Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. –Luke 6:37 (NIV)
While driving to church one Sunday morning, I noticed several signs warned of road improvements up ahead. That specific roadway was heavily traveled and in desperate need of repair.
But after clunking my Jeep over a few “repaired” sections of roadway, I questioned the validity of the improvements. The work crew may have fulfilled their contractual requirements by cutting out the degraded sections and valiantly attempting to replace them. However, the ride was bumpier than the old, damaged road. The repair effort left a worse situation than the previous condition.
It reminded me of a story about an insincere apology with questionable intentions that worsened a relationship.
Apparently, Waldo carried secret grudges against Pablo. Over the years, Waldo presumed Pablo was outrageously sinful and undeserving of the blessings he received. However, he never mentioned his concerns to Pablo or asked for clarification on his presumptions. He based his perception on what he thought he saw or overheard from other people, not on facts.
One day, the Holy Spirit convicted Waldo of his harsh judgment against Pablo. Wanting to make things right, he met with Waldo and explained his bad feelings, his grudges and his reasons behind them, then asked Pablo for forgiveness.
Understandably, the ridiculousness of Waldo’s presumption and the many years he carried his grudges surprised Pablo. Yet he knew he wasn’t perfect so he forgave, explaining Waldo’s perception wasn’t valid. They both moved on in newfound liberty.
Shortly thereafter, a mutual friend informed Pablo that Waldo had angrily fumed about something he heard Pablo had done. “How could he do such a thing?”
Pablo now faced a bumpy road. Although Waldo’s initial apology may have been well intentioned, his subsequent actions invalidated it. This new “bump” confirmed Waldo’s repair attempt didn’t meet the desired outcome. His raw, angry contempt revealed some remaining unsettled core issues.
As a child, I recall having to apologize to the babysitter for misbehaving while in her care. One time in particular, my dad drove me to the sitter’s home the following morning. Standing on her front porch, I mumbled, “Uhmsoree,” after which he then prompted, “For what?”
As embarrassing and difficult as that experience was, it taught me some lessons about apologies and forgiveness.
1. Apologies should be sincere with heartfelt feelings. Obligatory or forced apologies mean nothing. There is a huge difference between, “I apologize, I was wrong, please forgive me,” and “I’m sorry.”
2. Apologies should evoke a life change. Bearing additional grudges or reliving harsh feelings reveals some remaining bumps in your road. If you’re still holding on to a perceived wrong, let it go and move on.
3. Apologies address the core issue. Asking forgiveness for hurting someone’s feelings or spreading gossip about them may not be the core issue. There may be something deeper that prompted your behavior or actions. Determine the “why” behind what you did or said. Identify whatever root of bitterness, envy, malice, arrogance, rebellion, etc. prompted your misdeed, then resolve that issue.
4. Apologies speak specifically to the wrongdoing. Apologizing for someone’s misunderstanding of what you meant, or apologizing “in the event that what I did or said offended someone,” is unacceptable. If an attorney or public relations representative carefully crafted your apology, throw it out. Admit your wrongdoing, take responsibility for it, apologize sincerely, ask for forgiveness, and then change whatever behavior or actions led to the wrongdoing — even if forgiveness isn’t immediately granted.
Some actions are hard to forgive, harder to forget. If you’ve maligned someone’s reputation, it may take years to repair the damage and chaos. If your actions or behaviors caused loss, grief or abuse in the lives of others, those relationships may always be strained or completely lost. Once trust is broken, it’s difficult to restore. Yes, God’s grace helps heal and overcome the “bumps” of this life; however, forgetting about them is another matter.
When you stumble, own it responsibly, confess it genuinely, change behaviorally and learn from your mistake. If you are the offended party, forgive readily, just as Christ forgives you.