Thursday, April 14, 2011

Simply Sorry

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As an official screw-up of the human race, I'm no stranger to apologizing. It seems I am constantly apologizing to my kids (but they live with me, spend the most time with me, and I'm betting it is just part of family life. But I think alot about what I'm going to say when I dispense an apology. I've got to. I don't want to hurt my child or husband any more than I already have. So I have to consider each word and any impact it will make on the already-wounded person who will hear those words.
Hunter Crying
And it reaches beyond our home too. When you are a part of a community, sometimes members of the community will hurt you. That's part of being human. We hurt one another. When we hurt a member of our community and we position ourselves for accountability and truth, we choose to heal those we've harmed. We choose to apologize because it is honestly our desire to repair what our hands have broken. And we do so with heartfelt accountability.
"I am so sorry that I hurt you. I hate what I did and I hate that I hurt a member of my tribe. I will ask and hope for your forgiveness, but understand if you are unable to forgive me." - THAT, my friend, is an apology.
Gianna Comforts Hunter
And sometimes pride causes an apology to sound more like this: "I'm sorry if I've hurt you." Somehow, the word "if" devalues a heartfelt apology. We expect that when someone has harmed us to KNOW that they've harmed us. It's part of accountability... to OWN your part in someone's pain. To OWN the knowledge that you've offended and hurt your brother or sister. 

I truly believe that knowing HOW to apologize is a staple. Kind of like eggs and milk being on the list for the grocery store, teaching our children how to apologize should be on the list for what we must teach our children before we release them into the world. To err is human. To apologize is divine. Image the look on the face of your child's boss when a sincere, beautiful, and healing apology is given. Imagine how valuable your child will become because of the powers of healing he possesses. And this could be the gift you have given to him that he brings into this broken world. A form of healing. And boy - this world could sure use some healing! Can I get a 'whoop-whoop'?! (Yeah, cheez-fest there. But seriously, as one of the world's foremost leading faux-pas specialist, I'm okay with my legacy becoming the gift of apology.)

Sometimes I tell my children to apologize. I think I'm among the majority of moms who force these. I also tell them to apologize like they mean it. (Majority again, right?) And sometimes I'm brazen enough to demand that they apologize until they mean it. It's important - what they sow, they will reap. And I want their harvest to be DELICIOUS! 

Another part of the typical apology that I'm not too fond of is the 'I didn't mean to ____." Obviously a person who is in your life for good things doesn't mean to do the harm they do. It's a given. But to mention the mere fact that they didn't intend or didn't mean to is almost like a request to get off on good behavior - which would also be a request for the hurt party to dismiss their own pain to make the offender feel good again. That's selfish and a good apology is self-less. 
Sometimes we don't agree with the reason our brother or sister is offended; we think they're too sensitive or maybe we view the situation in an entirely different way than they do. Who are we to determine the pain of an offense that causes our brother or sister to cry? After all, we're not the hurt party. So here comes the mustered apology - no, not mustard - though suddenly I could sure use a hot dog! (Smirk)
The mustered apology is not one that comes easily. It is one that comes out of kindness, mercy, and love for the hurt party. It is what one does when they wish to heal their brother or sister, despite presence or absence of agreement of the wrongdoing. It sounds a bit like this: "I am so sorry that I've hurt you. I am eager to lessen your pain, if there's any way that I can and I hope that you'll let me know if there's something I can do. If you are able, please accept my heartfelt apology." 
(We don't apologize with the intention of claiming guilt - when a friend is fired from a job (that you aren't the boss of) and you tell them you're so sorry, you're not admitting to firing them. You're just acknowledging their pain and expressing sympathy towards that pain.) The mustered apology is cousins to this - you don't necessarily assume the guilt.You are simply expressing sympathy towards a wrongdoing they feel you've been a party to. If the relationship or the person is of value to you (and everyone should be of value since we're born with the god-given birthright of dignity), you will need this skill in your arsenal. 

