In December my family came to visit for Christmas. It was amazing. But it got off to a rocky start. The cabin they had rented had recently gone under some renovations, and the renovations weren’t finished. It turned out okay in the end, but for the first 24 hours or so I fought the urge to apologize for something that was not my fault. I refused to say, “I’m sorry,” for someone else’s mistake and it was the first time I remember intentionally doing that. I had to choke those words down, though, because I wanted to apologize. Bad.
On Friday after school I was playing with two of my students. We were volleying the ball around (volleyball is really popular here) and every time I hit a bad shot I would say, “Oops! Sorry!” or, “I’m sorry,” because I knew I could have done better and it was my fault that my student had to go chase down the ball. Finally she asked (in her first grade English), “Why you say, ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’?” I said (in my first grade English), “Because I hit the ball bad.” She said, in her authoritative, so sure of herself way that both drives me nuts and inspires me, “No. No ‘sorry.'”
I have learned how to say, “I’m sorry.” I have learned how to apologize, how to look someone in the eye, demonstrate understanding that what I did was wrong or hurtful, and to ask for forgiveness. That is not fun. It is humbling and vulnerable. But it is powerful. So I teach my students every day to say, “I’m sorry,” to God and each other and me. It is powerful.
I never want to stop owning up to my mistakes. I never want to stop asking for forgiveness when I should. But I do want to stop apologizing for someone else’s mistakes.
Last summer in one of my many conversations with my supervisor he said, “You do not need to carry the weight of your staff.” Or something like that. Basically, I was doing my staff teams’ jobs in addition to my own job and I was being buried by the weight of it all. His words stuck with me because they rung true. Sometimes I carry the weight of other people’s poor decisions. I carry the weight, and because I know that apologizing is a freeing act, I think that by apologizing for someone else’s mistakes, I can free myself of the weight that I had no business carrying in the first place.
You see what’s wrong with that, right? I have no business carrying that weight in the first place.
I have come to understand that I hold myself to high standards. It’s been said that we judge others on their actions but we judge ourselves on our intentions. While that is certainly true in my life, I have also found that in some regard I hold myself to a higher standard than I do other people in my life. I know this because when I am being particularly hard on myself I ask myself, “If so-and-so were doing the same thing, how would you feel?” Usually the answer is, “I’d feel fine because it’s no big deal.”
I’m learning how to give myself grace and cut myself some slack.
I don’t need to apologize for hitting a ball in a less than perfect way while playing with my students. What’s the big picture? We’re having fun and spending time together, passing the time until their parents come to get them. Am I making that time less meaningful or enjoyable because I am not a perfect volleyball bumper? No. The seven-year-olds don’t care that they have to go chase the ball every fourth hit. They would be chasing the ball anyway.
Yes, I do need to apologize when I have done or said something that was disrespectful or hurtful. I own that, I humble myself, I ask for forgiveness, and I am set free.
No, I do not need to apologize for something that someone else has done that has negatively affected the people I love. I can say, “I hate that for you,” (one of my new favorite phrases) or, “I’m sorry that is happening.” But I do not need to pick up the burden of someone else’s sin. Mm.
No, I do not need to apologize for being less than perfect. Typing that sentence made me tear up and take my hands off the keyboard for a minute, so I’m going to type it again. I do not need to apologize for being less than perfect. I do not need to apologize for being less than perfect. I do not need to apologize for being less then perfect. I do not need to apologize for being less than perfect.
Yes, you need to apologize when you have done or said something disrespectful or hurtful. No, you do not need to apologize for something that someone else has done that has hurt the people around you. I am in charge of me. You are in charge of you.
And no, you do not need to apologize for being less than perfect. Especially when playing volleyball with seven-year-olds. Calm down. Chill out. Breathe. Let yourself be set free from the burdens you had no business carrying in the first place.