That phone call you're dreading. Forgetting someone's name when they remember yours. Clearing the sink hole (you wouldn't believe how much foul-smelling gunk there is in there.) Spilling Ribena on someone's beautiful white shirt. Having to tell your friend that the goldfish you so confidently offered to babysit while they were on holiday died on you almost immediately.
Up there along with all these other squirm-inducers is the word 'witnessing.'
As Christians we often talk about how important a Christian witness is, as a church, as an individual, to your non believing friends and family etc...
But perhaps for you--as for me--that doesn't exactly equate to passing out tracts on the street and sharing your testimony every day. I'm afraid the reality of being a Christian witness, for most Christians, doesn't mean simply sharing the gospel. Sometimes you're not allowed to. Sometimes there's too much hostility or sensitivity. Sometimes it just isn't the right opportunity. Sometimes your relationship or friendship just isn't at that level yet when it can be discerned as sincerity instead of a threat.
And that's okay. Since we strive to be like Christ in all areas of our life--when we're in church singing hymns, when we're eating out, when we're on the bus, when we're in a meeting, when we're in our pajamas watching our favourite TV show...
One of the best ways you can witness is by not being afraid to apologize.
An apology is a rare phenemonem now. Remember as kids how your parent would drag you over to that annoying kid and watch you sternly until you ground out a "sorry"? Insincere much? Well, adults don't even do that. Even insincere apologies are rare. People prefer to pretend they've forgotten about it, or ignore what happened. (I'm not talking about people who chronically and automatically apologize for everything, whether it's cold coffee or you didn't like their shirt colour or that you didn't find that joke as funny as they did...that extreme warrants another whole post for itself.)
Situations where real apologies are needed, when someone has offended or hurt someone, when the two of you are strained and uncomfortable, if not downright hostile, around each other.
If--when everyone around you says it's okay, just pretend nothing happened, maybe she didn't hear you, anyway he's said nasty things about you too, who cares what they feel--you can bring yourself to apologize with courage and honesty and humility, with sincerity and kindness, showing grace where you didn't have to, showing humility when you did wrong, showing kindness when you could have responded with coldness--you have, just for that moment, taken others aback by demonstrating that there is an alternative, in Christ's love. In Christ's example.
I remember I first started thinking seriously about what it meant to be Christian because of the witness of my parents in their everyday, normal home life with us. Doctrine I knew in heaps. I thought I knew every single Bible story. I'd memorized the Shorter Catechism, okay (at one point, I could recite it so fast it almost sounded like rapping.) But what really made an impact on me wasn't so much all the good decisions, the wise words, the love from my parents, as when they apologized. When they had made a mistake, they apologized to us. When they lost their temper, they apologized. The mistake itself wasn't so important--as I got older, I realized that yes--drumroll--even parents made mistakes! The first stage of growing up.
But they were able to apologize. Humbly and honestly, without making excuses or grudging the apology, simply admitting they had done wrong and needed to be forgiven. This was something I couldn't have imagined bringing myself to do, what more if I put myself in their shoes as the parent, as the authority figure; didn't it, humanly speaking, logically speaking, undermine everything they'd been working for--earning their children's respect and obedience, showing their wisdom and authority--?
This was something I couldn't understand how they could bring themselves to do. Heck, as a teenager apologizing was something you hated having to do, and didn't see other people do. It was literally telling the world that you weren't the perfect image you tried so hard to convince others you were. That stuff hurt. Not in a glamorous way either--it hurt in the most embarrassing, unattractive way. I remember brainstorming glamorous injuries for my lead characters in so many of my stories; broken collarbones were a favourite, they were non-fatal and yet impressive enough (sorry nurses, I know I'm probably being idiotically ignorant and unrealistic here.) Well, apologizing was like giving your lead character diarrhoea in the middle of the climax. There is nothing glamorous and everything to dislike about it.
