Why are these two words so hard to say?
It wasn’t the first time it had happened. My husband was driving and I was the navigator, as usual. We were in an unfamiliar city, trying to find the university building where he was about to give a talk. We’d been relying on printed directions, when suddenly I realized I had missed something and were now driving in the wrong direction in rush hour traffic. I quickly grabbed my iphone and entered our destination, which shortly got us back on track. But I knew it would have been good to at least look at the map ahead of time, and perhaps have my phone ready as a backup. And we do have history here. That can make the simplest things loaded, right?
I always have a defense when these things happen, instead of just saying, “I’m sorry.” This week I had Rohr’s second rule in my head, “Say you’re sorry when you’ve hurt someone,” so I did say, “I’m sorry, I should have looked at the route and been prepared.” I couldn’t resist adding, “But those were confusing directions.” This was a small thing and no real harm was done, as he did make his meeting on time, but it drove home for me how hard it is for me to apologize and to resist defending myself. For that matter, is there anything too small – or too big — to apologize for?
So why is it so hard to say we’re sorry? Some theories:
1. We have few models for it. We mirror what we’ve been taught, but also what we see. It’s much more common to see people make justifications for their behavior rather than admit they did something wrong and take responsibility. We witness this in so many dimensions in the news and current events, in public servants and civic leaders, and honestly, within the church as well. We are all human, and none of us are immune to the temptation to defend our ego. But shifting the blame or returning pain for pain helps no one. Covering up keeps us stuck.
2. It’s scary. Apologizing is part of authentic intimacy, and that makes us vulnerable. Our apology might be rejected, we might be abandoned. This is a real risk. But if we are seeking to love as God loves, and love others as ourselves, it’s worth the risk. It’s part of being in relationship, being honest about our lives. Maybe that’s why it’s on the list of ways to live out the resurrection. Dying to our own concerns can bring new life.
3. We have to face anothers’ pain. And it is pain we have caused by our actions or our inactions. This is the other side of the coin. It’s never just about us. If we can muster the courage to go here and be with them in their pain and apologize, there’s no telling what healing might happen.
4. We prefer illusion. We desperately need to believe we really are good, strong, capable, bright, dependable people. It causes dissonance to even look at our shadow self, much less own what we see there. This shadow self is part of the ego that we spend the first half of life constructing. It’s sometimes called the false self. Rohr says the false self isn’t bad, it’s just incomplete. Our true self runs much deeper, “the face we had before we were born,” the person God created us to be, separate from our roles, titles, vocation or status in our family or community. This is our true identity, and once we glimpse it, we find less need to defend anything. It becomes easier to admit that we have both light and darkness within us, to speak honestly about those moments when we were only thinking of ourselves, and apologize.
There’s a prayer we say in my church that captures this kind of honesty with the God who loves us unconditionally. This prayer just clears the air for me. I say it often:
“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”
If we know that we are deeply and unconditionally loved by God, this becomes our central truth. We find we can come clean, with him and with others. We will rely less on our defenses and be more authentic about both our weaknesses and our strengths, for these no longer define us. We are free to become our true selves, the image of Love we see in Christ.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17
What do you find most challenging about this topic? Is there anyone to whom you need to say “I’m sorry,” today? How might this lead to something new? Ask God to show you the way.