly honest.

To tell you that I'm a mess.

It's just yesterday that my voice thunders, sending two little boys scurrying for shelter. I am furious about breakfast debris and the wild state of my desk, which looks like it's been turned on end and shaken furiously. Who can think in the midst of all this mess?

It's this Advent season that I've lived breathless. Restless weeks without punctuation. I am the fool who met December without the necessary margin for Christmas's petulance.

It's this blog, and I am Eve. Writing lurches between good and ultimate, suffering the magnetic lure of becoming the kind of thing I must do, that I cannot live without, my castle of sand.

And most days, it's a quiet anxiety that needles me, fears of forgetting and disappointing and failing. On the surface, I'm all bravado.

Even in this mess, this me all ragged and pocked, I find His arms. Every morning, new mercies. There, in those arms, I find the glorious freedom to admit.

Tell Him what a wreck I am. Confront where I've wounded and resisted and bullied my way forward. Name the moments, see them, grieve my all of my indifference and self-love. Admit the hypocrisies and know that it is my own voice here that condemns. Make room, if not for humility, than for honesty. I recklessly unearth all that is subterranean.

I put the guts on the table.

Advent is the celebration of that steadfast love and the arms that hold us up in the midst of the mess and failure. Jesus came for the wrecked, for the broken, for those admitting they are too far gone. For me. For you.

Advent is an invitation to make room: for the ruthless reckoning that we need a Savior.

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