I am fabulous at many things. I am an exceptional speller, and I am quite skilled at making chocolate cream pie. I can solve a Wheel of Fortune mystery before the people on television. Generally speaking, I am pretty wonderful.
But I am lousy at saying I’m sorry.
The most obvious reason is I may have some difficulty with humility. Read the first paragraph again. See? Pride issues.
But then my editor asked me to write about repentance.
This is the way life works: You have issues. You avoid them as regularly as possible because they are annoying or tedious or painful. Then God says, “And lo, I shall giveth you an editor to mess with you.” And we’re off to the races, working on our issues and getting paid at the same time.
The last time I really needed to say I was sorry about something involved my husband. This is usually the case because, as you know, when you’re married you are stuck with that person a lot. Which means there are plenty of opportunities for apologizing.
But I didn’t. I didn’t apologize.
The morning of the non-apology, I found myself staring down a messy house and wondering if I could somehow slip away unnoticed to some private island. There was no island nearby and both children were clamoring for breakfast, so I decided instead to get very grumpy. The grumpiness involved stomping about, slamming the door on the dryer, and possibly some muttering under my breath.
It also involved an incident where I spoke sharply to my husband because he had the audacity to ask me a question. Or maybe he just said hello. I don’t remember. At that point, I was just upset that he was standing next to me and breathing.
I said something snippy and stalked off, and I think Brian just looked at me with that blank, affable Labrador retriever expression that he so often has. This look occurs for two reasons. One, he is a generally pleasant individual. And two, he is trying, very hard, to keep up with the hamster wheel of emotions I like to run on. He doesn’t have such a wheel, so when he tries to run along with me, it gets crowded.
After the sniping, he didn’t even offer a comeback. Labrador retrievers rarely do. They just cock their heads to the side and wait for something happy to occur. But I found myself wanting him to snark back at me so I could righteously continue with the angry hamster routine. Instead, he did the unthinkable.
“What is wrong?” he asked.
The nerve. We are supposed to be walking around the problem here, not dealing with it.
In fact, the real problem is not pride. It’s fear.
I am afraid. I’m afraid that in response to my apology, my husband will look at me and say, “You know, you’re right. You are sorry. I am out of here.” Attaching this kind of dread to these moments might seem a bit grandiose, but I mentioned before that I am hamster-ish. Hamsters have to overcompensate, I guess.
And yes, there is also an elephant in the room, because we need more animals in this article.
The elephant is my alcoholism. I am in recovery, and have been for more than four years now, and you would think that coming clean and apologizing would be a smoother process for me at this point. If you don’t know, making amends is kind of recovery’s thing. In fact, we even have a specific step for it, in which we make a long and harrowing list of the people we’ve harmed, and try to make amends to them.
I made that list. And I’m working on it. It’s terrifying and wonderful. Like most of recovery. It’s a process, but it’s important and it keeps me sane. And sober.
I’m realizing, however, that my husband is not on that list. He didn’t even make the end notes or an honorable mention. And I have come to the rather embarrassing realization that he deserves a big, fat, colossal amends from me.
If I sit down with Brian and give him the straight up, no chaser apology, for the drinking, for the behaviors associated with the drinking, for the things I did after the drinking when my recovery felt like it was a daily Navy Seals assignment—if I do that, then I might as well say sorry for everything. Because, then doesn’t really have to do with the drinking anymore, does it? It just has to do with life. And life is hard, and then we misbehave. And I don’t know where to even start with all this misbehaving.
I don’t want to say sorry because I know I’ll screw up again tomorrow. Eventually it will just be like shooting sorry fish in a barrel. It’s like when I attempt spring cleaning at my house. I put on my overalls and tie back my hair and within five minutes I find myself bogged down just cleaning out the closet where we keep the cleaning supplies. On the walk to the bathroom I spot more than forty messes. At this rate spring cleaning is going to take me into summer and fall.
I realize that all this makes me sound like a big jerk.
Perhaps it would be good to stop with all this “This is too hard” business for one final word from God. He is always good for input. He knows my heart and how much I love my husband. I know that he will help me make the long walk to search out the husband, so I can hem and haw and eventually squeak out an actual out-loud apology. True repentance involves that whole “say it out loud” business. Such a hassle, but it’s the only way.
I figure my conversation with Jesus about true repentance would sound like this:
Jesus: Dana, remember Easter?
Me: Yes. Oh. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.
Jesus: No, you’re missing the point.
Me: Oh. Ok. Sorry about that.
Jesus: Remember Easter?
Me: (small voice) Yes.
Jesus: Remember what I did for you?
Me: (smaller voice) Yes.
Jesus: That’s the reason your sorrys mean something. I gave you grace. Now you receive the grace. And give it to yourself and others. Spread it around. I want you to. That’s why there is Easter. Oh, and yes, say sorry, but know that whatever they say back to you, I have totally, utterly, all the way forgiven you.
Me: (smallest voice) Thank you.
Jesus: You’re welcome. Now go apologize to your husband.