Before I go any further, I have to say that some people cannot be in our lives because the expense is too great and their presence in our lives use too much of our being. Some people must be loved from a distance. But that does not mean that the parting must be nasty and painful. Couldn't a peaceful fading of daily presence be just as effective in the long run? Must we label every action we've decided? There's no reason to announce "Being in your life is no good so we cannot be friends any more." Isn't it more beautiful to fade in friendship? Fond farewells beat the bejeezus out of painful partings! If an apology and a few un-returned phone calls send our friendships away without harming their spirits, isn't it worth it? We've all got enough baggage to last us our whole lifetimes! 
Back to the apologizing, though.
We were wounded by our church community. We'd delved in so completely, giving our time, our money, talents, and more. Our children attended the parish school. But something wasn't going well. Our oldest child continually climbed in the car in tears. 
Now we are the parents who grill our children to see what part they may have played. There's no assumption of innocence. It came to be that Julianne had been dealing with rocks being thrown at her during recess. A boy had been accused of having a crush on Julianne, and in effort to prove he had no crush - he took his charismatic personality and gathered the other boys in their small class to join in this modern-day stoning. 
The teacher was bothered by it and took matters into her own hands. She forced the ENTIRE glass, whether guilty or innocent, to hand-write apology letters to Julianne. Now this exasperated the other kids, especially the girls who hadn't participated in the rock throwing. Things got worse. Julianne was now shunned by the children who felt unfairly accused. The charismatic boy who started the rock-throwing even took the liberty of slamming the locker door into her head while she was getting her books. He also managed gathering a few of his buddies to cover his story of innocence. 
At this point, we were upset at being unable to protect our daughter and considering the tuition we were supplying, disgusted at the fact that public school was a safer setting for the kid's education. The head of school and church (a nun and a priest) decided that they couldn't punish Mr. Charismatic because his family contributed quite heavily to the building fund campaign. It wouldn't be prudent or fiscally responsible against our widow's mite sized contribution. During the eye-opening meeting, the priest/Monsignor screamed across the table at my husband telling him "Oh, I've heard you're a hot-head! I bet you're abusive to your family!" I couldn't believe the things I was hearing out of the mouth of this seasoned priest and I blurted "How can you say that?! You're a priest!" He looked at me, proudly and replied "A priest who tells the truth" allowing his finger to point upwards, emphasizing that he believed his words to be a truth. (Though he'd never gotten to know my husband, so it appeared he'd plucked a piece of gossip from the whispers of the middle school building.) We knew the meeting was over at this point, but in giving him the benefit of the doubt, I told him "Julianne is only ten years old. Won't you protect her because she's a child?!" He looked at me with the cold, angry eyes and in a sharp voice said "I don't know her." Precisely, man. You don't know her. 
Julianne's biological grandfather walked us back to the car. He'd been a big player in the diocese with his wife, Sherri. They'd rocked boats, but they'd moved mountains and touched many, many hearts together. He was disgusted by the display he'd seen. He comforted Kevin and I. But there was little that could be done when compassion is this lacking. So we decided it was time to leave the parish.
And we did. 
But we never came back to The Church. 

We thought we were just licking wounds. There would be no apology. We would have to forgive without an apology. (You can do that, ya know. You do it for one reason - to soothe your OWN soul.)

There are some things I'm coming to learn, though.

1. When you're disgusted, angry, and some part of you feels that you will never get over it without revenge, there is hope for a turn-around. (Because revenge, while fun to think about - is NOT the answer and when exacted, never feels as good as you think it's gonna.)
2. Sometimes, you've gotta love the ones you care about from a distance because they hurt you when too close in proximity. (It's okay to put distance between yourself and another, but do it in love.)
3. I like to think about scripture in Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:36 - When you put a seed in the ground, does it not die first so that what you sow may become a plant?) In order to get past the bitterness, you have to release a part of you, allow part of yourself to die so that a new (more evolved) you can emerge from the ruins. You have to relinquish control for this to occur. You have to throw your hands up and holler "I give."  And you have to mean it like the dickens. Nothing less.
I threw my hands up and let the seedling that I was disintegrate. The numbness faded away and I was able to feel compassion sprouting within me. (Oh compassion, how I've missed you! Just to never have to feign sincere concern for another's trauma - to be alive - breath, blink... hey - numbness kind of happens when you're all used up!)

So this weekend I attended a retreat called CHIRP - well, it's really CRHP (Christ Renews His Parish.)
To summarize:
Day 1: "What the HECK am I doing here?"
Evening brought confession. I wrote all the sins I could recall on a piece of paper - front and back and #1 was the anger I had carried for the church and this particular priest.

