life, love

The Power of an Apology


For twenty-two years I’ve carried a photograph in my memory.  At first glance it is rather prosaic: Two young mothers sharing lunch in a sunny, well-organized kitchen.  The conversation is lively and the smiles are genuine.  The healthy baby in the highchair happily pinching cheerios between pointer and thumb and the healthy toddler on a blanket happily stacking rings onto a plastic post are both picture-perfect.  There is no crying, no fussing, no trace of the awkwardness I was expecting. 

Two-and-a-half years earlier we had both announced our pregnancies to our young-marrieds Sunday school class on the same day.  And then she lost her baby.

My husband said it was too bad that it wasn’t me instead.  My look of horror caused him to explain:  “She isn’t handling it well, you’re stronger”, he said.  Still.

I took the brunt of her “not handling it well”, probably because my growing belly was a weekly reminder of her loss.  I’m still not sure what all “not handling it well” involved, but my spirit felt whatever it was, and I saw the looks and the whispers. I cut her lots of slack, though, because she was hurting and I knew it was going to take her some time to recover.

And then two-and-a-half years later she invited me to her house for lunch.  She had, in the meantime, given birth to a beautiful baby girl. We had been cordial all this time in Sunday school, but we hadn’t been socializing outside of class the way we once did.  Perhaps we were both afraid of tripping over the lumps under the rug.  Which is why I expected lunch to be awkward.

But it wasn’t.  She put a lovely plate of food in front of me, sat down across the table from me and said, “I want to apologize for my behavior.  I was wicked.  I said horrible, untrue things about you.”  No hemming, no hawing, no excuses, no awkwardness whatsoever.  Just a brave, confident apology.  “You were hurting, I forgave you way back then.”   And then we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch and play time with our daughters.

My cordial, walking-on-eggshells, I-forgive-you-but-I don’t-really-trust-you attitude toward her changed instantly and completely to one of high respect.  We were friends again.

About ten years later I was sitting in the circle of a large non-denominational Bible study.  There were women in attendance from many denominations, churches and surrounding cities.  When it was my turn to introduce myself, the woman next to me bristled and muttered something very surprising under her breath.

Have you heard the sermon illustration about the woman who confessed gossip to her pastor?  The pastor took her to the roof of the church with a feather pillow in hand.  He slit the cover of the pillow allowing the feathers to swirl and scatter in the wind.  Then he said, “I forgive you, now go pick up the feathers.”

The “horrible, untrue things” my friend said were still swirling all those years later.  One had landed at some point on the woman next to me.  That’s the problem with feathers scattered to the wind, it is impossible to go back and collect them all.  I just smiled at her as if I had not heard her comment.  I knew its source.  And I wondered whether listening to gossip and believing it and allowing it to form your opinion of someone without actually verifying it isn’t just as sinful as generating it.  

My friend moved to another state many years ago, before the Bible study incident, but we recently reconnected on Facebook. Every time I see her smiling face, I feel the same admiration for her that I felt in her tidy kitchen that day.  No stray feathers will ever change that.  And whenever my memory album flips open to that little picture, I am reminded of the enduring power of an apology.


12 thoughts on “The Power of an Apology

  1. Excellent reminder of the “power of an apology!” I like your illustration about the woman who confessed gossip to her pastor, so he took her to the roof of the church with a feather pillow and cut it open. Very good!

    I also wanted to invite you to stop by my blog when you have a chance. I posted many new articles since your last visit. God bless!


  2. Being accused of something you know that you did gives cause for pause and reflection, it is an open opportunity for repentance and correction if one is not in denial. Being falsely accused and affecting how one is perceived by others based on an unproven baseless gossip, surreptitious, assumption is cruel and ungodly! Sometimes when we forgive those that wrong us it is a mistake…no not in forgiving, that is what we are called to do. But can embolden someone using kindness to further exploit a perceived weakness and fails to see the power of forgiveness. The bullied can…by over compensation themselves become “bullies” and feel justified in it. As if someone owes them something, in this day and age of the information super-highway and computer/internet connectivity, sweet ole’ granny by day can be a terror at night, or even an unsupervised child can wreak havoc where none need be.
    When someone wrongs you and you come into conflict with them and you take the initiative to drop it, apologize, forgive and move on and the conduct of the antagonist goes unchanged…are we aiding and abetting? Enabling?
    I was scared straight out of this kind of trance and am very familiar with it, sometimes Love is direct confrontation/intervention. I am very grateful to the Lord for his.
    it changed my life and opened my eyes, does it work for everyone…not sure…but I will step out on a limb in faith if need be or called to, regardless of what anyone might think of me.
    If too self-conscious one cannot be obedient to that “small still voice”
    Our political correctness and appeasing attitudes are causing more damage and consequences than the high costs of standing up for one’s beliefs.
    Excellent post,
    God Bless,


    • Thank you Anthony. I hope I understand what you said about aiding and abetting correctly. If so, I agree that we should always forgive no matter what. Restoring fellowship is another matter. That requires a sincere confession and repentance. You can forgive an addict for all the times he used and abused you in the past, and you can forgive him for being an addict, but that does not mean you have to keep paying for his addiction-driven choices in the future. It is wise to distance yourself from that person. God kept on forgiving Israel throughout the OT, but He also distanced Himself at times. It was a constant cycle of them getting too big for their britches, turning their backs on God, getting themselves into a heap of trouble, calling out to God in repentance and then being restored, abundantly blessed even. Someone wrote that we are most like man when we judge and most like God when we forgive. To do it well takes both His brain and His brawn.


  3. I loved reading this post, your writing is so clear. And I agree that believing gossip can be just as painful as starting it. I’ve been taught that if I wasn’t in the room to observe something happening, I don’t get to have an opinion. It’s saved me many times since from ‘he said, she said’ damage.


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