Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Lessons in Accident Recovery

Ouch.

Lately I got to watch some interpersonal drama up close. No details, but it offered an opportunity to examine the inner workings of how people hurt other people, and how it's corrected.

When Person One (let's call him Sam) hurts Person Two (let's call him Joe), how is the situation to be mended and the relationship repaired? Most people would say that healing comes when Sam apologizes to Joe. The apology fixes everything, and the faster Sam says, "Oh, I'm sorry," the better things will be, right?

I like to think of it rather like a car accident where one driver is clearly at fault. He broke a rule of the road, or did something foolish, and he crashed into another car. It's all Sam's fault, but still ... both cars are damaged. Both cars need to be repaired.

When Sam hurts Joe, both people are damaged. Sam has damaged himself by sinning, and he's really damaged Joe by sinning against him. We usually think that Sam will heal Joe's damage by apologizing. I think this is erroneous.

I think when Sam apologizes to Joe, Sam is only healing himself. Joe's damage remains, sadly. Hearing an apology does nothing to help him. Sam renders his apology and goes his merry way. He's said he's sorry and his guilty conscience is assuaged. There's really nothing else he can do.

But the damaged party, Joe? He's left still feeling hurt and wronged, and because the apology has been given, he feels he has no right to feel hurt anymore. It's supposed to be over. He's supposed to feel better, but he doesn't.

This is where personal hurt is so bad -- the perpetrator can get over it in a snap! As easy as it was for him to do the damage, it is equally easy for him to repair the damage he's done to himself. He probably isn't aware he damaged himself. And ... (here's the clincher) ... even though he caused the damage to Joe, there's absolutely nothing Sam can to do heal the damage he's done to Joe. Nothing.

Joe has to heal his own damage, and the only way to do that is to forgive. Forgiveness can be a long, painful, grueling process, depending on the situation. The Sams of the world sometimes move on with their lives after their sinning, while their victims struggle in a little trail behind them, trying to forgive, trying to self-heal damage done by someone else.

And we criticize people who struggle to forgive. We assume the forgiveness should follow swiftly on the heels of the apology, rather like dessert after dinner. But the two things are separate, and (I think) rather unconnected. The apology heals the abuser. The forgiveness heals the abused. Each one needs healing, and the healings occur independently. We should never look at someone who's been hurt a few minutes before, after the hurter has just apologized, and say to the hurtee, "There! See? He apologized! Don't you feel all better?" Of course not. Sam the Apologizer feels better. Joe remains the same. Removing his damage will take longer because it was produced in a different way.

I'll have to test this theory in life to see if it holds water, but I suspect it will prove true. What do you think?

6 comments:

  1. I think yes....and...
    A stand alone "I am sorry" doesn't cut it for another reason...there is no deeper connection made between the parties. If the offender expresses awareness of what it is they did or said and how that might have impacted the other...connection can be reestablished. and then the forgiving can reach it's mark too. Also...asking for forgiveness helps.
    Forgiveness is of the Lord and being willing, choosing to forgive makes one a conduit for a fruit of the Holy Spirit...it is healing to have it pass through and toward another.

    such a good topic and graceful way to discuss it you have chosen!

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  2. I've read your post several times now and shared it with my husband. We were encouraged by it! We are being expected to show forgiveness right now, and we are needing some time. Another issue that comes into play is when Sam says he is sorry, but then continues to do that for which he asked forgiveness in the first place :( Are we to forgive those those that do not repent? Ahh! Lots to think about.

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  3. You know, Sarah, I've struggled over the years on that same issue. On one hand, God only forgives those who repent, right? His spirit prompts us to repent and softens our hearts, but in the end, those who don't repent don't get any forgiveness from Him. They get punishment.

    However, the Bible also tells us strongly that if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us. (I think that's just after the Lord's Prayer in Matthew.) This seems to imply that we are to forgive everyone. And I think there are good examples in Scripture of this kind of forgiveness. Even Jesus prays to His Father, "Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do." If his murderers weren't aware of what they were doing, they certainly felt no repentance of it. Yet Jesus specifically asks for them to be forgiven.

    I really believe this is a more sticky subject than it first appears. I believe we attach apologizing (which is different from repentance, which is deeper) to forgiveness. Can't you just hear us moms? "He said he's sorry. Now you forgive him." Ha! A shallow forgiveness is as damaging as a shallow apology. And I'd never before considered the damage that's done internally to the person causing the offense. We need to consider all this more, I think.

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  4. In a car accident, saying “Sorry” isn't enough to heal the wounds and trauma it caused. If things could only be fixed by simply apologizing, then there's no need to get a lawyer and a doctor. In situations like this, especially the terrible ones, needs legal action and medical support. This is how things work now. Of course, apologizing is still necessary to, at least, help us get better, emotionally.
    Maggie Malone @ Mastrangelo Law Offices

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