Sorry/Not Sorry

Is it just me, or do people seem to really struggle with saying, “I’m sorry” these days? There appears to be some kind of cultural shift taking place, where “I’m sorry” is seen as an act of unacceptable weakness or submission, so in our SELFIE OR DIE culture, words of apology remain unsaid because the higher value of BEING RIGHT is prized more.

I blame The Real Housewives of (insert city name of choice here). This Bravo television franchise has been a ratings powerhouse for over thirteen years and features the personal and professional lives of some of the most unrepentant women to walk the face of the earth. Ridiculous spat after ridiculous spat shows the viewers the bitterness, hurt and division that can happen when people refuse to say, “I’m sorry”. One argument can provide four or five episodes of high ratings drama, as each party spins and grinds out one justification after another rationalization about why they were right, and the other woman should apologize.

Have you ever had that kind of drama in your relationships? Where the pressing need to be right only oppresses both of you by the weight of its own blind stubbornness?

A few weeks ago I had a startling encounter with an elderly woman on the street in State College, PA. I was walking down a sidewalk, making my way around a construction site that was butting right up to the sidewalk’s edge. There was a tall chain link fence separating the construction from the sidewalk, and the concrete had cracked and buckled as a result of the demolition. I was carefully making my way through this mess, looking down to avoid tripping. If you know me, you understand why this is a priority! I glanced up as I approached an intersection, and saw this lady unsteadily crossing the street toward me.

We met just at the place where the sidewalk was the most narrow and there was a light pole in the middle, and I didn’t look up fast enough. Thinking she was going left, I hastened my pace and went right, almost running her down. She was instantly offended.

“That’s right, go ahead, please, you go first!” she yelled as she flattened herself against the fence. “You saw that I’m an old person and you are young, but please, do come through first!” I was appalled at what I had done. She teetered on a broken piece of sidewalk and I gently took her arm. Instantly she yelled, “DON’T TOUCH ME.”

Could this get any worse?

I looked her in the eyes and said, “I do apologize. I am so sorry. I misjudged your direction and thought you were going around the other side of the pole.”

She seemed very confused at my response, but that didn’t stop her attack. “You could see that I’m an old woman and not steady on my feet, but yes, let me get out of YOUR way” she yelled.

At that point all I wanted to do was run away. I felt the instant shame and embarrassment of having hurt this lady’s feelings. I had made her feel unseen and unimportant. Jesus would have noticed her like a Zacchaeus in a tree, wee little man that he was.

I lowered my voice and said, “I truly apologize. It won’t happen again.” Finally she seemed to realize that I was trying saying I’m sorry. She pushed past me and said, “Well thank you for saying that, but you young people have no regard for us older people.” And as she walked away, she continued her rant. Loudly. Causing everyone to stare.

She lives in a college town and probably feels this way for a reason. I don’t know if she was coming from church or a bar. Maybe her unsteadiness is a challenge for getting around a town full of distracted, phone-obsessed students every day. We never know the struggles people are facing. But all I wanted was forgiveness, and she wasn’t offering any. It still bothers me.

I found relief in the arms of my Savior. When I reached my hotel room a few minutes later, I sat on the bed and cried. My need for absolution was overwhelming. I didn’t receive it from her, so I had to take it to the cross. I asked God to forgive me. It took a day or two (OK, truth be told, its taken a few weeks) to shake the experience, but God gave me the peace that she would not give.

Whom do you need to say “I’m sorry” to today? What place of your life remains unsettled because of a lack of forgiveness? In the book of Matthew we receive instructions about this:

Matthew 5:23: So if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and while there you remember that your brother has something [such as a grievance or legitimate complaint] against you, 24 leave your offering there at the altar and go. First make peace with your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Jesus tells us this for our own sake as much as for our offended brother. Make that call, send that text, visit that person today. It’s the only way to find peace.

“Peace like a river….” Spring Creek in Happy Valley, PA. Photo credit @JayPaterno

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