I am amazed at how much effort we extend to try and pacify others whom we have wronged rather than just deal with the issue itself. There is something powerful inside each of us — connected to our sin nature and pride — that goes against wanting to just apologize, admit we were wrong (and maybe stupid), and ask for forgiveness. Rather, we will put on a false compassion and even spend a great amount of time and effort (and sometimes expense) to show that “everything is okay.”
This has always been true. In my reading of the Old Testament story about Jacob and Esau, I saw this clearly. Jacob (with the help of his mother, Rebekah) had just stolen his older brother Esau’s blessing. This came on the heels of convincing that same brother to swap his birthright for a hot bowl of lentil soup. (I once had lentil soup at the airport during a layover in Minneapolis – it was delicious and came with my meal rather than salad!) Esau learned of this trickery and said, “If I get my hands on that deceitful little brother of mine, I’ll kill him!” (I do believe I said the same thing of my little brother on an occasion or two while growing up.) But Esau meant it!
Jacob runs to his Uncle Laban’s place, and finds a deceiver equal to him (as is evidenced by his marriage to Leah after working seven years for her sister, Rachel). Laban marries off two daughters in one month and gets seven more years of labor from Jacob. He proceeds to change his “terms” ten times over the twenty years Jacob worked for him. Finally, Jacob leaves with his four wives, twelve sons, and one daughter. But en route he realizes he’s headed back to the land of his brother, Esau — the one he cheated and ran away from twenty years earlier (Genesis 32-33). It is amazing how clear his memory is: he knows that Esau (and his reported 400 men) might not be that happy to see his only brother! Jacob agonizes and plans thoroughly how to meet his brother. He sends scouts out ahead. He sends an incredible amount of gifts one by one, with the same words—these are a gift to you, Esau, from your servant Jacob. He puts his own family in two parties so that half can escape if the others are massacred by the rugged “red” warrior, Esau. He stays up all night and prays for safety as he anticipates this fearful meeting with Esau – his only brother, with whom he shared all his growing up years (plus nine months in the womb as they were twins)!
At this point, Jacob seems to regret his past deceitfulness. How often does the memory of our actions come back to be a source of anxiety in the future? Each of us knows people who remind us of past failures, or words or actions we did that hurt (and maybe even embarrass) us. We avoid those people at all costs, and try to suppress the memories too. We will strive to make sure everything is “good” – short of pro-actively seeking out those from whom we need to ask forgiveness and saying to them, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
I remember meeting an old classmate of mine who came back to Grace since I’ve been here as President. During our time at Grace, I had offended him and treated him poorly. I remembered the event clearly and how it had bothered him, but when I mentioned it to him, he now laughed and said how “it was nothing.” But why did I fear that meeting so much? It was because of my wrong actions, and my heart knew I needed to deal with it.
What in your life have you left undone? Does it need to be remedied with a petition for forgiveness? Pick up the phone or write a letter and deal with it– it actually is more profitable than the pain of trying to pacify!