Saying sorry is really hard.
It’s not something I’m good at. It’s not something I do often.
I’m really good at thinking I’m right. All the time. In our home it has become a bit of a joke: “Can you even say the word?” And I’m worried I can’t., because sorry means I did something wrong. It means I made a mistake. It means I hurt someone. And it means I need to be forgiven.
Recently, I was on the receiving end of the most gracious apology I’ve ever experienced, and it has changed me.
Graham Tomlin, a clever dude who runs a little theological college called St Mellitus, says that “when we are loved we are able to change”.
So how was I changed? Well, two dear friends are having a baby. They have been walking with us on our rocky infertility journey and they wanted to let us share their good news. They sent us a lovely, thoughtful e-mail. They invited us into their joy. They are two of the most thoughtful people I know. They care – properly care. In their joy, they also included their precious baby scan.
And I unravelled.
You see, for so many people a baby scan is so very wonderful. It goes straight on Facebook to share indiscriminately. It gets wafted around to be rightly celebrated. But as someone experiencing infertility, it’s like a tiny paper cut on my heart. It serves as a reminder of my lack. My barrenness. My empty womb. It is a trigger for shame. Shame is never helpful. Shame whispers into my heart: “You aren’t good enough/healthy enough/caring enough to be a parent.” So without intending to do so, our friends had pressed that trigger and switched on my shame. Believe me, I know it is my shame. It isn’t their problem.
But when we truly love one another, then we try not to hurt each other. We don’t want to cause others to stumble.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. My soul was restless. I desperately wanted to rejoice with them, but I was hurting. You begin to question your friendship. If they thought it was ok to send me their scan photo, then will I be sent everyone they have? Will I know her uterus better than my own?
Now, something you should know about me is that I’m a retreater. I hate confrontation. It makes me feel physically ill. Brené Brown would suggest that my discomfort is actually vulnerability. Whatever it is, I hate it. But I love my friends and I don’t want to run away from hard stuff any more. I didn’t want to cause a wedge between us. So I turned to my good friend, email. I prayed that I could get my tone right, that I could articulate my feelings well. I asked my friends to remember me.
A wave of relief came from saying ‘out loud’ that their scan photo was a trigger for me. Their response far exceeded my expectations. No trite apology was issued, no quick fix was attempted. They wanted to meet us. To be reconciled. To be together.
At that meeting, they sincerely apologised for unintentionally hurting me. I waited, expecting a defence, indignation and justification for their actions, but it never came. And I discovered something.
Their joy wasn’t diminished by my admission of pain. They wanted our friendship to remain, and that was more important than my ‘negative’ reaction. We hugged, I wept – I do that a lot, we talked about how we can move forward together on this new adventure and I felt overwhelmed by love. They taught me that saying sorry doesn’t come with justification: “I’m sorry but…”
They have lots of people they can show their scan photos to. But it won’t be me, and that is ok. I have other ways I can celebrate with them.
The final lesson they taught me was that even with the best intentions we can hurt one another. However, when we gently and lovingly acknowledge that and honestly want to move on from it, we can.
Thinking about how we share our good news with others is good. Would I send my friend struggling to pay her bills a screen shot of my bulging bank balance? Would I send my friend fighting illness a copy of my glowing medical report? Of course not.
Our joy is not diminished by acknowledging the pain of others.
It might change how we share our news but it doesn’t limit that celebration. The challenge still remains to be open about the situations and times that cause us hurt. No one can demonstrate empathy and understanding if we retreat and hide our pain in silence. Believe me, I’m on a steep learning curve about this, but I truly believe we can learn to hold joy and hurt together and discover that they aren’t mutually exclusive.
“Love from the centre of who you are; don’t fake it… Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.” Romans 12: 9-10 The Message