Several years ago I was working at Salishan’s golf resort, just south of Lincoln City. It was the summer of ’07 and I had come back from my freshman year of college to hopefully make some money going forward into the next few years. My job was to assist any and every incoming golfer with their clubs, bags, and carts. When they pulled into the parking lot, I’d drive a golf cart out to them, load up their bags, and sometimes even give them a ride to the club house. And on slow mornings, I’d sometimes fall asleep in the golf cart. Greatest. Job. Ever.
On busy days, though, things could get hectic. If the ball machine at the driving range was empty with half a dozen golfers waiting to warm up, we were the ones to go pick up a few hundred golf balls and fill the machine. On one particular day, the machine ran empty, more golfers pulled into the parking lot, and we ran out of clean golf carts all at the same time. Oh, and at that specific moment, there were only two cart kids working.
I bring this story up only because there was a quick moment where the starter (the guy who keeps golfers on schedule with teeing off, playing at a reasonable pace, etc.) had requested clean towels for a golfer. Since the other cart kid was picking up golf balls on the driving range, I was the only one able to do it. But instead I had made a snappy remark. I forget what I said exactly, but I remember acting out of anger and stress. When things calmed down – only a few hours later – I drove over to the first tee, where the starter was waiting for the next wave of golfers, and told him I was sorry for snapping at him. What was his reply? “Never noticed it.”
I deliberately use “sorry” instead of “apologize” because, contrary to what I was taught as a kid, they aren’t the same thing. To apologize is to give a defense of your actions (that’s why there are “apologists”: people who are known for defending their beliefs); it is, in fact, the opposite of saying you’re sorry. To say you’re sorry is to show remorse and a sense of guilt or shame for causing harm or offense. To apologize is to say why you did it, which is almost the same as making an excuse. So to apologize takes pride, but to say you’re sorry, well, that takes humility.
And humility is risky.
When you open up and confess to someone that you wronged them in some way, you’re doing two things: Surrendering your pride and placing yourself at their mercy. That’s such an intense word, “mercy.” It’s like even though you only put bubble gum in your sister’s hair one time you still have the possibility of going to jail or being executed if “mercy” isn’t granted. And yet, Scripture seems rather consistent on this issue: That if you wrong someone, you will reap what you sow.
Being forgiven is receiving someone’s mercy. It’s saying, “I don’t have enough to pay you,” and hearing, “That’s okay,” in reply. From personal experience, it isn’t the most fun thing to do – placing oneself at someone’s mercy, that is. For even though one may make leaps and bounds by surrendering one’s own pride, there’s still that time in between saying one’s sorry and receiving forgiveness that is incredibly stressful. Why? Because that entire time, be it a few seconds or a few years, one feels exposed or vulnerable or maybe even weak. When you plead for someone’s forgiveness, you plead for something that may not be guaranteed to you. You plead for something that you cannot control.
When the starter told me that he didn’t notice my snappy reply, I was a bit relieved. With the literal words “Never noticed it” he did not mean “I don’t remember you talking to me.” He carried forgiveness in his tone of voice, as if to say, “You’re okay.” For the hours in between me snapping at him and then seeking his forgiveness, I was feeling terrible. I got frustrated with everything I had to do – even the minor things – because I was still thinking about my angered words to him. Perhaps it was another error of blaming myself, but quite honestly, it’s also a side effect of sin.
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” The anger I felt in the moment I snapped at the starter stayed with me for the next few hours not because I was still angry at him – not even because I was angry at anything at all. It stayed with me because I didn’t seek to resolve the issue. I didn’t deal with the anger when it first cropped up and it had been eating at me up until I told the starter I was sorry. When I finally let my pride go and became vulnerable, that’s actually when I was really set free. The devil’s foothold was removed.
In a perfect world, being forgiven should never be an issue for us; we should never have to get into situations where we need to be forgiven. While this is a good thing to strive for – not wronging anyone and living peaceably with everyone – it would be foolish to think that we never have to seek forgiveness. Whether we want to or not, we’ll slip. We’ll mess up somehow. But Jesus is training us in humility. He’s training us in the discipline of surrendering selfish ambition and pride so that we might become like Him. And if we’re like Him, then we’re close to that perfect world where forgiveness would neither be sought nor granted – for it wouldn’t be necessary.
Seeking forgiveness is not fun. It’s not easy. But being forgiven is freeing. And it’s only possible if one seeks forgiveness. Granting forgiveness – either for someone else or yourself – will be the topic of the next two posts. And there’s quite a bit to talk about. But for now, if you haven’t done so already, seek forgiveness. Those areas shouldn’t be difficult to think of; they’re the thoughts one usually ignores.
You never know how many sunsets you have left in life.