about apologies

This is a story about blame.

When I was a student at Texas Tech, I had an inappropriate relationship with my professor. We’ll call him Jeff. It never got physical, no more than a handshake here and there. But we carried on an emotional relationship via email, Facebook, instant messaging, etc. that went on for many months. It was inappropriate on many levels: the level of conversation would only be appropriate with one’s spouse; he was my professor and, although he was clearly impartial when it came to grades, my guess is that sort of thing is forbidden; he was involved in a serious relationship with a live-in girlfriend; I was involved in a not-serious relationship with another guy at the time. I knew all these things, but I wasn’t walking with Jesus, I was attracted to Jeff in many ways, and I made the same bad decisions probably every other early twenty-something makes.

Zach Braff’s The Last Kiss came out about that time, a jarring movie about cheating. I hated it, maybe just because I related too much to the feeling of being the other woman. I was overwhelmed with guilt, and when the new semester rolled around and Jeff wanted to get together, I refused. I became interested in a coworker and the conversations with Jeff dwindled down to occasional ugly, passive-aggressive emails to one another. Over, but I felt guilty for years afterward like I had some horrible secret I couldn’t tell anyone but my closest friends. I found out later Jeff’s live-in girlfriend was also a professor in the same department with an office a few doors down from his, where I’d gone to visit him. The guilt compiled along with disgust for him. And the human part of me reasoned I didn’t really do anything wrong, so that was it. Done and forgotten.

Early last year, through a serious of bizarre coincidences, I found out that while Jeff was talking to me, he was wrapping up a nearly identical, although slightly more scandalous, relationship with another former student. I won’t share all the details because they’re moot and I don’t want to get all Gossip Girl here. (I really don’t know what that means, but someone referenced the show the other night and I thought if I referenced it, I’d look hip.) But needless to say, my mind hit paranoia-level and I began wondering how many other students he’d had similar relationships with. I was completely and totally disgusted in him. And then, as abruptly as the coincidences had shown up, I quickly let them go. I didn’t want to have anything to do with Jeff, even in my memory.

Fast forward about six months. In my quiet time one morning, God suddenly brought Jeff to mind and gently—but forcefully—reminded me, “You haven’t dealt with this.” So my first response was, “You’re right, I need to be praying for him. And I need to let the Dean know what kind of professor they have there.” I knew God was reminding me in that time for several reasons—one of which being that as non-physical as the relationship was, it still carried a certain level of scandal that could discredit me intellectually as well as spiritually. I prayed about it at length, talked with my husband, and then sought godly counsel with my former pastor. His first question to me was simple: Was I asking how to apologize?

Wait, okay, apologizing was not something I was planning, nor was it something I felt I had to do. But as my pastor pointed out, I did have an ungodly role in the situation and, for that, I owed Jeff an apology. Crap.

It’s easy to make excuses. There are several of them listed above, if you caught them. But what it all boiled down to was I expected Jeff to take responsibility for his actions all along and I never, throughout it all, wanted to accept the responsibility for mine.

I contacted him to apologize and also contacted the Dean, both to let him know about the professor and as a way of saying, “If this calls my degree into question, so be it.” Jeff wrote back right away and apologized for his part as well. I never heard back from the Dean’s office. But at this point, I did what God asked of me, even though it really sucked.

Now another story. This one’s a little more vague, for personal reasons.

Last year a girl at the church where I worked began sharing with me about a decision she was making that she felt was “the right thing” in God’s eyes. Unfortunately, it was a decision strongly forbidden in Scripture. When I shared Scripture, she felt judged and left the church. That’s the short story version.

Through my conversations with her, God gently pointed out yet another not-fun lesson. I was bold in sharing Scripture with mere acquaintances, but was I bold enough to share with people who meant the world to me, even if it brought a risk of alienation? Several years ago, someone dear to me made the same decision as this other girl. This too was before I was walking with Christ and I strongly encouraged my friend that the decision was “the right thing” in God’s eyes. God’s point to me now was I had to tell my friend the truth with the same boldness I had for this other girl. But every time we were around each other, we had no time for that discussion. When I approached the topic, we were interrupted. I felt God was telling me to wait for the right time, so I stayed silent and didn’t force it.

Many months went by and, perhaps as a result of the Jeff incident, I understood I must apologize to my friend as well. I owed her an apology for supporting her and encouraging her to make an unscriptural decision. I can only assume God wanted me to wait to talk to her before I went charging ahead full of accusations without taking responsibility for what I’d done as well.

So that’s it, those are the stories. I don’t believe I have to try to think of every sin I’ve ever committed in my life and track people down and apologize, but I know if God brings to mind something in my past and convicts me of it, I have to address it. It’s part of being obedient—not just moving forward with Christ, but acknowledging with repentance times when I wasn’t moving forward with him. Times when I encouraged others by my words and behaviors to move backward from him.

I’d like to think I’m done, and I’ve apologized and repented for everything else, but I seriously doubt that’s the case. Sometimes I think God’s just being sadistic or sarcastic and wants to put me in awkward situations because it’s funny. But in truth, I know he’s teaching me, refining me. So next time I’m quick to look at someone and see everything sinful they’re doing, I might just stop and evaluate my own role. And before I go on advising someone how to get out of a bad situation, I may just have to ask for forgiveness for helping them get into it in the first place.

  • JD

    Very though provoking story regarding Jeff. Who did you sin against? Jeff? God? Both? Jeff is not a believer – does that affect our response? What would John the Baptist do?

  • Rebecca, etc.

    I’m not sure if you’re being rhetorical or not. Obviously, I’d sinned against both. Worth reiterating is at this time I called myself a Christian but was clearly not following Christ as the label suggests. So you could say I wasn’t a believer at that time either, and does that affect my response now? That’s perhaps the greatest sin, the disservice I was doing to God’s name by claiming to follow him and then blatantly disobeying.
    I’m also a little lost on your question about JtB. Please tie it in…?