I’ve been thinking a lot lately. Not my usual, constant chatter-in-the-brain stuff, but what feels more like mulling and simmering over things that I’d always thought my opinions were formed on. Like apologies for instance. (You didn’t really think I meant those three words, did you?)
All my life I’ve always been under the impression that saying ‘I am sorry’ was a sign of weakness of character. Not a nice thing to be under an impression of, but there you have it. Apologies were the hardest thing I could ever think of having to say, coming in a very close second after the Real Three Little Words.
With time, years, age, experience…whatever the latest word for it is, I slowly changed my opinion and realized that apologies are simply a way to admit you’re human (and really, which one of us isn’t?) and to allow yourself a shot at humility. You do something wrong, you admit it, you apologize and then you try your best not to do it again.
I still stand by that opinion, but I think I’ve added a facet to its definition. Apologies I think are also a way to say “I care. A lot.” When you do something that deserves remorse, then it’s usually for one of two reasons: that you’ve infringed upon the rights of another (justice-based) or that you’ve done something that hurt someone whose feelings matter to you even if it wasn’t technically wrong (emotion-based).
Unfairness and injustice are character flaws and sometimes while we develop and nurture our ability to do away with those vices, we inevitably stumble along the way and wrong others. Sometimes, it’s people we wont ever be able to meet or say sorry to. That’s where penance comes in I suppose. We go out of our way to do rights and hopefully balance out the wrongs, but the guilt of it never really leaves…until and unless you get to face the people you need to apologize to and get their forgiveness.
Emotion-based wrongs are so much more complex. And yet so simple to fix, it’s a wonder so many struggle with it. When you hurt someone, the first thing you need to ask yourself is “Do I care?” I don’t mean does it pinch at your conscience, I mean do you really care? If you do, then an apology does not mutate into a way of demeaning yourself or losing a battle or even giving in to the other person, it simply becomes a statement: “I’m hurting because you are, even though I’m the one who caused that hurt to begin with.” Pretty long message to fit into three words, eh? But I think every person who has ever received a sincere apology hears it.
In fact, I think in a lot of cases, people don’t feel angry or abandoned because of the things others do to hurt them, as much as they do because those who hurt them don’t seem to care enough to apologize. To be able to hurt another person and then not feel enough to offer consolation or amends…that’s perhaps the bluntest way to tell that person that they don’t even qualify for the consideration you’d give a random stranger out of mere politeness.
But perhaps the most important thing to realize is that if you’re not inspired to apologize then you’re not emotionally involved. And that is an excellent indicator when repenting (tawbah). Think about it: you live in a world created by God, enjoying amenities provided by Him, with assets given by Him and then still go ahead and abuse every gift He offered you before you even knew to ask for it…and then you don’t even have the decency to realize that and apologize?
That’s the kind of behaviour we gauge when we’re sifting through the people to decide who is worth our respect and who is not. So if it doesn’t cut it for normal social interaction and makes us indignant when ordinary people do it to us, then what does it say when we do the same to God?
And more scary is the fact that if you don’t feel inspired to repent, then that means you’re not emotionally involved with God. You claims of believing in Him, having faith, loving Him and trusting Him are all simply lip-service and haven’t touched your heart. For if they had, you’d have felt the guilt of disappointing Him the moment you disobeyed one of His Laws and immediately felt the need to seek Him out and tell Him how very sorry you are.
I’m hardly in a position to be telling people what to do, but I’d suggest that if there’s anyone you care about that you may have hurt – intentionally or unintentionally – take a few minutes off from whatever it is you’re doing (including reading this) and go tell them you’re sorry. Don’t just say it, mean it and then do something to make amends. You have no idea what that will mean to them, trust me.
And then tonight, sometime after the silence of sleep descends in your home, find yourself a quite spot and do the same with God.
I truly believe that if ever there was a way to lighten the burdens that hang heavy over all our souls…sincere apologies would be it.