A friend of mine (Brian , who will remain safely anonymous…ooops) wrote recently about an apology he heard at work. I am shamelessly stealing this theme. To paraphrase, one of the things he said was that good apologies feel like you are ripping something out of your chest. Agreed!
A former friend of mine was a pastor and a tremendous preacher. When he first became the pastor of the church I attended, I used to marvel at how well he connected with the audience. I just could not put my finger on what it was he did so well. It took a couple of years, but then I figured it out. When he gave a good sermon, it usually started with an amusing anecdote of where he did something stupid and then was forced to apologize. Occasionally, he would give an outstanding; knock it out of the park sermon, where he would recount a major failure in his life, how it wrecked him for awhile and then the long road of redemption that he undertook. These sermons would stick with me for weeks, sometimes months.
I was a lay speaker at the time and on a couple of occasions, he let me preach. The first couple of times I did the anecdote formula with decent results. The last time I preached, I did a “dig deep”, tear part of my guts out confession and sure enough, I hit one out of the park. I am still proud of that sermon.
Now when I started this post, I was going to comment on how a lot of times when I hear preachers on TV, they spend too much time on extolling the greatness of their righteous decisions. And because of that, much of what they say hits the floor with a thud. And while I have said that, it is no longer the theme of this post.
I am not sure you noticed at the beginning of this post that it says former friend. I cannot very well use him as an example of great preaching because of his apologies if I do not explain why we are no longer friends.
There are basically two reasons. The first is it was a rather lopsided friendship. I was friends with him, because it was a rough time in my life and I needed someone to give me honest feedback. He was a friend to me because I was one of the few people in his life that did not hold him up as a saint. I saw him as a regular smart guy who was very good at doing his “thing.” Because I had “figured him out,” I did not see him as being especially righteous. It freed us both to be ourselves around each other, without being hypocritical, which is an easy trap in a church environment. But to be clear, I needed him more than he needed me. He was buddies with dozens of guys at church. He had fishing buddies, mission trip buddies…you name it, and he had a buddy for it.
We were friends for many years and he was really there for me when my son was gravely ill. But then as often happens in relationships, we had a falling out. Perhaps I should say that I had a falling out, because at first, he did not realize that he had hurt me. But the damage was done. After much conversation, he said he was sorry and I accepted his apology. But because of what had happened our lives took us in different directions. We saw each other less and less until we did not see each other at all.
Years later, he presided over the funeral of a mutual friend. We were both in terrible grief over the friend’s death, but I don’t think we ever spoke.
Looking back, I am not sure what went wrong. We both said the right things. And I think we meant them sincerely at the time. But I wonder if timing is an important element in forgiveness. I wonder if it was too late or too soon. Or maybe we needed to spend more time together. Sadly our falling out coincided with , my wife taking another job and we no longer went to the same church.
Since that time, both of our lives have become more hectic. We don’t run in the same circles and it was less of a “big deal” for him than for me. His brief friendship vacuum was easily filled by one of his many parishioners. Because we left the church, I lost not only him, but a dozen other friends, leaving a gaping hole. There was no crisis of friendship on the others, but we just drifted apart when we no longer met on common ground.
In the movie Shadowlands, CS Lewis laments that grief is the price we pay for the love that lights up our lives. I think that regret is the price we pay for lost friendship. I have a long list of close friends that I have had over the course of my life. All but two of them were diminished by distance. Two ended abruptly. In neither case was a simple apology enough to bridge the gap.
And we sit here in our storm and drink a toast
To the slim chance of love’s recovery.
–The Indigo Girls