Today, I walked out of a bathroom stall and was face to face with a woman who was waiting. While I walked around her, I mumbled the words “I’m sorry”. Immediately, my brain got to thinking, “what I am apologizing for?”. Taking up matter and space? Making her wait? Looking her in the eye until my brain registered what was happening?
I am one of those people with a bad habit of apologizing for everything (I also tend to thank people a lot too). In my head, it has been because I desire to be polite and not obtrusive, but I also recognize that it is excessive and unnecessary. And moreover, the older I get I am becoming less worried about using politeness and niceness as a mask to cover myself. I want to be continuing through learning the practices of kindness and love, and not covering my character with a polite guise to distract from the fact that I am still learning how to be loving and kind. And I also don’t want to apologize for my existence, and humanity, and the fact that I take up space and matter.
There are some things I refuse to apologize for. I refuse to apologize for being a voice of dissent when I think something is unjust or unfair. I refuse to apologize for my body, my medical conditions, and I will certainly not apologize to someone who tries to exert control over my body by criticizing how I present myself. I also refuse to apologize for speaking honestly about my experiences, especially around mental health, misogyny, abuse, and religion.
Repentance is one of those things that the Church, though I will be speaking largely from my experience in Evangelical churches, demands from its attendees. I think at its simplest understanding, many people connection apologizing to God as repentance. I’m sorry I sinned; I’m sorry I was greedy or lustful or vindictive. In tradition, repentance is so much more than a shallow apology. To repent is to change your mind. So if you repent of lust, it means you are committing to never lust again. And how many of us are planning on doing that?
Should the Church even ask us to ask for forgiveness from God? What are we apologizing for? Are they self-demeaning apologies to convince us how vile we are, since we see no way to actually achieve repentance? Are they ego-inflating apologies so that we can check off “be righteous” on our to-do list?
I wish I knew a way to teach repentance. More so, I wish I knew if I’ve actually done it myself. I know I’ve seen its possibility- a reality where repentance from sin is the only sensible option. Where we so truly love our neighbor that we do not need to exploit our neighbor to inflate ourselves. And I’m stuck there right now; with the belief and knowledge of the alternate reality, but all my hopes and dreams still in the first. So when I ask for forgiveness, what am I apologizing for? I don’t want to apologize for my sexuality or emotions. I want to apologize for understanding love and still choosing self-indulgence. For comprehending what is real and still choosing to live in an illusion.