I sat down across from a priest and it went something like this: "Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been, well -um... maybe a year since my last confession." Priest asks me to begin. "Well, we've been away from the church and I know that since I am the woman, wife, and mother of my family, it is up to me to get this ball rolling. As a family, we had an experience with a priest that broke our hearts and I.." The Priest interrupted me saying "You know, I hate it (my heart begins to pound) when one of my brother priests harms a parishioner and fails to apologize. It doesn't matter who was right or wrong. There is a bigger, more grand picture at stake when we hurt someone and I just want to say on behalf of all of priests who wish to lead our church through love - I am SO, SO very sorry for what you've experienced. Truly."
Tears are streaming down my cheeks like Niagara Falls and for a moment my mind cannot process what he's just said to me so I start thinking about waterproof mascara and whether my eyelashes are lucky enough to have the impermeable type on. I composed myself and finished reading my list of sins as quickly as I could. The priest handed me a little card and asked me to say the prayer on the front as a penance along with the Irish Blessing on the back. I flipped it over and it read:
"May those that love us, love us; and those that don't love us, may God turn their hearts; if he can't turn there hearts, then may he turn their ankles, so we'll know them by their limp."
Okay - I can get behind this. This dude has a sense of humor. He smiled, absolved me and I recited the Act of Contrition. I stood up and walked to the next station - a table covered in candles, a throrny crown, and a HUGE vase of murky water. I was instructed to put my piece of paper with the sins I'd written down into the vase. I did and it began dissolving immediately.... like friggin' MAGIC!  I HAD NO CHOICE but to let go of my sins, anger, issues. I couldn't physically reach in and dig them out any more and that symbolism meant something as a woman who clings to her own failures. I watched them disappear, lit a small candle with my name printed on it and headed to my seat. I began my penance and prayed to God to take the numbness that was binding my heart. "Please Lord, I'm away from my family - I need this retreat and time spent away to count for something. 
The next morning I didn't know it, but the numbness had left. 
It was Sunday morning and time for breakfast and Homily. The priest was dressed in white with gold trim and my mind started wandering about how nice it would be to try Christmas in tones of gold and white, rather than green and red. My attention turned back as he started speaking about the day that Jesus - the Messiah washed the feet of his disciples. The SON OF GOD served his followers - he WASHED THEIR STINKY OL' FEET! (And this was BEFORE the Ped-egg came out!) That is devotion. 
The priest talked about how we would be having our own feet washed, and that as mothers and women, we tend to serve and not accept service for ourselves. He demanded that we allow others to serve us. 
I looked around and everyone was listening - eyes widening as the retreat workers rounded the corner with huge basins, plush white towels and pitchers of water. 
This old priest knelt down and began washing the feet of the woman on the end. When he finished, tears were dripping off her nose and chin and he put his hand on her knee and said "May God bless you." And then he did this to the next woman. 
Cross Sunburst
I suppose I'd assumed he was just showing the retreat workers how this foot washing business was done and they would take over because he came to me and told me to put my foot in the metal basin. I did as I was told. I didn't actually believe he was going to wash my feet HIMSELF until he'd grabbed the towel to dry them off. (Surreal seems like a ridiculous word, but it'll have to do.)
At this point, I realize my eyes are LEAKING and that sound ---- "what the heck is that annoying sound?!" 
It's me? It's me. It's my sobbing. He put his hand on my knee and blessed me. I put my hand on top of his and thanked him in between sobs. He left my feet as quickly as he'd come to them.

I noticed that the more years on the girl, the harder she sobbed.
Maybe he was right. Maybe women get so hung up serving, we fail to allow others to serve us and when we allow someone to serve us with so much meaning behind it, we crumble like shortbread cookies. 

There was more to the retreat, but there's only so much I can tell before I've spoiled it. And maybe each retreat is different. I couldn't tell ya. But I'm definitely gonna have to zip it. 

What I can tell ya is that the anger is gone. The numbness is gone. I am ready to serve, but now I can put a little heart into it and only a few days ago, my heart was the one thing that I COULD'NT offer. I could only do the things my parents had trained me to do as a person who took care of her friends and family. It was going through the motions and assigning the correct facial expression to accompany the task.
Stout Cross
I did end up calling the priest who did such a number on our trust. I had to leave him a message because he couldn't talk. I reminded him of who our family was, that we'd stopped attending church after what had happened between him and us, and I asked if he would return my call - if he had any desire to play a part in our healing. 

I have not heard back from him. 

I don't expect I will. 

But our healing is NOT in his hands. Our healing is in HIS hands.

G Labyrinth

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