Rationalization: the Disingenuous Apology


You’ve done something wrong (just try to imagine this scenario) or something that happened lead to someone else’s feelings being hurt, or the topic was insensitive, or whatever, it actually doesn’t matter, one party is hurt and the other needs to apologize. This could be intentional or unintentional, I’m not sure it matters.

“I’m sorry but I thought/didn’t realize/was trying to…”

There are so many things wrong with this sentence I don’t know where to begin.

Yes, yes I do.

There was once a saying going around that said something like the “but” negates everything that came before it, I don’t think it negates it, in my experience, it lessons it. The need to rationalize, the need to explain ourselves, the need to somehow be a little “less wrong” than we are needs to stop. As if they somehow understood your position their feelings would magically go away. There may be a time for explanation, but in the moment of the apology, stop the urge to explain yourself and just apologize, please, it will go a long way, I promise.

People need a genuine apology and to hear that their feelings matter. When we jump to rationalizing we are telling the person that their feelings or experience is not that important. At times, it can even be shaming. “I didn’t mean it that way” can translate to a hurt party to say, “you’re crazy and you are the one over reacting” or “that was all in your head” or “I am more important than you.” Listen to the person, listen to the pain and have compassion, instead of jumping to your own defense.

We don’t like to be wrong, even when we know are. It’s a tough world out there, I get it, stress levels are high and sometimes we snap, or speak without thinking, or make mistakes by simply not knowing. When someone tells you you’ve done something that hurt them, you feel guilt or shame, and that feels bad. We want that feeling to go away, so we rationalize even to ourselves and perpetuate the hurt. The funny thing is, if the person feels heard and receives a true apology then they it will be a lot easier to extend grace and forgiveness. Allow forgiveness a chance to occur… “I was wrong, I’m sorry” and stop, when you rationalize, especially when you feel hurt in the process the cycle of pain continues, instead of stopping and giving an opportunity to heal.

Sometimes we’re not necessarily “wrong,” but still need to apologize. This is a common occurrence when the “thing that happened” is taken out of context. Or possibly they thought it was “for your own good.” Perhaps it really was a misunderstanding, but you probably could/should have handled it differently. Even if it was “the right thing to do” fall back on the golden rule here, treat others as you would want to be treated. Apologize for not extending them a decent courtesy of treating them like a valued person in their lives, and if it’s personal, don’t act and ask for forgiveness later, be upfront and honest.

Apologize first and reengage in the situation (if it’s absolutely necessary) later. Reconcile, know your limits, check your emotions. Allow time for the apology to sink in and for forgiveness to open the heart and the mind. Ask them before you “explain yourself” if they are ready to talk about it. If it’s too soon, it’s too soon. Remember, rationalizing is trying to make you feel better, not them. But talking through the situation can be helpful, give them insight into their process, not to excuse feelings but to foster open communication. “I bottle things up and then explode.” “I thought I was being open about what my needs were, but obviously I wasn’t, what would be helpful next time?” “I really didn’t see things that way, but after knowing how hurt you were I will make sure to check with you/come to you first.”

The “I’m sorry” is just the beginning, not the end of an issue, remember, healing takes time.


Burning Love

So here’s what happened. I got a steamer for Christmas (you know so I never have to iron again) and it works great! But I am a dumb ass at times (NO!… yes…) and by being an idiot I burnt my arm.

I spent all day icing it and putting aloe on it and two days later it is looking better but still very red.  Here’s today.


Although it is very cold and I am wearing lots of layers I am constantly pulling my sleeves up, and the bright red mark is drawing attention to my arm. But the thing is the burn is not what they are looking at, they are noticing that I have a tattoo on my arm.

I have tattoos, which are not secret and I do not hide them, but a lot of people don’t know about them because they are in white ink, and I am of Irish-Norwegian decent and almost the whitest white girl ever… no seriously, I like glow in the dark. Why would the whitest white girl ever get a white tattoo, because it’s for me.

