Note to Self – Apologies

James 1: 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Note to Self: It is repeated actions, not repeated words, that reflect a person’s character. 

When God speaks to our soul, when the Holy Spirit places a word in our heart that is to be spoken out loud, the purpose is to begin the wind of action that forms the path of change. The word can be heard and the word can be shared, but if it is not followed by a change through movement, it will dissipate before any significant impact can result. This could not be more true than when it is an apology- whether it is expressed towards ourselves, God, or another person. 

We all have made decisions or chosen behavior that had negative consequences for our lives and for others. Remorse is an emotion that is a reflection of our character shortcomings. Like a series of movie clips, our memory will replay the events that caused spiritual, mental, emotional or physical pain. The innate need to compensate for our part in the demise of an event is glaring back at us. We are standing in front of the mirror that shines the light on the intricacies that make us imperfect humans. At that moment, there is an immediate desire to rectify the situation as we promise to God, and to others, that we will make a better choice from now on. “I hear you, Spirit. I promise to do better next time, just please get me through this and I will take the steps to be a better person”, is a statement we cry out through our prayer that begs for redemption. However, soon after we have walked away from the mirror of self-reflection that can give us freedom, the determination we portrayed to others is short-lived. It becomes a facade through which we present a desire for long-term changes with short-term promises. We didn’t say the word to deepen or form a relationship with God– we said it to appear contrite to the world. It is under these pretenses that the mask of sorrow is once again removed as we turn around and pretend like nothing happened. 

Apologies are the only plurals that lose value the more that they are repeated. If we continually hear ourselves saying “I apologize” without a sincere, humbling conviction taking residence in our heart, we send the message to God and to others that we want the person on the receiving end to accept our apologies so that we don’t have to endure the consequences that can lead to permanent change. Stating the remorse to appease the dire situation becomes like a banging gong that echoes in a barren canyon. Those in our lives will either enable the continuous, unresolved patterns or decide to no longer be a part of the destructive interactions. We opt for selective memory as we go right back to the same habits, forgetting to look beneath the surface where the law that gives freedom has been planted within all of us; freedom from the underlying causes of our ego and the habitual methods of self-preservation to appease our pride. The apology, the word, ends up being a scapegoat for planting the seeds on that mountain we need to climb in order to release our old ways and become new in Christ, new in Spirit. 

An apology is not a noun, it is a verb. We must take responsibility to walk away from the negative habits that paralyze our lives. Speaking it out loud may make the recipient feel that their pain is being acknowledged for the moment. There is also a possibility that just because we are ready to be forgiven does not mean the person is ready to forgive. It is the living amends, which can require a longer time frame to show authentic accountability, that exhibit an inner growth that occurs within ourselves and within our relationships. A living amends means choosing to live in a new way that honors ourselves and honors God, even when no one is looking. It builds a foundation and new layers of belief systems. The new roots must be watered before the fruition of outward change can occur; it will require acceptance and patience for people to trust what they see versus what they got used to only hearing. 

There must also be a willingness to accept the reality that the person we have harmed may never get to see our new behavior changes and the mature person we have become. Standing in front of the mirror to see ourselves as we really are may include cleaning up a mess that affected others, but ultimately it is about getting right with God and with ourselves. If the change is to impress others or to get our way and not solely for the sake of the truest healing that comes from listening to God’s voice through all the rubble, we are “forgetting what we look like”, as we turn away from the truth about who we are at the core. The pretending must come to an end. After all, God saw what lay beneath the part we were playing in this world. We pretended to be a human that had it all figured out. Behind the stage curtains, God saw just another human full of fear and pain; another human that needed to realize that humility isn’t about adopting an undeserving attitude nor is it being better than the next guy- it is an unshakeable revelation that we all have flaws and we all have equal value in this world. 

The decision to not forget the lesson is the decision that will lead to the blessing. We can not have a testimony without the test. The law of freedom is a tool that guides us and replaces the chains that used to bind us. Remembering our past, and no longer having selective memory of our wrongdoings, is not equivalent to living in guilt or shame. It is crucial to mentally marinate in the vision of a new way of living after we have faced the task of putting effort into the resolution of our wrongdoings. We must release the perfect scenario of the people we have harmed accepting our apology and remaining part of our lives because the apology that is partnered with new, healthy choices isn’t only for is for our lives to get in alignment with God’s will for us. 

The length of the spiritual work will vary depending on the situation; it is not the same for everyone. Nor will the growth be linear. However, as we begin to live in new ways, new doors will open that instill a gratitude that helps us to hear more clearly the words and instructions whispered in our souls. It is then that we can reflect on all the old, debilitating ways from which we have been freed. We can honor the person staring back at us in the mirror, never forgetting what we look like- a person worthy of a good life. 

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