3.1 The Skill

Marriage is a wonderful opportunity to learn the fine art of apologizing. No matter how hard we may try to treat each other with kindness, there will be failures. Harshly spoken words, disrespectful actions and bitter behaviors can bring pain to a relationship. But there is healing in the effort to apologize, take ownership and change.

Apologies can be very simple while still being sincere and powerful. Miraculously, it can make not only the recipient but also the giver feel better.

There are elements that can make an apology more complete and honest. Here are some suggestions:

1. Do it now
It can feel scary to bring up the hurtful remembrance, but amazingly a genuine apology can be cleansing. Once I received an apology almost two decades after a person had hurt me. I was astonished at how easily the mud cleared. Yet I wonder what it would have been like for both of us to get those feelings behind us years ago. The thought of not having carried the resentment through three interstate moves, like a broken chair we mean to get fixed someday, sounds wonderful. I use that memory to jar me when my own apology mechanism feels stuck.

2. Say it fully
Occasionally I find myself trying to minimize the hurt I have caused. It feels as if I am an elephant trying to hide behind a tree trunk. I need to speak with integrity about what I have done. Integrity is a word that means “whole”. Say the whole story.

3. Share how you felt
Saying how you felt is quite different than making excuses, or blaming. It can be the bridge that connects people over what may seem like an impassable gorge. “I am sorry. I was scared that something had happened to you and I reacted from fear,” can be much easier to hear than “You were late and that made me so angry”.

4. Describe what your hopes are
Part of the magic of an apology is the opportunity to rebuild. Describe what kind of interaction you would like to do next time. “I want to be worthy of your trust” is an intention that can bring you together instead of divide you. Being vulnerable enough to tell someone what you are striving for makes them part of your cheering section.

5. Assure your spouse that you will handle it differently next time
You have a past behind you that cannot be altered, but before you is a future with endless possibilities! Invest in your future together.

Have couples take together about forgiveness in their relationship. Invite them to tell each other about apologies that have brought healing and others that are still pending. Then bring it back to the whole group for discussion.



3.2 Quote

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’  Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’  So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.  So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.  Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’  And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
  “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

Matthew 18


3.3 The Story

Fallen Leaves

I drive the same road four times every day. The canopy of leaves spreads over me, waving as I go by. Their colors do not change noticeably from April to August but when the first chills of autumn blow through, they are transformed. I say transformed as if it happens in a blink, but actually the shift is subtle enough to ignore it if you have a mind to. It is not hard to stay riveted to the newscaster, or my ipod, or the annoyingly careful driver in front of me. The trees never actually cry out "Look at me! I am different!" It takes attention to appreciate.

At first I wonder if it has actually begun. There are edges of red on the branches, but maybe they were there yesterday. That tree bending over the stone wall seems more yellow than last week, or maybe even this morning. After a few days of the palette sliding from cool green to warm scarlet and gold, I start to feel as if I too want to change. What is it like to see new hues spreading across your arms, a response to an invisible clarion call? What does the reckless abandon of letting everything that appears to protect and cover you fall away feel like? Do they fully realize that this explosion of color is the last gasp of life from leaves whose journey will carry them to the mulchy ground, and a crunchy, brown grave?

There was a period when the way my husband and I handled expenses was driving a wedge in our relationship. The more I gritted my teeth and insisted he keep better records and submit receipts, the chillier our financial exchanges became. I had known years ago that money was not the driving force of how he operated, and that seemed very quaint and endearing at the time. Now it was maddening.

Then I began to see things, well differently. It was subtle at first, rather like the first amber tips of the sycamores that cover my head in September. I thought, "Well I could keep those records. I could pay the bills."

It meant that part of me had to die. My rightness, and need to cling to "the principle of the thing" had to take on new colors, like the deep red of acceptance, and the orange of mutual trust. We might even lose money in the process, if the transition was choppy. Little deaths, of having things my way, or controlling my husband fell to my feet and became the compost for compassion, and patience.

But what of the spring? I am old enough to know that all that stands between these piles of decaying leaves and miniature green shoots that appear from nowhere is about a hundred sunrises. Three full moons, give or take a little. Could the distance between the complaining me and the peaceful one be so short? But what I really want to know and am afraid to ask is, Can I get to the new life without actually having to die?

"He that finds his life will lose it, and he that loses his life for my sake will find it." – Matthew 10:39

I guess not.

But why would I cling to something lifeless anyway? Criticism and resentment are as dead as the fallen leaves. Would I really like to somehow fasten them back to my fingers and use them to beautify myself? Waiting for tiny signs of kindness in the spring seems like an improvement on the old me. Recently my husband made a mistake, and I didn't feel an irresistible urge to point it out to him. It's subtle. But I think I will let the leaves lie where they fall.


3.4 Activity with Your Children

Together find a jar with a thin neck. Each of you write down thngs you have complained about, about other people in the family. Poke the papers down the neck of the jar, so that you cannot get them back up without breaking the jar. Agree to leave the complaints in the jar for six months. You cannot complain about them in the meantime, either. You can however keep adding to the jar.

At the end of six months you can either break the jar, and see if any of them still matter, or simply hide the jar in the closet and forget about it.


3.5 Prayer

Oh Lord,

I am so quick to find fault. Criticism springs to my lips every day. Please help me to pause, to pass the words through a test of time.

"Will this matter in a week? In a month? In a decade?"

Help me to let those words fall to the floor and remain unspoken.



3.6 Ideas

Pass around beeswax to each person as the meeting is going on, and invite them to make some small figure. The beeswax starts out cold and hard, and it is by the warmth and squeezing of your hands that is softens up. After awhile, ask people to show the group what they have made. Enjoy them. Have everyone to give it to their partner. All is well. Then tell them to squish the figure. Ouch.

As much as we might like to believe we will never hurt our spouse, the reality is we will. That is part and parcel to a shared life. But that is not the end of the story. Invite everyone to take that softened beeswax and make something new. The wax is more pliable now, and is more easily molded. Keep the group going as people create yet a new gift for their partner, and offer it back again.

We are more pliable and soft, after we make mistakes and learn to forgive. Perhaps it was the plan after all.