Beyond the apology

In 2019 Hong Kong political riots permeated the international community with unease.  Amidst the riots, Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, apologised for proposing the contentious bill that gave rise to the riots, which would allow Hong Kong citizens to be tried through Chinese courts.

It strikes me that confession in leadership is rare.

Why is it so hard?

In all relationships, saying `I’m sorry` requires courage and attracts risk.  We risk losing reputation and we invite negative feedback.  We offer vulnerability with no guarantee it will be reciprocated or honoured.

Conflict is intrinsic to existence.  Though familiar, it is always uncomfortable.  We cycle through friction and harmony constantly in our relationships.  Indeed, they cannot exist in any depth without this undulating `rupture and repair`.

Unique hearts

For different people, different stages of conflict resolution are more arduous.  One of my three year old twins has a vast, soft heart.  On occasions I have prompted her for an apology and been met with broken-hearted sobbing.  Overwhelmed by the emotional injury her choices have inflicted, she is speechless.  I have learned to tackle apology differently with her.  Sometimes I give her the words.  “Sorry, Mum, for _________”, I whisper for her, and we just hug.  I recognise in her tears and her embrace that this is a genuine apology.

The Third ‘G’

For me, the third step of the `four G’s of conflict resolution and reconciliation`, the YOU part, is the most daunting: Gently restore. This involves, with permission, speaking truth lovingly into the heart of the person with whom you have experienced conflict. It isn’t a means to vent my frustration or judge my neighbour.  Rather, if I seek to facilitate growth and healing in someone I must do so because of love for them. If we are motivated from a heart of love for the other person, this difficult conversation is actually a reflection of God’s love for us in the person of Jesus (1 John 4:7-10,19-21; Romans 5:8).

Brave enough to speak

This requires a unique courage.  As an introvert, I like to be prepared.  I feel safer speaking through the filter of written communication.  Distilling my thoughts `live` risks them tumbling out imperfectly, injuring the other person, the relationship or myself.  Gently restoring, however, must always be in person.  I need the tools of non-verbal communication, emotional intelligence, sensitive engagement.

What if it backfires?

And then there is the risk of the response.  I may be called a fool, or blamed as the sole offender.  I risk hearing truth on my own account and  I risk the suspension of a relationship in which I have invested.  If I am rebuffed, the next `gently restore` opportunity feels harder. And yet if I am to live out God’s call on my life to love others, it will often include doing hard things like taking the risk of being hurt, of being unfairly blamed, of losing relationship. But we are never alone, for God is with us and is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Instruction on her knees

Finally, I need extraordinary humility.  I cannot restore another person until I have recognised my equal need for grace.  Otherwise, my pride will hamper us both.

Galatians 6:1 cautions, ‘Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.’  (NIV)

Mutual dividends and testimony to the world

Studies tell us that wellbeing is associated with a sense of personal growth, When I venture beyond confession and allow a healthy, loving exchange of truth, both of us emerge more whole.  ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’  (Proverbs 27:17, NIV). Jesus also told us that when we love others the world will see that we are his disciples. (John 13:34-35)

In the midst of this messy, frightening challenge there is relief. Loving others enough to be personally open to change and to be used as instruments of change is hard.   But it is in fact the best way to live in community with other people and testify to a loving God in a hurting, broken world.  Will you join me in this?

Tammy Brinsmead

This article is by Tammy Brinsmead. Tammy is busy mum to three, who works as a neonatologist in her free time.  She loves sport, cacao smoothies and eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

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