And that, I slowly realized, was what dying to yourself meant. The Bible kept using that phrase and I always felt it a bit extreme, like those Taiwanese soap operas where every slap or punch or kick is replayed five times from different angles, in slow-mo...when you try to convince your mom it's bad enough to warrant skipping school for the day--"I feel like I'm dying! Serious, mom! "
Apologizing in today's culture--where appearances are so important, where insecurity and the pursuit of glamour and popularity are so prevalent--is like dying. Shooting yourself in the foot, as some worldly-wise people would doubtless say. "You're just showing that you're soft, and that they can treat you like a doormat! Even if you did make some mistakes, so did they, and if you apologize, they're going to assume it means you're accepting responsibility for everything, and they'll happily treat you as if you're responsible for their mistakes--they're never going to face up to what they did wrong--"
But that's why it can make all the more impact. I saw this (below) on Pinterest and found it very moving for that same reason. It's so rare when someone is brave enough to apologize, humbly and honestly and sincerely. Especially if you are put in a position where one's 'face' is important. The next time you face an opportunity to apologize, don't just forget conveniently about it or get away with a cup of coffee or an awkward shoulder pat. It feels like dying, but as John 12:24 reminds us, death can be the start of something new--something far greater--something far more alive.
It's not necessary to always be justified.
We have an innate sense of justice--at least, when it comes to ourselves. In my interactions with children I've noticed that injustice strikes one of the deepest chords of emotion in children, even the very young ones. Emotions are at their most transparent and raw state when expressed by children. I was startled to see how strong the sense of injustice could be, in even a three year old. He glowered at one side like a little thundercloud, watching the other children silently with steadily reddening eyelids. Finally, when no one noticed him--ah, that swelling unhappiness when our hurt goes unnoticed by everyone else!--he confronted me in a voice gone shrill and curly with pent-up aggrievement, demanding justice.
From this, and other experiences, I learnt another important lesson on working with children and developing relationships with them. Justice is very important. We all know--and dislike--that kid who cheats at games, pinches people on the sly, and pushes others out of the way--then claim they 'didn't do anything.' It's true that children take quickly and naturally to deceit and unfairness once they are allowed to see their own self-interest as more important than right or wrong. But just as true is the fact that every child has a deep innate sense of justice. Even the mean and sneaky ones, who interestingly enough are often the loudest to complain of 'not fair!' if someone else pushes them out of the way. Protecting and acknowledging this sense of justice in concrete and consistent ways sometimes does more to earn you their respect than presents or pep talks. If kids know that they can be sure of your attention and action whenever they have experienced injustice--and just as importantly, when they have perpetrated injustice--they will respect you. If they see you turn a blind eye to little inconvenient incidents, or brush them off, you are telling them that they can get away with things if they do it right; and that they can't depend on you for help if they need it. Children, who of all people should be the most conscious of how helpless and dependent they are, are naturally drawn to someone they feel they can trust to protect them when they are wronged, even if that also means someone who will punish them when they have wronged others.
Unfortunately this sense of justice for ourselves isn't always conducive for resolving quarrels. Just as the concept of justice isn't always as straight forward 'in the adult world.'
Sometimes peace may be more important than immediate or complete justice. Sometimes--more significantly--mercy and forgiveness have to resolve what justice only begins, what justice could only add more hurt and destruction to. There is a place for mercy and forgiveness, as well as justice, in the child's world as well as the adult's world; if either are ignored, there are horrible consequences.
Maybe that means you have to sit the red-eyed baby down and explain that though it wasn't fair, things like that unfortunately do happen; and that's why they shouldn't do similar things to others. It doesn't mean, however, that you pretend nothing happened, or brush it off--because they have been hurt, and they are going to hurt more if you don't address it, or don't acknowledge it.
Similarly, when we quarrel--what a embarrassing, immature word; but who hasn't?--it's not always necessary to justify ourselves. I have learnt that, the hard way, by causing even greater misunderstanding and pain when I insisted on showing how more right I was than the other person thought. Perhaps we need to swallow our pride and simply settle for 'I'm sorry you misunderstood me', and focus more on 'I'm sorry I hurt you.' Ken Sande had a very good reminder in The Peacemaker that effective apologies should not include 'but's: 'I'm sorry I said that but you started it' not only reveals pride and unlovingness, but also clearly isn't going to help with reconciliation. There is a place for justification, of course; but the problem is that when the context is conflict and argument, the thin line between justification and proving the other person wrong because you were right, also known as winning the fight, gets really, really hard to define. Our hearts are deceptive and they're not good at helping us see when our motivations are not purely justice, but have self-righteousness or pride stirred in, when they're stewing over the fire of conflict. And it quickly turns bitter, and burns us when we try, suddenly aghast when we realize the consequences, to stop.
After all, God Himself showed us mercy instead of justice.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are