Monday, February 4, 2008

Apologies, Repentance & Forgiveness

I am really pleased to see that one of the first things Kevin Rudd is making as PM is to make that apology to Australia’s Indigenous Community for the stolen generation debacle. It is a really good first step towards reconciliation and I hope that it really does provide us with better opportunities to address some of the problems in our Indigenous Communities such as the life expectancy gap.

Apologies are a funny thing aren’t they? I read The Five Languages of Apology a couple of years ago. I read it in an attempt to find the words or actions that I could use to clearly communicate to someone I loved how sorry I was. The book was based on the premise that just as people communicate love in different ways (ala The Five Love Languages); they also use different methods to apologise. We each have preferred languages and unless others use that particular language we don’t really ‘hear’ that they are sorry.

The five languages were:
1. Expressing Regret – a heartfelt expression of how you feel because you’ve hurt them
2. Accept Responsibility – accept that you’ve done something wrong, and don't deflect blame
3. Make Restitution – make efforts to make amends, make the person feel loved
4. Genuinely Repent – understand that the behaviour was wrong and commit to change
5. Request Forgiveness – ask for grace, understand that forgiveness isn’t a certainty, and that it is that person’s choice to forgive or not

I think that last point is the hardest; recognising that it is actually up to the other person whether they accept the apology and forgive or not. That can be really, really hard; to do everything that you can because you truly desire reconciliation and healing in the relationship, but knowing that that forgiveness bit is out of your hands.

The funny thing is that when we refuse to forgive it really only hurts ourselves in the long run. I see this in my life, I hold on to offence, and don’t forgive because I think in doing that I’m protecting myself from being hurt again. This doesn’t only impact my relationship with the person who’s hurt me, but with others as well. The tape plays in my head, “they’ll only hurt you too/again”, “how long will it take before they reject you / leave you too?” And all that achieves is that I keep myself distant and don’t open up to allow myself to experience real relationships with people, which creates a sense of rejection by itself as the tape plays, “why don’t you have better/deeper relationships with people”.

You know more than half the time I don’t think people hurt me out of malice, I think it’s thoughtlessness. I know most of the time when I hurt people it isn’t intentional, it’s just that I have SO much space in my mouth that both feet fit in there quite comfortably, sometimes things just come out of my mouth and I instantly think, “where the hell did that come from???” but the damage is done. The other source of hurt in my life is when my assumptions and expectations are not met, which is hardly anyone else’s fault. I think other conflict comes out of miscommunication, someone says one thing quite amicably, but by the time that is filtered through my life experience I hear something quite hostile.

The "narrow way" seems to be to keep opening yourself up and loving people despite it all, and leaving the possible consequence of being hurt again in God’s hands. That is not to say He gets the blame, or it’s His fault, but just trusting that in forgiving as He forgave us, and loving our neighbours as ourselves that yes it does open us up to pain, but that He is more than willing, more than capable of healing that hurt and helping us move on. He certainly demonstrated this Himself when on the cross Jesus cried, “Father forgive them” and this is the one of whom Isaiah wrote, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isa 53:3). I love that He identified Himself with us in that way, that He chose to share our suffering. I think it is a huge temptation to not forgive, but Jesus went through that temptation to not forgive and overcame it. Hebrews 4:15-16 comes to mind, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

God bless,

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