A good apology owns the words or the actions that were wrong or that have offended. There are no ifs, ands, buts, excuses or justifications in a good apology - just a complete ownership of the offense. There are no accusations against others in a good apology. For instance, if I steal money and want to apologize, I need to own what I did NOT point out that so-and-so stole, too. Or, everybody steals. Or, that's just the way things are, and grow up. No! It's my offense. I need to own it.
Second, I need to specifically ask for forgiveness. This part often gets omitted because owning offensive behavior is humbling enough, but asking for forgiveness, well, our egos can hardly take it. Asking for forgiveness implies that our well-being is at least, in part, impacted by someone else's welcome or rejection of us. Yet, if we want to make a good apology, the request for forgiveness is non-negotiable. We need to do it.
However...and here's my epiphany, good apologies are not the Christian ideal. John the Baptist did not say, "Apologize! For the kingdom of heaven has drawn near!" Jesus did not say,, "Unless you apologize, you will all perish." Peter did not say, "Apologize and be baptized, every one of you." Paul did not say, "They should apologize and turn to God and do deeds consistent with apologies."
In faith, the apology is not the ideal. In faith, we are called to something much more difficult. We are called to an ideal higher than an apology. We are called to repentance. Repentance is the ideal. The ideal is actually turning from the behavior, changing the behavior, not doing the behavior again, and perhaps even asking someone to help with accountability for the behavior. Repentance, a change in direction towards God, is the ideal. Intentional, deliberate, and tenacious repentance is how we begin to come into line with faith.
Repentance is a challenge because it requires an ongoing effort to "do right," be fair, and be charitable in our comments and hospitable in our relationships. Repentance requires us to constantly evaluate how our lives line up with "loving God and loving neighbor." Repentance requires us to relentlessly inventory our lives to determine where we are being selfish, offensive, demeaning, and dishonest.
Repentance requires that we change.
In reality, nobody likes change.
But, in faith, we live in a different reality. We live in a reality that says loving God and neighbor are the most important things we can do. We live in a reality that says, "What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, it's what comes out." We live in a reality that calls us to store up "treasure in heaven" not treasure on earth. We live in a reality that tells us we are blessed for the sole purpose of blessing others. We live in a reality that compels us to welcome the stranger, visit the prisoner, clothe the naked, and heal the sick. We live in reality that tells us to stop poking at the speck in our neighbor's eye and take a look at the log in our own. We live in a reality that is tired of hearing weak apologies for not doing these things. We live in a reality that calls us to repent and change our behavior so that our witness is one of integrity.
How has this ideal been lost? I'm not asking to point fingers and say, "He lost it for us, " or "She lost it for us." I'm asking, how have I lost this ideal? How have you lost this ideal? How have each of us forgotten the call to repentance...and how can we get it back?