Anyway, on my left forearm is the word “Love” and on my right forearm is the word “Grace”. They came at a very important marking of time for me, something inward that made a huge impact, an acceptance of self, a claiming of my body, and a testament and gratitude for my faith. I will also note that I did not get my first tattoo until I was into my 30’s.

They are also “incorrect” according to the tattoo etiquette (yes there is such a thing). However, I have them so that when I lift up my arms and give the benediction the right arm goes up “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” and then the left arm “the love of God”. They are not proper when my arms are down but when they are up giving the benediction you could read them.

I speak a lot about the benediction, I love it, it is the sum of the gospel in a few lines. But there are other reasons I chose these words.

There is a duality to life, today in honor of Epiphany I preached about darkness and light. I preached about the importance of honoring both the shadows and the truth of our lives. I chose these two words as they symbolized the duality of life; light and dark, free will and providence, estrangement and relationship. The important thing to remember about duality is that one side cannot exist without the other, and really, the pendulum does swing all the way over for a moment, but the large majority of the time they co-exist in tension.

So, love (on my tattoo) is the free will side, the choices I have to make. The shadow, the darkness, the estrangement. The things in which I can control. And my choice is love. God is love and all love comes from God but by choosing love I choose God in my life.

However (yes, I am an excellent Presbyterian and here is why) God chose me first, and I will never be separated from the love of God. No matter what I do, or how dark I go, or how estranged I get, God will not let me go, God will usher me to light, stay in relationship with me, and protect me. This is grace. There is a lot, and I mean a lot in my life in which I have no control over. There is also many, many moments in which I have simply been a dumb ass (yes, much worse that testing a steamer on my robe… which I happen to be wearing at the time).

God does not save me from all my stupidity and sometimes I get burned. Which brings us back to love.

The words are a cycle. I have been burned by love many of times, but love also burns within me as a light of Christ. As I have stared at my arm these last few days I have asked myself if it was all worth it? All the heartache, all the tears, all the struggle. Is a relationship with God (which is an exhausting process) and with people who God has brought into my life worth the burns, cuts, bruises, and yes, at times a broken heart. The answer is a resounding yes.

Because grace has remained unscathed. Grace is constant and shall not be moved, and because of this I have had the opportunity to receive great abiding love through the radiance of God shining in others and I can only pray that others have received God’s radiance in me.

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So for now, love is a little burnt, but she will heal, gently with time, with care, she will overcome her scar and chose to do it all over again.

Child of Blessing, Child of Promise

Last week was unco West, which meets at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Just like all other uncos (which is short for unconference) it was amazing, and I met people I wondered how I ever lived without and spent some time with the people that feed my soul.  At the end of the last worship we decided to give each other a blessing, with water. We remembered our baptism, washed away our shame, and blessed each other with abundance and permission. As a worship leader the bowl was started near me and I was privileged to be one of the last to be anointed.

So it’s my turn to go forward and I have been holding a 2 year old little girl. We do this at unco, rely on the community for everything, including entertaining each other’s children. It is church and community in the truest form. She and I have been playing for a while now and her mom is in front of us.  Kath turns around and anoints her daughter, a beautiful moment for everyone, but then this precious girl dips her fingers into the water and touches my forehead.


I have baptized many children- all special, all sacred moments, all a privilege, but never have I received an blessing from a child. Not this way.

I have experienced the grace of both of my children, I have been anointed with bath water, spit-up and snot. I know that this little girl was simply mimicking what her mother did, but she did it. She touched my forehead with her tiny fingers and wiped that cold tap water on my head. She blessed me.

I have a lot to atone for in my life, enough shame to last 10 lifetimes- but in that moment- there was purity of joy, there was innocents in my arms and on my head. God came in that moment in the hands of a child and pushed me out of myself. Love is like that. That sweet girl through her fingers blessed me with innocence and grace.

May she (and I) grow to be a strong woman of faith and wisdom. In the name of all that is good and holy. Amen.