Say and mean “I’m sorry” before I have to.
If you see a line in San Juan, Texas you might think you’ve arrived at some border amusement park. But if you follow the trail of people you will not come to a Ferris Wheel or rigged carnival games. No, you’ll find an altogether different game afoot. You’ll find a church.
The line in San Juan, made up of a variety of people, awaits confession. Over 20,000 people visit the church every weekend alone. Many of these, like those in the line, come to confess. They come to say “sorry” to a stranger, to some form of God.
I’m terrible at saying “I’m sorry.” One doesn’t need rules in areas of proficiency. I have no rule about being sure to eat candy every day—I have a mouth full of licorice as I type. No, rules give discipline to the flabby areas of our minds and souls—and bodies, too, if this candy compulsion continues.
Saying sorry is an admission of guilt, and I want to be strong, to be God. It is Eden-esque. The human characters in Genesis decided to break a rule in order to become gods. It didn’t work—at least not fully. They had knowledge like God—of good and evil—but not the power to do a thing about it. So what did they do? Apologize for their mistake and move on, right? No, of course not. And their action falls in line with our own. Adam and Eve hid. Once found out, they still didn’t come clean. Instead, they shirked responsibility.
It is my self-same pattern. It plays out like this:
I wrong a friend.
I try to convince myself that I didn’t wrong my friend. The mental gymnastics in this phase is impressive. And tiring.
Finally (hopefully?), the friend calls me out—there is no place to hide.
I rationalize, I blame, I spin. Anything to convince myself, the world, even God, that I, indeed, am clean. The fault was that of society or this friend is too sensitive or she heard me wrong or . . . it goes on and on.
This is a bad way. It takes time. It takes energy. It produces even more damage. The time I spend hiding and rationalizing—that time can be weeks. Months. Years. Even decades. We know this happens, right? Rather than admit wrong, offer a heartfelt apology, and rebuild, we create a relational chasm ever-widened by neglect and silence and self-protective resentment.
It is a shame. Literally. Shame and guilt are the key players in this daily drama. They coax us into destruction, and the worst part is they build on themselves, like some sadistic parasite. I’m ashamed of my original wrong, so I neglect my friend’s existence, hoping it will go away. Then, as days pile up, I become ashamed of my negligence, for what I’ve let happen to this relationship. More mental gymnastics, more neglect, more shame. It builds and builds and builds. Or, rather, it dismantles and dismantles and dismantles.
But there is another way.
There is this old video from the show “Wife Swap.”
Curtis, a young boy, became a sensation when his temporary “mother” came in and cleaned the mess and, gulp, threw away the junk food. The bacon was the final straw for Curtis. He comically runs away. But before running away he, full of passion and defiance and accidental hilarity, says, “She’s the queen and we’re the sorry people.”
The “sorry people.” He means it as a negative. To be a sorry person is to be one who is pitied, lowly, deplorable in some way or another.
But I think it might be a positive way of looking at myself. Not in some self-loathing, anti-Maslow, Eeyore way. No. But in a I’m-not-perfect way. In a I-screw-up way. In a I-wrong-friends way. In this fashion, it is liberating to be a sorry person. And, as a sorry person, I don’t fear my imperfections or freely admitting to them. I’m a sorry person. Sorry, not sorry about that. I make mistakes, and now I can do something about it.
When I see them—my mistakes, that is.
That is another facet to this rule. I can only be a good sorry person if I know what I should be sorry for. To do that, there must be some measure of self-awareness, of introspection, of listening to others and evaluating myself. Those people in San Juan aren’t improvising confessions. They enter a confessional with some self-awareness, with answers to some questions. What actions and words of mine are detracting from the flourishing of my friends? This is one question that will generate plenty to be sorry about, allowing me to get to work on making amends and making better of the limited time and relationships I’ve been given.
Or I can go on denying that I could ever do wrong. I could apologize when I am finally called into my boss’s office and it could mean my job. I could start apologizing when the papers have been signed, the bags packed. I could start apologizing to my kids when they are older or leave the house. Or I could just go on duping myself, hiding in the proverbial bushes, very much alone.
“King Curtis,” as he came to be known, packs a little suitcase and runs away that night from the woman attempting to better his life. Off into the dark he goes. He’d rather be alone than do the hard, bacon-less thing of conversation. I have the same option before me.
Or I can take the posture of those in San Juan, waiting to confess. I can willingly stand before those I wrong and admit my transgressions, abandon my guilt and shame, and live in the light of day. A truly sorry person, blessedly so.
Say and mean “I’m sorry” before I have to.
(Quick Virus Application (QVA-19) – Time has been afforded us through this slow down. There are fewer things to do, places to go. With even fifteen of those reclaimed minutes, perhaps I could jot down some meaningful people in my life. Then, I could ponder each in turn–how I’ve treated each person; how I’ve mistreated each person. Doing this daily, like confession, will begin as a challenging habit. But it will transition to a discipline of splendor in short-order. Maybe the pandemic can make you, too, a sorry person?)