#RecoverLent – Listening – “Is there any other way that I have harmed you…?”

Have you ever experienced a time when someone tells you they’re sorry, but you’re not sure they mean it?

I imagine most people have had this experience at one time or another. Often the person will say they’re sorry because they see you’re upset, but you’re not certain they really know why they are apologizing.

I see that often on social media. For instance, my wife calls someone out for a sexist comment, and they respond with a fake, surface-level apology that reads, “I am sorry that my comment offended you, but…” and then they add something that basically says, “I am not sorry for what I said or how my words may have hurt you in a way that I couldn’t possibly understand.”

I can see it so clearly is because I used to be a wizard at the fake apology.

In my last post, Telling the Truth, I wrote about the importance of making amends. It is the process of vulnerably admitting your faults and the harms you have caused others. But there is another crucial component toward making amends that cannot be overemphasized.

Listening.

After you have exhausted your list of harms and actions for which you want to apologize, there is a question that must be asked:

“Is there any way that I have harmed you that I am unaware of?”

As one who was quick to apologize without really meaning it, I had problems at this step in making amends. Making amends was not just about my thinking about what I had done, dumping that on someone else in the form of an apology, and then calling the process done. To complete the process, I needed also to hear the full account of my actions from the other person’s perspective and to hear how that impacted the life of the other person.

“Is there any way that I have harmed you that I am unaware of?”

Of course there was. I couldn’t know all the ways that I had created deep, emotional stress for those I loved. I didn’t know the extensive financial burdens that I had put on them. I didn’t know how my lack of communication during my binge periods created fear or anxiety.

As I listened to each person, I realized how poor I had been in listening to others’ feelings. I realized how often I was never truly sorry for how my actions impacted others. I was just sorry that I had gotten caught or that I was in trouble.

Through this process I discovered listening.

One of the things my sponsor taught me about making amends is that we should never respond with any defense. We shouldn’t justify our actions. We shouldn’t make excuses. We need to listen and take in everything the other person says, attempting to understand their hurt to the best of our ability.

As a privileged white male, my gut reaction is always to defend my actions, to justify my points, to make excuses that remove blame. To “apologize” that my words offended but not to understand the severity of my offense and the true hurt that the other person experienced.

 “Is there any way that I have harmed you that I am unaware of?”

Ask, and then listen. Offer power to the other by creating and sustaining the silence by which they can come to voice. Give them the space to share their experience, their hurt, their feelings as they feel comfortable doing so.

Silence for reflection

On Sunday we often have confession and forgiveness. Often it is preceded in the bulletin by the words, “Silence for reflection.”Then the congregation begins:

“Gracious God, have mercy on us. We confess that we have turned from you and given ourselves into the power of sin. We are truly sorry and humbly repent. In your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things we have done and things we have failed to do. Turn us again to you, and uphold us by your Spirit, so that we may live and serve you in newness of life through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.”[1]

What if we left silence after this prayer? Or what if we left silence after we said:

“In your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown, things we have done and things we have failed to do.”

Silence is kept to listen for God

We reflect on our sin, and that is good. But do we leave space to listen for God?

As I have learned from making amends, there is so much we do or say that causes harm of which we are unaware. Do we give God the space to share with us the ways our actions have impacted God’s self or have impacted God’s creation?

In your compassion forgive us our sins, known and unknown…
God, is there any way that I have harmed you that I am unaware of?

Ask and then listen. Grant space, silence, power into the hands of our creator. Offer God the space to share God’s experience, hurt, and feelings as God feels is right.

This season of Lent is a time to reflect more fully on our failings, known and unknown. We don’t need to rush to absolution. “Sin boldly” is not an excuse to sin, despite our wish to apply this quote from Martin Luther to justify our blatantly shitty behaviors—knowing and trusting in God’s forgiveness. God, who is faithful and just, will forgive us, but that does not give us license to rush through our list of faults. It does not give us the right to make excuses. It does not give us the right to justify ourselves and our actions.

Listening for God has been one of the scariest parts of my sobriety. I know that I will feel pain in hearing the ways I have hurt others and hurt God. I know that I will be challenged to make deeper amends. I know that more will be asked of me. I know that I will have to be more vulnerable.

But, when I fully listen to God and others, knowing that I truly intend to make things right in whatever way may be possible, then I feel I can pray these words from the heart on Sunday and hear the Grace: “Turn us again to you, and uphold us by your Spirit, so that we may live and serve you in newness of life…”

Live and serve in newness of life. Resurrection.

But we’re not there yet. For now, we are moving through Lent, preparing ourselves to sit at the feet of Christ on the cross. A time for reflection. A time that invites us to sit in silence at the end of our confession and make our amends with God. A time to ask God, “How else have I wronged you? How else have I harmed you? How else have I turned from you?”

And then to listen, really listen, for God’s response.



[1] Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Augsburg Fortress, 2006), p. 95.

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