Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Excuse Number Nine

Last week’s column on Excuse Number Ten for missing worship, “God will understand” sparked some interesting comment--and I do welcome those responses.  They hone my thinking about this human tendency to place the responsibility for both major and minor decisions squarely on the shoulders of others. I know how often I become what I call “othered.”  That’s not “bothered,” by the way.  ”Othered” is the act of letting the actions of others dictate my own actions.  I set aside personal responsibility for them.

So this week, I am looking at one of the most “othered” of the reasons not to attend worship gatherings.  Excuse Number Nine:  “Someone at the place of worship hurt my feelings and never apologized properly.”  

I do not deny hurt feelings.  We do hurt one another.  All the time.  Much of the pain we live with was probably unintentionally inflicted.  Nonetheless, there are clearly times when major disagreement, mispoken  or unspoken words, and unresolved conflict rip relational fabric to shreds.  Mending seems impossible.  Furthermore, apologies themselves may fan the flames.  “I’m sorry you took offense at that.  I apologize,” is possibly the worst apology ever spoken, but I hear it often.  The speaker takes no responsibility for any possible wrongness of his or her actions or words. The recipient is fully to blame.  

Here’s a list I’ve made of other really bad apologies I’ve heard over the years:
  • "I'm sorry you misunderstood me.  I apologize."
  • "Did I do something I need to apologize for?  If so, please tell me."
  • "I'm sorry your feelings are hurt.  I hope you will forgive me."
  • "I sure didn't mean to do something that would make you hurt.  I'm sorry."
  • "Please forgive me in advance for what I'm about to say."
  • "I'm sorry I lost my temper/broke the ____ (you fill in the blank)/hit you.  But if you had only listened to me in the first place, it never would have happened."
  • "I'm sorry I wrecked the car.  But you knew how upset/drunk/drugged I was.  You should never have let me drive."

Do you see the “othering” in all these apologies?  It’s pretty easy to recognize--everything is the other person’s fault.

When these types of conversations take place, healing becomes challenging.  When these conversations take place within the covenant community of a corporate place of worship, the hurt compounds.  We really do have higher expectations of those who identify as part of a worshipping community, and we should.  So the anguish goes deeper here than in other places.

What now?  One option: simply separate and drop out.  We use the immaturity of others as an excuse, feed our anger and bitterness, and refuse to gather with others at worship with self-righteous justification.  “If they were better people, I’d be there.”

Another option:  Ask this question: “I wonder how many people I’ve hurt and don’t even know about?” How many “othered” apologies have I offered?”  

Then there is the vital question:  “How much grace do I want to receive?”  Once that is answered, we stare at the corresponding question, “How much grace do I want others to receive?”

Forgive us our trespasses (sins, debts) as we forgive the trespasses (sins, debts) of others.”  These words form the centerpiece of healthy covenant worship life:  the mutual giving and receiving of forgiveness.  It is the hardest thing anyone ever does.  By offering forgiveness, we forever set down the possibility of vengeance.  

But by offering forgiveness, something else happens.  Chains fall off, souls and often bodies are healed, relationships are restored, and the kingdom of heaven advances.  What will you do with your hurts? Feed them or free them?  Please know this:  I don’t say this is easy.  I do say the act of forgiving others is more God-like than any other human action.  It’s time to set this things down and enter again into holy connection.


Vicki Attaway said...

My feelings don't get hurt very often because I don't wear them on my sleeve. I am usually so preoccupied with what my heart is doing in church that possible affronts probably roll right off my back. I believe that not as many of such snubs happen as often as people think they do. But I do understand that where there are people, there will be occasional clashes of interpersonal spaces and wills.

I've had the experience at one of the churches I attended where one of the ladies would just walk right past me without a glance, and I would find myself literally smiling at the air. I wondered what to do, if she just didn't like me or what. So I got to saying Hi and her name, refusing to meet snub for snub, and when she still wouldn't acknowledge me, I began to give her the benefit of the doubt---maybe she was always deep in thought, maybe she was depressed,sad, shy, feeling ill.

And so what IF she really didn't like me. Did that keep me from liking her. So I would watch her from afar, and when she interacted happily with someone else, at least I knew she had someone to be with.

All this sounds corny, but it's a truth in my life. You can't take things from people, they have to give them to you. You can't demand an apology from someone just because you think you want it or deserve it, and you throw your time, your life away waiting for others to make apologies to you. Make your own approach in love if you feel offended, then open your heart to forgive.

Angie Hammond said...

Vicki I wish I had more of your ability to let things roll off and not hurt me. I have the tendency to let them roll off, but they hurt inside and then I find myself thinking that I'm the one with the problem.

No excuses on this one. I apparently have the type of personality that causes me to be prone to blaming myself for things and then thinking that to be loved that it is OK to let people hurt you. Yes I've been abused and I allowed it to happen and go on and on because for some horrible reason I believed that was the only way to be loved.

Very very wrong and forgiveness was a big part of me breaking the cycle of abuse and getting on with my life. First and foremost, I had to allow God to forgive me and accept that forgiveness and know that all I had to do was say that I wanted to be healed and then allow him to do it. Then I had to forgive myself. Harder almost than allowing God to forgive me. But OH the weight that was lifted when I did these things!!!

Once I was able to do these things, I got better, but the real healing was when I could forgive those that abused me. Now that was freeing even more so than the act of forgiving myself. By forgiving those that I had allowed to hurt me, the hurt inside me went away. I don't mean that I didn't remember what was done and that it didn't affect me anymore. I mean that no new hurting was going on. I was free to move on with living and loving and allowing others to love me in a healthy way. Something that I had never had before was now mine to share with others.

Is life wonderful now? Not always, but I am no longer an abused woman and I am living a life that I never thought possible 6 years ago when I thought I was not worthy of God's forgiveness or love for that matter.

Forgiving those that hurt us may not always change them, but it always changes us in profound ways and opens doors that we didn't even know existed.

Hard? yes. Worth the time and effort? Absolutely.

Perhaps that is why we put so much stock in church people and expect them to not hurt us. And if by chance we get hurt feelings then we don't want to forgive etc.

We should remember that if it was that easy to do then Jesus would not have had to die for our sins.

We should also remember that he is always there with us to help us forgive others by forgiving us.