One of the things I love about clinical pastoral education is the emphasis on reflection. The clinical method that undergirds CPE is summed up as action, reflection, action.
We act. We reflect upon that action. And we act again keeping that reflection in mind. We work, think about our work, and take those good lessons to the next work.
I told a group of leaders in my church Sunday that my having had the experience of apologizing on two occasions in the last week has had me questioning my pastoral competence. What I didn’t say–and what I hope those leaders know about me–is that I love the notion of questioning my competence. I wouldn’t have said that before two years ago when I started seeing how valuable such curious interrogation can be.
Apologizing makes me think through how I’m doing, whether I’m doing, pastoral work well. I think I have a similar experience when I’ve apologized to my son. Saying that I was wrong and that I wronged my son reframes how I think and live as a father.
As a Christian I think of the power and the potential of an apology. Saying that “I’m sorry” opens me up to grace. I’ll write another time about how the same is true when I ask for forgiveness, which isn’t the same thing. Nonetheless, saying sorry should change you. It should be both an acknowledgement of real experience (i.e., I am sorry) and a promise. I am this way and it will mark our interactions from this point.
My wife gets this well. She actually only accepts apologies when they is a commitment to this action, reflection, action. She’ll require a plan for how this’ll be different next time. She gets it. She requires it. I am sorry and that sorrow will matter when I next see you.
Just being sorry isn’t enough. What will you do next time? is a very good question.