Is sorry really the hardest word?

16/11/09 | Posted by Poppy

The prime minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd has apologised to the hundreds of thousands of people, some British migrants, who were abused or neglected in state care as children and said that he hoped that this statement would lead to a 'turning point' in Australian history. Should an apology come before forgiveness? Is an apology ever enough?

 The long road to forgiveness

The full story can be found on the BBC news website

Some of the stories are harrowing. Families were split up. Children and parents were lied to. In some cases there was abuse, both physical and sexual.

From the news clip I saw on the morning news it appears that the apology is not enough for some of the child migrants. Some of them are demanding that the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown should apologise as well. This may happen but how do we deal with forgiveness when a great wrong has happened? Do we have to wait for an apology before we can move on and forgive or can and should forgiveness come first?

It is a tricky one. My life experience is nothing like that of those youngsters who were sent thousands of miles away from their hometowns and links, however fragile, with their families but I’ve had to learn some very hard lessons in forgiveness. Parts of my family are masters at grudge bearing and will refuse to speak to other members of the family for much more trivial events then the sending of a child overseas and not telling them where they are going. I seem to remember that ‘she shouldn’t have got into the chief mourner’s car at Granddad’s funeral was a source of one part of the family not communicating with the other for years and years. The bitching and backstabbing and badmouthing had to be lived through to be believed. It seems silly when you look back on events but it was very real at the time. Of course there are the attempts to heal the breach and then one of the chief complaints is ‘she should have known’ and ‘she should apologise.’

Maybe your family is more sensible than mine. For some of my nearest and dearest, waiting for someone to apologise first for a past hurt is, quite honestly, like waiting for hell to freeze over. It isn’t going to happen.

So if I wait for someone to apologise before I forgive them, that forgiveness can’t happen and maybe I get angry and hurt and more damage is done.

Now I can blame all this hurt and anger on someone else, they should apologise as it is all their fault, or I can break the cycle of blame and counter blame. I can be brave and forgive first.

It isn’t easy. When there were a series of events that left me badly hurt a few years ago and I felt that I had been betrayed by people I had thought were my friends, I found it really hard to let go of the anger. I knew that as a Christian there would need to be forgiveness at some stage and the example of my family fueds and grudges showed me how toxic it can be to wait for an apology from those people that had hurt me.

My example of forgiveness came from the story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told and which can be found in the gospel of Luke 15 11-32. In this story an young man squanders his inheritence on wine, women and song and then comes back home expecting to stay poor and miserable, but at least he will be poor and miserable in a familar place on his family land. To his complete amazement he is completely forgiven by his father who sees the son coming down the road and runs to meet him and then throws a huge party to welcome him home.

Now I’m not superhuman and find it hard to forgive and in my experience it took years and a lot of false starts. I thought I had found it in my heart to forgive these people and then something would happen and I would find myself angry and resentful all over again but those two things - my families example and that story that Jesus told kept me on track.

I leant not to wait for an apology and that forgiveness is the way to live.

So what happens in those situations when someone is so injured that they really can’t forgive and I can fully undersatnd that some of the child migrants whose lives really were changed beyond all reckoning will find it really hard to forgive those who sent them away from their families, with or without and apology from the UK government. When I’ve found it hard to forgive I’ve prayed that one day I might be able to. It is a small first step but it is a step down that road to forgiveness.

So maybe if you are reading this and it strikes a chord then the post a prayer section on this website could be somewhere to start. Maybe a prayer for some hurt or some situation where there aren’t going to be apologies and where you have to take the first step. Or a prayer for someone who is stuggling with anger over past wrongs. Or a prayer to give thanks that there has been healing in a situation that looked very bleak.

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You’re right Poppy, sorry seems to be the hardest word. I too held grudges but through my faith I have learned to offer forgiveness as a first option. rather than let things fester and inevitably become a desperate last resort. The situation regarding the forced exile of our chldren is beyond belief and no wonder it has been kept quiet all these years. It seems though that time is after all, a good healer and has brought about this change of heart from the authorities. We thank the Lord for that.

#1. By Kevin on November 17, 2009

Reading your article Poppy, made me reflect on forgiveness
it is very very very hard to
Yet,better to forgive, and be free of all that toxicity which just is ruinous to health and happiness. The truth that letting it go is better. I also reflect, that for some of us, forgiving is a process, which is often uncomfortable, and does hurt, 
and does change you in ways that can be suprising, certainly changes your life. Its a leap of faith, because at the time of deciding to forgive, there is no way to see, where that journey of forgiving will take you. To stretch the metaphor a little, what bits of you will be challenged to change and grow, that you dont
want to change, but do. So I see God in forgiving, because I see it as a dynamic process, a freewill choice, based in love. I could describe the alternative choice, but suffice to say, its not healthy and developing, but stationary,
and eventually toxically unhappy.

#2. By imelda on November 19, 2009

‘Sorry’ is a very hard word in this context for two reasons completely unconnected with forgiveness and repentance;

1) it can be construed into an admission of legal liability and legal claims of enormous size may well follow; even your motor insurance policy document may contain a warning such as ‘do not apologise’. legal claims may be morally justified, but may also increase the harm done by the original wrong by reviving distrust and preventing personal acts of reconciliation.

2) how can any individual apologise for the acts of another? Gordon Brown and Kevin Rudd were children or unborn when the forced migrations happened. They may yet both have to apologise for   (say) the war in Afghanistan where they DO have both responsibility and influence, but can their formal apology on behalf of officials now dead - who may have thought they were acting for the best and governments long since gone - have any value?
I don’t know.

#3. By Ian on November 23, 2009

Poppy, on forgiveness. I was a victim of rape and it affected my life for a long time. Waiting for an apology to me is like ‘wishful thinking’ -a way of hoping to make wrongs right,erase what was done to me, some recognition of an injustice.. but it keeps me in the past and we are to look forward (but not deny any pain in the present)  I find forgiveness much easier, because I separate the hurt and healing from it (ie flashbacks, pain, bitterness etc) from forgiveness.. I remind myself that I am forgiven for my sins, and then I find it easier to forgive.While I was recovering I always heard a small voice say, there will be a day when the hurt will all be gone. Good message… I am glad the Australian prime minister took responsibility and recognised this.. if it helps at least one of those affected, all the better. Maybe it really is for those affected to say on a personal level.

#4. By anon on December 13, 2009

Thank you for your comment anon and for being brave enough to forgive.

#5. By Poppy on December 13, 2009

hai sir ....prise the lord..first of all pray for my YOUNG LIVES 4 CHRIST TEAM.sir i have one team of working are jesus .sir we are all waiting for support to my team.just encorasing from my team.

#6. By praveen kumar on February 18, 2012




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