To apologize or forgive… that is the question

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Contributing Writer
Pastor Scott Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church Amherst, NY

“I can’t do it, Daddy!” my daughter screamed at me as she buried her face in my neck.
“Yes, you can,” I gently assured her. “You can do it.”
“No! I can’t!” she said, “It’s too hard! It hurts!” Her tears and runny nose pooled on my collar. Her arms clung around my head while her legs locked onto my torso. Her grip was so tight I didn’t need to hold her at all.
I kept reassuring her, “You can do it. You can do it. It’s not that hard. It’s not going to hurt. You can say, ‘I’m sorry’.”
“No, I can’t!” she screamed and sobbed, “I can’t say that!”
I needed her to apologize to her brother for something trivial, and yet, somehow significant. I was caught in one of those parenting moments where you want to teach your kid a lesson, but you also feel tempted to buy them ice cream so they knock their tantrum off.
She was relentless and persistent. Apparently, she couldn’t say sorry… and she had a million excuses why: the lights were too bright, there were too many people around, she can only apologize to girls not boys, it would hurt too bad, etc.
Finally, when the time was right, a barely audible squeak whispered, “I’m sorry.”
In that moment, the room changed. Tears ceased to flow. The crying and sobbing came to an end. Brother and sister were reunited. Their father took a breath. Pain became play. Sadness turned to gladness. And the room that was “too bright for apologizing” got a little bit brighter.
As we transition from Advent to Epiphany and as we end one calendar year and begin another, it seems appropriate to reflect on just how important and how hard it is to say, “I’m sorry.” Apologizing is not an easy thing to do and even the strongest people often struggle to admit they were wrong. Regardless of age we all have excuses: it’s too bright, it’s too visible, too many people will see, we only apologize to some people and not others, it will hurt to bad, etc. Still, the scriptures repeatedly call us to repent – to name past sins and apologize for pain caused. Now, the sound of that likely leaves many of us clinging to our egos the way my daughter clung to my neck. Nevertheless, we are called to trust in grace and let go. Unfortunately, experience suggests many necessary apologies will go unuttered this time of year.

Bear with each other and forgive one another… Colossians 3:13

I was at work when my kids had their squabble and after it was over I opened the Bible to the text assigned for the upcoming Sunday. It read: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you Colossians 3:13. What struck me as I read and reread this text was not just the timing (it’s funny how the right scripture tends to find us at the right time), but also how much pressure was placed on the person doing the forgiving (and NOT the person doing the repenting). See, my parenting style is based on a wronged and gloating child hoarding it over their sibling who made a mistake until they are humbled to a point of submission. Here, scripture seems to suggest there is an easier route… bear with one another and forgive.
My guess is that every single person reading this, regardless of age, is holding onto something someone did to him or her. We are hurt and we are afraid of hurting more, and so, we hold back our forgiveness until the offender appropriately apologizes. Scripture offers us another route: forgive first.
There is no question that apologies can lighten a room. I have seen it. Scripture promises us that forgiveness works that way too. And so, if you’re hoping for a brighter 2019, if you’re eager to feel less pain and experience more joy, may you have the courage to heed the call of St. Paul in Colossians: let us bear with each other and forgive each other.
Like apologizing, forgiveness can seem too hard. Forgiveness can seem like it will hurt too much, but like I encouraged my daughter, St. Paul encourages us now:
You can do it. It won’t hurt. You can say, “I forgive you.”
May 2019 be a year or grace and renewal.
May your days be filled with reconciliation and peace.
May we cling to God’s grace and not ego.
May we know the joy of forgiveness and…

“whatever [we] do, whether in word or in deed, [may we] do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.

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Pastor Scott Hannon
Pastor Scott serves the people of St. John by helping the congregation welcome everyone, care for one another, and grow in the joy of God’s love through Jesus Christ. Pastor Scott earned his bachelor’s degree at the University at Buffalo and went to seminary at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry degree with an emphasis in preaching from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Pastor Scott and his wife, Kate, live in Bowmansville, NY with their children Molly, Delaney, and John Scott. Scott and Kate love Western New York for many reasons, not the least of which are the changing seasons, wonderful people, and of course the Buffalo Bills. Pastor Scott’s ministry priorities are worship, preaching and teaching. Scott’s hobbies are guitar, golf, and reading. To read some of Scott’s musings visit his blog Way-ward at www.psdh.org.