A well known story:
“A teacher was teaching her class … and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper. Then she told them to crumple it up, stomp on it, and really mess it up but to be careful not to rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty it was.
She then told them to tell it they’re sorry; and try hard to make it completely smooth again. Many children smoothed it out, then turned it over and tried again and again to return it to its original state. She pointed out all the scars that remained after all their efforts. She asked them, “Can this paper ever be smooth again?” The children shook their heads.
A person may say they’re sorry, but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home.”
This story helps to make a point, and it’s a good point, but it obscures a deeper, more meaningful truth. More on that later. Much of this story is good, and accurate – the wilful behaviour that hurts, scars and crushes; the lingering damage that is done, and the failure of “Sorry” as a healing act.
“What?” you say. “The failure of sorry?”
“Sorry” cannot heal anything. “Sorry” is “I apologise”. It connotes a recognition that our behaviour has hurt someone, and that we are repentant, or sad, or maybe even embarrassed at what we have done. But it is NOT healing, not by a long shot. And let’s face it, on its own, it’s just a word. Pretty meaningless. We all know what words are worth.
I am pretty good (opinions are divided on this) at saying sorry. I am not the best (opinions are not divided on this) at DOING sorry. DOING sorry is so much better than saying sorry. What does “doing sorry” mean? Doing sorry is the art of being sorry through our actions. Of seeking healing for the one we have hurt, by choosing to do things that restore their trust and their ability to believe in us.
In delivering hurt; in crumpling up another person’s soul, for whatever reason may have possessed us at the time, our actions (or our words) have revealed that we were, for a time, uncaring about someone else’s heart. Someone else’s happiness. For a time, it was more important to us, like an immature child, to deliver pain and hurt to another; to inflict harm. Maybe as a childish way of avoiding our own failings, or reacting to our own embarrassment, whatever. We chose inflicting THEIR hurt over feeling our OWN hurt.
There are three parts to restitution. Doing sorry is the first. This is the choice of the hurter.
Time, is the second. By the grace of God, this is inevitable. But “time” is not neutral. Its inexorable, yes, but it does what it does by the choice of the victim.
Do we want healing? Real healing? Or are we so broken that the desire for vengeance, retribution and grudges are nurtured and developed? If we are, then time, instead of bringing healing, brings the cancer of vendettas, stored up pain, an arsenal of hurts we throw in each other’s face the next time we are in pain? Maybe, though, we could be simply incapable of the vulnerability needed. I have met some people like this; simply unable to lay down their weapons long enough for peace to come; to allow others to approach safely. Too afraid of losing control, being dependent on someone else. This is a deep tragedy that can be so damaging to everyone – the hurter cannot do enough to say or do sorry, and even if they could, the victim cannot receive it.
If we want real healing, if we want restitution and reconciliation, not retribution, THEN time can be a healer. Our resilience and our hope restores us back to health. But to want this, we must want relationship more than vindication. Vindication is “I’m sorry I hurt you, but I am right anyway”. Reconciliation says “WE are more important than ME. I will give up ME, for US”
And the ability to heal – resilience – is the third. This also belongs to the victim. All the hurter can do is sorry. The rest is out of their hands. If the victim wants healing, then time will help. If the victim wants healing, then they will have resilience – they will be able to choose to return to health, to trust and to hopefulness. Resilience is the ability to return to your own shape.
The other day I was building a fence. I spend a great deal of time hammering in nails, and on more than a few occasions, the hammer missed the nail, or on the last blow there was a bit too much force, and the result was a semi-circular dent in the wood. There were quite a few of those. I looked at the fence, and it was good. But I looked at the wood, and it was not so good. I was definitely going to get a nail gun next time round.
A week later, after some sun, and rain, and warmth and cold, I went out again and saw that the dents were gone. The natural resilience of the wood, helped by some moisture, and expansion during the day and contraction during the night, had healed the wood.
The Irish have a lovely saying “The shape of you” as in “I like the shape of you” It’s a colloquialism that speaks to the way we present ourselves. I love it because it talks of our “shape” perhaps our physical form, but also our attitude, our passion, our preparation, and our self image. We all have a “shape”. And we choose whether we keep our shape, or whether we give it away to things around us.
I am reminded of another saying, that “We judge ourselves by our intentions, others by their actions”. If we mess something up, but we meant well, we give ourselves credit for what we were TRYING to do. But if someone else messes up, we generally ignore their intentions and evaluate them by the chaos they have created.
For real healing, we need to judge others by their intentions too. And make room for the very human reality that everybody fails, sometime.