“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–19)
“Mom, I don’t like it when you say that back to me.” Her eyes were wide but sure, and her face looked up at me, definitely uncertain of what kind of response she was about to get.
“Say what, baby?”
“When you say, ‘I’m sorry, too.’”
What did I say again? Wasn’t it just an “I’m sorry … ”? The pause. The realization. The pierce of my sin.
A habit had solidified, and it was a pretty nasty one. While correcting my oldest daughter, after she would come to a place of repentance and apologize, I would (more often than not) say, “I’m sorry, too.” Meaning that I’m sad—I’m sorry—that you will have to experience these consequences for your actions. But she didn’t mean the sentiment; she meant the tone. For you see, I wasn’t expressing my apology in a tone of gentleness or genuine remorse—often it would escape with a sigh of irritation or an escalated tone of frustration at her continual wrongdoing.
A kid messing up.
It’s a farce to think that the older we get the less frequently we will find ourselves needing to apologize, begging forgiveness of both the one we’ve wronged and the God who saves. Just like the story of salvation itself—the exact opposite of what we expect is what really happens, and as I mature I find myself needing to apologize and ask forgiveness more than ever before. And again, like the story of salvation itself, what seems a cruelty must actually be a kindness, for I must be being made new.
If you feel that space between your neck and your shoulders shrinking as we head into the Christmas season, you are not alone. The anticipation of seeing those we’ve had beef with, have beef with, or are likely to have beef with is enough to make anybody steal the words straight from the mouths of any number of couples seen on House Hunters International: “We just wanted a fresh start somewhere tropical!”
But it’s a lie. Christian, we are being made new, and it is now true that “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). And when the truth of who we really are collides with our daily yuck it’s uncomfortable, and ugly, and it downright hurts. But we are called to participate in the exchange that calls us to more. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Just like our Savior at the cross, to be made new in him is a call to humility and selfless death, obedience and action.
This Christmas, not if but when I wrong someone, oh Lord—may I be quick to repent. Change my heart and make it soft and pliable to your will. May I repent both directly to the wronged, and to the God of the universe who made sure the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51), so I can access the throne room directly through the blood of his Son.
Second, when someone wrongs me, may I step in as my own agent, not in a demanding attitude of self-righteous harshness, but in the safety and recognition of the value Christ has given me. May I say, “Hey, that hurt my feelings,” or, “I don’t like it when you say that,” and may I do so quickly and in a tone of gentleness and brotherly affection. And may I put this on display for my children, so that when I wrong them, they in turn feel the agency to speak up and call me to a place of repentance and reconciliation. For now I am their mother, but ultimately (and eternally) I pray I am their sister in Christ.
I can feel you ask it—I can feel myself ask it: But what if reconciliation with our family of origin isn’t received well, or doesn’t even appear to be wanted? What if the sadness is so dark or the anger so piercing because of deep past hurts that carry terms like betrayal, abuse, or abandonment? You can offer it all day long, but the message of reconciliation can be an unswallowable horse pill for those who are not ready for it. The good news is it’s not our responsibility whether or not they can get it down—that is the business of the Spirit. But believer, it is our responsibility to make the offering. My life changed the moment I was taught we are only responsible for our actions, and not for how they are received.
I don’t pretend this is an easy road—especially during the emotionally-loaded holidays. I don’t pretend because I know the potholes and sharp turns, the surefire toe-stumpers of pride and self-righteousness, the snaggy-crags of parental justification and the propensity to lean on childish forgetfulness, or the temptation to just sweep the family stuff under the rug one more year. But we are called to be a people of reconciliation. We are called to be a people of generational sin-breaking. We are called to apologize and receive the always-ready fresh start, the remaking of our very souls, being shaped by the God of the universe to the form of the One in whom there is not a single crack of imperfection.
So this Christmas, as our hearts peer into the manger at the Babe who came for us, may we see his eyes in the eyes of our very own littles—eyes that beg of us never to fear, but to trust that forgiveness is ours if only we ask for it.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION/ APPLICATION:
Do you practice repenting (saying “I was wrong” and asking for forgiveness) to your children? What makes it feel risky? Why is it important?
Are there any past hurts that resurface around the holidays for you and your extended family? With whom in particular is it difficult to interact? How do Christ’s actions on your behalf change the way you interact with this person?
Do you sense God calling you to repent directly to someone? If so, will you ask him for the grace to do so?
Is there one scripture or portion of scripture you can memorize and write on your heart today, asking God to use it in you for the good work of reconciliation this Christmas season?
Holly Mackle is the curator of the mom humor collaboration Same Here, Sisterfriend, Mostly True Tales of Misadventures in Motherhood, and author of the family Advent devotional Little Hearts, Prepare Him Room. She is the wife of a handsome, mama of two flower-sneaking bitties, and a fairly decent gardener and hopefully better humorist for joegardener.com. She spends most of her free time explaining to her two young girls why their hair will not do exactly what Queen Elsa’s does.