Sep 05

My wife and I had our first cancer scare earlier this year.  She underwent a surgery to remove the organs on which the cancer had been identified.  Thankfully, there was no cancer but the organs still needed to be removed in order for her to get well.  Then there were many weeks of healing before she was back to herself.

Think about surgery for a moment.  The purpose of surgery is often to remove something that is causing problems.  Once the offending object is removed, does the person immediately become well?  No.  There is always a time of healing that follows in which the damage that has been done is repaired.

I’ve come to believe that this is true about most things in life.  When there is damage, there are two things that must happen – the thing causing the damage must be removed and then there must be a time of repairing the damage.

I have to come to think of these as “apology” and “restitution.”  The apology removes the offense but it does not repair the damage.  Restitution repairs damage but does not remove the offense.

Suppose the surgeon merely removed the damaged organs but didn’t correct the damage.  My wife would not be well.  She might even be worse off than she was before.  Instead, the surgeon removed the damage and then made restitution to the body by stitching things back together and trying to correct all of the damage that had been caused – both by the offending organs and by the act of making cuts to the body.

This is how healing happens – there is removal of the damage and then attempts to repair the damage.  Without both, healing does not happen as it should.

Suppose someone knocks over your vase and breaks it.  There should be an apology to remove the damage (both in words to you and in the act of cleaning up the mess).  However, this does not unbreak the vase – the apology merely removes the damage.  Things are not yet right, they are not yet healed.  Restitution is the act of trying to repair the damage.  Most damage cannot be fully repaired, but for healing to happen then at least an attempt at restitution must be made.  Without restitution, healing doesn’t happen.  Despite their apology, that person will always be “the person who broke my vase and never offered to pay for it.”

I believe this is even true in relationship.  When damage is done, healing requires both apology and restitution.  If either is missing then healing doesn’t really happen.  There should be an apology to remove the damage.  Then there should be restitution to try to make things right again.

Imagine hitting someone with your car, saying “Sorry,” and then driving off.  Would that situation be “right?”

Imagine a surgeon removing your appendix and then not stitching you back up.  Would that situation be right?

Imagine someone stealing money from you, apologizing, but not returning the money.  Would that situation be right?

Similarly, imagine any of these situations in which there was no apology.  You hit someone and take them to the hospital without ever apologizing.  The surgeon gives you stitches, but never removes your inflamed appendix.  The thief returns your money but never expresses remorse.  Are these situations right?

Healing requires both apology and restitution.

Healing can be “I’m sorry I missed your soccer game.  I’ll make sure I’m at the next one.”  It could be “I’m sorry I broke your vase – I’d like to buy you a new one.”  It could be “I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings.  What can I do to make it up to you?”

Furthermore, these things need to happen as quickly as possible.  Have you ever seen something that had “healed” without being properly addressed – a bone that had never been set properly, or two people who haven’t spoken in years?  Any “healing” that happened isn’t what it could have been, what it should have been, had it been properly addressed earlier.

I believe this was Jesus’s point in Matthew 5:23-24:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

Jesus essentially said, “Go fix your relationship, even before you bring a gift to Me.  I’m willing to wait while you heal your relationship.  A healed relationship is as good, or even better, than the gift you were going to offer to Me.”

The longer we take to give both apology and restitution, the harder it is to heal.  Whether it is a cancer we have let grow too long before removing, a bone we waited too long to set properly, or wounded feelings that haven’t been properly addressed – apology and restitution should come quickly.  So quickly that God even says “Don’t use Me as an excuse for waiting for fix it.”

To be fair, we can’t often make things right.  We can’t unbreak the vase.  We can’t fix an appendix and put it back.  We cannot unhurt someone’s feelings.  But the effort is important.  Without the effort, healing doesn’t happen.

It is always up to the offended as to how much restitution is enough.  Sometimes our bodies reject our efforts to heal them.  Sometimes the vase was a priceless artifact.  Sometimes the feelings that were hurt run deep.  The one who committed the damage does not get to decide how much restitution is enough to heal the injury – they can only decide how much they are willing to give.

Sometimes an apology is sufficient.  Sometimes that is all the restitution that is required.  Quite often, the one who is injured has to give grace to the offender and accept less than what was lost.  This grace is given by the injured party.  It is the one who was wounded who decides how much is enough.  Sometimes that means the injured party demands more in restitution than we can give.  In such cases, healing never happens.

I never liked the phrase “Time heals all wounds.”  Maybe it does, but not properly.  Wounds need to be addressed properly for them to heal properly.

Be someone who, when you injure someone else, not only apologizes, but who also makes restitution.  Train your children to not only apologize, but to try to make things right.  And when you know you have hurt someone, do not wait to repair the damage.  Go to them, apologize, and offer restitution.

It’s a pretty simple concept, but it has tremendous power.  God knows we need healing – our relationships, our communities, our nation, our world.  Healing begins with apology – removing the damage.  But it also requires restitution – an effort to make things right.

In so many cases, I see only apologies.

Apologies don’t heal.

Don’t just apologize.  Heal.

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