An apology takes great courage. It is not for sissies to admit how we have hurt others and to ask for forgiveness. Apologizing involves claiming ownership over how we have intentionally or unintentionally brought pain into someone’s life. Being willing to face someone we have hurt and to ask to restore the relationship takes a special bravery.
Recently I was given an example of such courage.
At breakfast, I sat with a wounded heart at a cafeteria table. A colleague’s hurtful words from the night before still stung my ears. I had spent half the night replaying the conversations in my head--what was said, what I wished I had said, how I could have made my point more clearly.... My body was weary from lack of sleep and my heart was heavy from being insulted by someone I considered a friend.
Suddenly this same colleague approached my table and said, “I just want to apologize for how I spoke to you last night. I thought afterwards about what you were saying, and I feel I came off too strong. I didn’t mean to be dismissive.” The humility and grace in his voice were jarring to my heart. I was stunned by his compassion.
I could have let him off easy and said, “Don’t worry about it, no offense was taken.” But I am afraid that I am too honest for that kind of superficiality. Instead I said, “Thank you for saying that, because I found your words to be very hurtful.” The pain on his face was evident and he sat down at my table. Over the next few minutes we were able to share together and find the blessing of forgiveness and reconciliation. It was a gift, a reenacting of Christ’s kingdom here on earth.
Our words are powerful. James 4 reminds us of the power of our words. Just as a single spark ignites a forest fire, our words can create destruction. Or just like the rudder of a ship, our tongue can steer us to peaceful or rocky shores. James 4:9-10 says, ”With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” Our words have the power to bless or to wound, so choose your words with care.
It could not have been easy for my colleague to ask for my forgiveness, it made him vulnerable. Even if he regretted the earlier conversation, he could have simply ignored it. That morning apology was guided by the power of the Holy Spirit. At that moment in the breakfast room, I saw what sacrificial love looks like. My colleague showed how much he valued our relationship by putting aside ego and pride and choosing to be vulnerable. He went from being a "mean boy" to a "super-hero" in my eyes.
And in that moment I saw a reflection of the love of Jesus, for he was willing to reach through pain to restore our fellowship. Jesus loved us enough to endure all manner of suffering to mend our relationship broken by sin. Forgiveness gives all of us a glimpse of God’s kingdom here on earth.
Apologizing is never easy. It takes great courage. And the Holy Spirit equips us for the task.