Gary Chapman, famed for his landmark relational book, “The Five Love Languages” has another wonderful study called “The 5 Apology Languages.” Chapman lines out the reasons and methods of apology as well as the powerful effect it has on relationships.
Apology comes easier for some. Based on personality type, it can be a needed bridge to healthy relationships or a trepid barrier.
In November of 2015, two and a half years after my difficult departure from Believers Tabernacle, my brother and I received an email. It was addressed to both of us and it was an apology, pure and simple. It was difficult to read at first. A couple of years had passed and I was working hard at healing and recovery. It prompted face-to-face meetings in which the contents of the apology were hashed out. It was rough. It was sincere. It changed everything for me.
The email came from my life-long friend whom I had hired to be my Executive Pastor years previously. Our families had been close since we were five years old. My brother’s first job was working on their family farm. He called my mother “mom” after his own mother had passed away from cancer decades before. We hunted together, went to school together, grew up in church, in the altars praying together. We were tight. He was family and the feeling went both ways.
He opened the letter by saying, “I can’t keep living like this, with this cloud hanging over me.” He detailed how he played a key role, passively and actively in the mess and confusion of the event. He stated how he wished he could change things, could have done everything different by “standing up and stopping it.” “I could have,” he wrote. “I should have.”
It was raw. It was honest. It was real. At the time, he too was dealing with a similar fate of being pushed aside and he was angry and frustrated. Maybe he felt comfort in letting it all out so he could construct his own response to the disappointing pressure. He was feeling abandoned and alone. I had been there and he knew it. He didn’t like the feeling. Neither did I.
I’m not writing this to throw him under the bus. On the contrary, I’m actually writing it to honor him. I desperately needed someone who was there, on the inside, to acknowledge that it didn’t go down the way it was being portrayed to so many. That someone who knew “everything” would finally acknowledge some of the context, the decisions, the board agreements, and other things I was never allowed to share. My friend’s apology really did help. It did more than that. It began a deep healing in my heart. It gave me new life in some miraculous way.
Here's the rest of the story. I saw this important email in my inbox as I sat in Chicago O’Hare airport awaiting the long flight to Bangalore, India, and later to Nepal on a two-week mission trip. When I saw the email, my gut tightened, my heart sank and the familiar fear I had felt so many times in the spring of 2013 was there once again. I made the decision to not read it. I wanted to stay focused on the trip and God’s plan for it and not be sidetracked by the anguish that had become all too familiar.
The trip was incredible. As I sat in my hotel room in Katmandu, India, ready to board my flight home two weeks later, I remembered the email. I pulled it up on my phone and began to read. My nerves were on edge. I didn’t want more accusations or arguments. And, amazingly, that’s not what I got. It was a very important, detailed four pages that brought such healing. I wept.
I kept crying on the flight home in between naps. I remember praying, “Thank you Lord. I needed this. Not sure what I’m supposed to do with it, but I needed this.” He replied rather quickly. “It’s time to get back in the captain’s chair.” What?!
After more prayer and soul-searching. He was gently answering the question I had held in my spirit for several months. Was it time to leave the church that had loved me so much and brought healing and stability to my family for the past two years and once again run with the vision God had given me so many years before? If so, what would that look like? How would that ever happen?
I knew it was God speaking. And so we did it. And…wow God has been GOOD! I’m more content, satisfied, happy and excited about being a pastor than ever. Seriously…I mean it. It’s a wonderful thing when you come through a trial…and you discover God more beautifully for it…and you discover yourself once again. (The testimonies would take many, many more blogs…stay tuned).
The Lord has reminded me many times that this bold move to “move on” would not have been possible without the closure my friend had provided by saying, “I’m sorry.” What a powerful impact those two holy of holiest words can hold. I know without a doubt we could not have planted The Altar and resurrected the ministry of the Dream Center without reading those words.
My friend and I met after I returned home. It was difficult. I could see in his eyes and hear in his own words how sorry he was. I forgave him. Still do. He knew it. My brother was deeply affected by his apology as well. It helped rebuild the lifelong friendship they had enjoyed. Three weeks before my mother passed in 2016, he asked Randy and I for permission to come see her. Mom said, “yes.” They met. They cried together. My mom would never tell me what they talked about. (Believe me, I asked several times.) I’m not sure if she was protecting me, even on her death bed, or just that it was something so personal…for her heart alone. She needed to hear him offer the apology he had given me.
My friend is also in heaven now. He suffered from a brain aneurysm that took him way far too early. We talked on the phone three days before he passed. Tears flowed. But peace abounded. I’ll forever be thankful for that email and healing it brought both of us.
If you’re at odds with someone, make it right…quickly. Life is indeed too short to hold on to the poison of unforgiveness and regret. Be certain, that God may be trying to get a blessing to you, a word, some direction. Unforgiveness can clog the pipes and halt the things He wants to do for you and through you.
If you’re waiting for an apology, please know that it may never come. Your need to forgive and let go is still the imperative.
My friend gave me a sweet gift that God knew was needed for me to launch into a new phase of ministry…a new chapter of life.
I’ll always be grateful.