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Lady Pastor: The sorry truth — apologies are necessary for healing

The hotel banquet hall was full of pastors and other church leaders. It was the beginning of the annual Fall Theological Conference. I was seated at a table near a long wall of windows. All the blinds were closed, so there was no way to see outside.

As the speaker began, I got distracted. I heard voices right outside the windows. A door slammed. It sounded like two men were speaking, but I only heard one line distinctly.

"I apologize. But I'm working on it, man!" There was a raw vulnerability in the way he said those words. One man pleading for another man to believe him and perhaps believe in him.

I've been thinking about the act of apologizing a lot since that recent Monday morning.

Our teachers and parents teach us to say "I'm sorry" from a young age. But it seems to become harder as we grow older. Maybe because it gets less clear as to when and how to admit mistakes.

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Stealing toys and hitting classmates are certainly apology-worthy behaviors of childhood. But what about the more frequent hazards of adulthood? Misspoken words at work. Harsh judgments of friends. Impatience with children and grandchildren. What merits an apology in these categories?

I remember a phone call I once received on a cloudy afternoon. It was an apology I won't likely forget. The call was from an ex-boyfriend I'd long since lost track of. "Emily," he said. "I'm really sorry for how I treated you during that chapter in my life. I wasn't in a good place."

If the Environmental Protection Agency had tested our relationship quality all those years prior, it would most certainly have registered as "toxic." We were young. Both of us made mistakes.

Our conversation was brief. Approximately only five minutes in length but filled with closure, sincerity and healing. I hadn't ever expected an apology. But it meant a lot to me. It helped me truly let go and move forward.

I've been on both ends of significant apologies. The apologizer and the apologizee. I imagine we've all experienced both sides of this particular life coin. Sometimes we are wronged. And sometimes we wrong others.

The act of apologizing allows us to confront a difficult reality of life: People have the capacity to hurt each other. Most of us would prefer to avoid or deny this truth. But it's better to face it head-on.

Through making amends, we honor another of life's more encouraging realities: People have the capacity to help each other heal.

An apology isn't Super Glue. It doesn't instantly mend all that has been broken. It's just a good place to start.

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A sincere "I'm sorry" admits instead of denies. It listens instead of becoming defensive. It opens a door instead of locking it tight.

Apologies are usually best kept simple. Forgiveness is a separate topic. Admitting wrongdoing is not always met with forgiveness and reconciliation. It's an act that matters nevertheless.

Matters of healing take time and sometimes a lot of it. I imagine that some fences aren't fully mended until all creation is made new and whole in eternity.

It takes immense courage to admit the ways in which we hurt other people. The ability to heal and move forward is most likely to occur when we make peace with our past mistakes.

I'm not sure what happened to the man outside the banquet hall. I wonder. What was he apologizing for? Are things getting better for him?

I'll likely never know the full story.

But what I do know is this. His words served as a real reminder to me of the importance of a sincere apology. To him, I say: thank you.

The Lady Pastor is a weekly column by Emily Carson, a Lutheran pastor in Stewartville. Visit her blog at: theladypastor.com.

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