The Things that Make for Peace: Saying “I’m Sorry”

The Things that Make for Peace: Saying “I’m Sorry”

I’m using my blog posts this year to explore a question that emerged from my encounter with Luke 19:42 last year: What are the things that make for peace? You can find the rest of the series here.

When I was growing up, my parents made a big deal about saying “I’m sorry” whenever they were brokering peace between one of my siblings and me. I don’t suppose they were unusual in this. Even if the apology was forced or perfunctory, as was often the case, the conclusion of most childhood scuffles was ushered by the stern command, “Now tell your brother/sister you’re sorry.”

Me: “I’m sorry.”

Sibling: “It’s okay.”

Me: “Let’s keep playing Legos."

As I grow older, I’m coming to a greater appreciation of my parents’ patient, stubborn insistence on this little ritual. Saying “I’m sorry” as a child wasn’t so difficult, even if it was prompted. But saying “I’m sorry” as an adult … I’m finding that is hard! Maybe I’m still waiting for the prompt to let me know when to do it.

It’s not so hard to say the words, but I find myself always providing an explanation: “I’m sorry, but…“ A recent article I read in in the New York Times quotes Dr. Harriet Lerner, a psychologist and author whose work focuses on apologies. Dr. Lerner states baldly that apologies with rationalizations are “never satisfying” and can even cause harm to a relationship. The best apologies are short and provide no rationalization.

Similarly, an immediate request for forgiveness shouldn’t be part of an apology. If the apology becomes about us receiving forgiveness, we’ve lost our focus on the welfare of the other and are just trying to make ourselves feel good.

A simple, direct admission of wrong—that’s the best kind of apology.

In my recent musings and reflections on my ongoing quest to discover “the things that make for peace,” I’ve been considering the social dimensions of peace. Peace has an inherently social dimension in Scripture. It’s not just about discovering “inner peace,” it’s about participating in God’s making the world right-side-up. And, as Richard Rohr says, when it comes to the nature and work of God, “the relationship is the vehicle.” [1] We discover God’s peace one healed relationship at a time. One way of thinking about the fullness of God’s peace is everything in proper relationship to God and to each other. When the relationships are open to the flow of Divine love, mercy, and forgiveness—there is peace!

I recently heard a story about two women, both in their 70s or 80s. They’ve been friends for a very long time. A dispute arose at their church that had devastating consequences. One friend found herself on one side of “the issue,” the other friend on the other side. Heated words were exchanged. The first friend ended up leaving the church. The second friend was so hurt, she refused to speak to the first.

And—so far as I know—here they remain. Deadlocked. Each one refusing to apologize to the other. Each aggrieved party waiting for the other to apologize.

And just to think, all it might take is just, “I’m sorry.” “It’s okay.” “Let’s keep playing Legos.”

Maybe that’s too simplistic, but it’s worked for me before.

I don’t want that to be me when I turn 70. So I guess I'd better start practicing....


[1] Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, 44.

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