This is not intended as a “how to” on apology, but it is a very short story of how powerfully a good apology can be to bring healing.
Recently I found myself sitting with about a dozen other women facing a wall of nearly 20 men who stood together to apologize for the way men treat women. The teacher, a man, had just spoken for over 30 minutes on the value of women and how men have historically misused the Bible and their cultural and sometimes physical power to take advantage of and devalue women in many ways.
When he finished teaching he invited the men up to stand with him to apologize for their behavior and for their gender. Granted, the men who have mistreated us were not present. But that does not change the power of their apologies.
Like others in the room, many of us had never received a sincere apology for the sometimes cultural and sometimes specific things they mentioned. A few of the things they cited had to be revealed by God alone. None of those men have been with me all of my 58 years. Yet they used turns of phrases that only I could relate to profoundly disarm offenses in my life. Several of those offenses I had forgotten until they said them.
The apologies did not come from my offenders, but they did come from God the Father who revealed them to these men. The one who created me in love and for love, knew I could not continue to live with an undercurrent of offense, one I was not even conscious of.
An important part of what made this act of seemingly generic apology so powerful was the ground rule the teacher gave: no one was asking us to forgive. Asking us to forgive makes a demand on the one receiving.
You see, I’ve been apologized to in the past for some of the things they mentioned, but each of the previous times it came with the stated or implied goal that I forgive on the spot, or really soon. Most times healing comes over time. A demand to overcome and forgive immediately is more likely to prevent or distort the healing process.
This time, by releasing me to God’s timing to forgive, I was free to just let the apologies sink in. I did not have to weigh and analyze. Nothing was expected of me, only the option to receive. This freedom allowed their genuine regret and remorse to sink in more deeply than ever before and disarm wounds, many I was not even aware of.
Abba, Help me be less demanding of those I love and hurt. Show me how to walk and talk in ways that offer grace and space, especially to those I love.