Sorry, Not Sorry: Making Up is Hard to Do

My hands trembled as I made change. I went through the motions of taking orders and dispensing food, while my mind and my heartbeat raced.

“Your cash drawer is short,” my manager had hissed at me, midway through my shift at the burger joint.

Logically, I knew that I had not done anything wrong. Besides, there was no way he could know how the money matched receipts until the end of my shift. Somehow those facts failed to calm me. I felt flustered and frightened.

Two hours later, it was time to go home and sure enough, the cash in my drawer was correct to the penny. My boss didn’t say a word as I clocked out and left the building.

No longer scared, I was instead insulted and indignant.

The incident was never mentioned again. When I turned in my resignation six weeks later, the same man acted surprised, telling me I was a hard worker who would be missed. He seemed to have forgotten all about his false accusation, as he praised me in an unfamiliar friendly tone. My manager was ready to move forward, but I could not. 

Because I was a nervous teen trying to do well at my first job, the episode made a powerfully negative impression. Sadly, though, it is not all that unusual. On the whole, we humans are bad at confessing and asking for forgiveness when we hurt others. In fact, we can read Scriptural examples of missed opportunities to mend relationships as far back Genesis. The story of a bitter rivalry between twin brothers that shattered a family in Chapter 27 has its conclusion in Chapter 32.

Esau had reason to be furious with his brother Jacob. As you might remember, Jacob used deceit to receive the blessing of the first-born that rightfully belonged to Esau. In fear, Jacob fled. 

Twenty years later, Jacob decided it was time to return to his homeland. There was just one problem - he didn’t know if Esau was still angry with him.  So he sent a messenger ahead.

Did he say, “I’m sorry, my brother, for the way I wronged you. I know it caused you hurt. Can you forgive me?”

 Nope. He sent entire herds of goats, sheep, cows, camels, and donkeys. We get a glimpse of his thoughts in chaper 32, verse 20, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.”

At first it seemed to work. When they met, the brothers embraced and wept. With some urging, Esau accepted the gifts. But when he suggested they travel homeward together, Jacob made up a flimsy excuse to dawdle. Then he chose to live at a distance from his brother.

There is no record of the two brothers ever being together again except to bury their father.  Jacob’s fear and Esau’s anger may have dwindled, but there was no true reconciliation.

When we wrong one another, it’s hard to admit. Pride and fear cause words of apology to catch in our throats. Instead, we try other ways to undo the damage.

·     Like my manager, we avoid the topic and pretend the hurt never happened

·     We offer an excuse, trying to justify our actions

·     We use a gift or a grand gesture as a silent peace offering

I’ve done it, and you probably have too. As a wife I have made a favorite meal, done a chore, or been unusually agreeable. As a mom, I’ve tried to compensate for harsh words or hasty actions with an extra treat or a privilege. 

Sometimes, the people we care about will play along and let us off the hook. But these apology substitutes cause danger zones between us – topics, people, or places we try to avoid. If we let them accumulate, we create a minefield of hurt in the relationship, making it harder and harder to reach one another’s hearts.

Jacob tried unsuccessfully to make up with his brother by giving him lots of livestock. Let’s learn from his example. We don’t need to give anyone 500 animals. Usually three of four words will start the healing.

I am sorry

                        I was wrong

                                                            Can you forgive me?

Let’s make friends with these phrases. They just may save a relationship.